Getting past paint-by-numbers thinking

In our annual Creative Report Card issue, we look at who's been winning big at regional and national advertising award shows, and why it matters.

As this issue hits the street it will be the beginning of Ad Week, with the CASSIES kicking off festivities. So, while we’d love to comment on the winners in these pages, it would be a tad premature. Post-awards (the evening of Jan. 24), visit to check out who had the best ad-driven results in Canada, and how they went about it.
What we can share in this issue is who had the most successful advertising overall last year. Strategy’s Creative Report Card assigns points to everyone who won at multiple-media regional and national advertising award shows, as well as the key international competitions. We include awards that recognize effectiveness, such as the CASSIES, as well as those synonymous with celebrating creativity, such as Cannes.
Whenever someone new joins the strategy team we try to tell them how seriously the industry takes our annual rankings, like strategy’s Agency of the Year, and this issue’s undertaking. Although I can show them a “Fuck You, strategy” T-shirt that an agency once had made to make a point about an Agency of the Year issue, they never believe us. Until they start getting the phone calls.
The Creative Report Card “feedback” is ongoing. It ranges from creatives letting us know about points they should get for credits that were missing in various award show books, to lobbying efforts to have certain shows included – or excluded, as is more often the case – in the rankings.
Despite the fact that the point system gets tweaked each year to reflect industry change, we’ve had agencies and creative teams submit their own tallies well in advance of publication (which is why we don’t share the point system, so stop doing your own math). We’ve also had award shows, as part of their campaign to be included in the Creative Report Card, offer to do the tabulations for us.
So why do people care so much? And why does strategy ask special reports editor Emily Wexler to toil for months over a giant grid of all the award-winning brands, agencies, CDs and art & copy teams? Because awards matter. A lot. At their best, they incent original thinking. They let you know that your contributions are fresh, intelligent and clever enough to capture attention, and according to research by Leo Burnett, this is also typically work that works for the brand. Awards, or more specifically the absence thereof, also let you know when your team needs to try harder.
Looking back at the last decade of CASSIES Grand Prix winners, I see a body of work that dominated both effectiveness and creative shows – from 2001’s “The Rant” for Molson Canadian from Bensimon Byrne, to Diet Pepsi’s “Forever Young” win by BBDO in 2002, right through to Ogilvy’s game-changing 2007 Dove self-esteem work and big Diamond Shreddies idea in 2009 for Kraft, and last year’s darling, Juniper Park’s work for Frito-Lay North America’s SunChips. These were all leaders, not followers.
Many of those marketing ideas carved out space the brands could uniquely own and build upon in subsequent years, or decades for that matter. It would be great if that was the primary judging criteria for more award shows, to encourage the independent and unrelenting pursuit of not only a great idea, but a brilliant idea ownable only by the brand. After all, the stakes are absurdly high. Our Molson feature illustrates how much the right idea can mean to a brand’s share fate.
Two-time Creative Report Card cover girl Judy John penned a Forum column that best sums up the role awards play. As 2010’s top CD, Leo B’s CCO and soon-to-be CEO knows about the ROI on striving to be the best. Across the page from Judy, Will Novosedlik talks about the dark side – wherein winning ideas become templates for categories. Of course, imitative work gets short shrift at Cannes, and would be less likely to make an impression on a brand’s business so wouldn’t have a CASSIES shot either. Encouraging originality by policing copycat thinking is another reason awards are important to your business and why you should take the talent that racks up CASSIES and Cannes wins very seriously. Check out who scored for Canada this year.

Mary Maddever, exec editor, strategy, Media in Canada and stimulant