Saturday, March 21, 2009

Advertising in a Swimsuit: What's right and what's wrong with the ADDY® Awards

(This article first appeared in GSA Business in 2002 and generated quite a bit of controversy. I thought readers might enjoy seeing it again.)

On February 15, the Greenville Advertising Club hosts its annual ADDY® Awards show at the Hyatt. If you have anything to do with advertising or marketing in your job, you’re probably going to this event. There are not many events that I attend in a year that are as much fun as ADDY Night.

The American Advertising Federation (AAF) co-sponsors the local contests with local advertising clubs throughout the country. According to the AAF, the ADDY Awards competition is "the industry's largest and most representative competition for creative excellence." Before you assume that I take advertising awards seriously, let me say that I don’t. With the exception of the Effie® Awards, a national competition that evaluates advertising on the basis of increased sales, I don't put much stock in creative contests or the awards they generate. If the evaluation isn't based on whether the work made the cash register ring, the award show is nothing more than a beauty contest. Advertising should produce sales. If that's not the primary criterion for any evaluation, why bother?

But that's not the point, says Laveda Miles, GAC President (and staunch defender of our creative brethren), "The ADDY competition is a creative contest. Can't we for one night let the folks who actually create the ads be judged and rewarded by their peers? After all, advertising is an art. The competition is not intended to be another Effies."

Jim Henderson used to say, "It's not creative unless it sells." And there are still a few of us who view the creative product as only a selling function of advertising. Any other way of looking at it is self-indulgent, irresponsible and wastes the client's money. Should there be a desire to evaluate ADDY submissions based on whether the creative was effective, we’d need another approach to the selection of the judges who evaluate the work. As it stands now, ADDY judges almost always come exclusively from the advertising industry’s creative side of the business. Rarely are clients, marketing researchers, account planners or ad agency account executives added to the mix of ADDY judges. Yet each of these disciplines contributes to the development of advertising in the Real World.

Unfortunately, what the ADDY Awards suggest is that it's OK to evaluate ads solely on their “creativity,” as if creativity could have another goal other than selling products and services. This kind of thinking takes us down the path of applauding work that may be outrageous, clever, and entertaining, but not necessarily effective. The advertising community undermines its credibility with the business community as a whole with this “let’s pretend” approach to a serious business discipline. Sales effectiveness should be the only criteria by which we evaluate each advertisement in the ADDYs and in our daily jobs.

So, what's good about ADDY Night? Everything else. It brings out virtually everyone associated with marketing and communications in the Upstate and western North Carolina. The few who don't show probably can't attend because of court-ordered curfews. But most will make it. They love the night as much as I do. They'll party hard and generate an enormous amount of good-natured competition for our industry. What most attendees don't know is that ADDY Night is the largest single revenue generator for the Greenville Advertising Club. I've seen the club operate in the red until ADDY Night, when a good turn-out pushes it back into the black.

It's important that the Greenville Ad Club not lose money. GAC sponsors two paid internships each summer for deserving college students. In addition, GAC adopts one non-profit organization each year for a pro bono ad campaign. A good ADDY Night pays for some of these important efforts.

There is another good thing about the ADDYs. It is a contest that allows underdogs to look as good as their larger rivals. Last year, Copia Design, a two-person design firm in Greenville, won 5 ADDYs and 3 Citations for their work, garnering more awards than many larger agencies. Susan Kines GAC ADDY Judging Chair, maintains "The ADDYs may be the only opportunity for a small agency to strut its stuff."

And strut they will. Attendees will be decked out, the awards will gleam and the egos soar. But let's not forget what Jim Henderson said. "It's not creative unless it sells."

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