by Andy Capp
Yeah, I admit it. I do most of my reading in the bathroom. Few things annoy me more than finding both ice trays empty in the freezer. Oh, and something else… there are a couple of pair of socks in my drawer—I think they date back to my junior year in high school. They were my good socks back then, worn with my 3-piece suit on speech tournament weekends. The last time I considered wearing them, the elastic cracked and drifted out of them in a fine powder. Every time I put off laundry too long, they appear deep in the bottom of the drawer. The thought always crosses my mind that I should really throw them away. I never do. These were the second things to go through my mind when he asked me what I thought makes a commercial award winning. I had been invited by the station I once worked for to pre-judge the Addy submissions. That said, my first thought was, “How the hell should I know?!”
Ask me what makes people laugh in an ad and I can probably cite a few examples. Ask me what music to lay under a diamond store spot that the client wants “dripping with romance,” and I probably have a pretty good guess at which CD to grab in any of several music libraries. But what makes an ad award winning? With all due respect to the nuns in The Sound of Music, it would be much easier to solve a problem like Maria.
My first win was so deceptively simple that I was CERTAIN of several things. First, I understood the system. Second, I was a creative genius. Third, I deserved a small yet expensively equipped studio to myself, where salesfolk could come to pay homage and beg my golden touch on ads for their clients. That first win, the ad that didn’t stall until the National Finals, had taken all of 5 minutes to write and another 10 to produce. God, I was GOOD! That’s why I was certain that there had been a horrible mistake the following year when only one of my ads made it into the finals, and that one only received an honorable mention. A fluke—it had to be! I mean, genius boy had written and produced the ads. The judges had to have felt the talent radiating from the cassettes even before they hit play! Even if the judges had been deaf…okay, fine. There was next year, I would just dazzle the next group. I didn’t. I did pick up an award, but not for the really good stuff. Even worse, it was downright sickening to hear what did win! What pieces of commercial crap pie!!! I could’ve produced any of them, recorded over Dixie cups and string—which was kind of how they all sounded anyway! In the years that followed I picked up a few awards, lost to what I thought were bad ads, and won over ads that I thought were truly better than mine. I became certain of several other things. First, I didn’t understand the system at all. Second, I was damn lucky that first year. Third, whether one is recording with expensive toys or Dixie cups, the playing field remains level.
Winning is fun. Let’s be honest, there is little recognition for a job well done in the day to day of most radio stations, and winning an award from time to time is an ego stroke that everyone enjoys and deserves. What’s important to remember is that if one loses, it should not be a blow to the ego. It’s not a personal attack to the work, it doesn’t mean that the commercial stinks. It only means that at that given time, to that particular judge(s), the ad was not “the ad” of those submitted. Judges are human. What touches them could be something completely different from one day to the next—it’s personal taste at the moment of listening.
Am I saying that it’s completely random, that any advertising award is a roll of the judge’s emotional dice? Of course not. We’ve all heard ads that were truly exceptional and were destined to win. Many were woven of some little human quirk that we could all relate to. I suppose that’s why those odd little thoughts were the second things that came to mind when I was asked what makes an award winning spot. My very, ah, PERSONAL library, ice-less drinks, and sentimental socks have all found their way into ads I have written, produced, and won awards with over the years. If I have found one constant in the few winners I’ve had; it’s that they’ve all contained some strange little piece of reality that seemed to catch the attention of the judges.
Is that my answer to what makes an award winning spot? Yes. Does it mean that adding a human foible to every spot will assure an award? No. Every list of winners has a new list of answers to the question, and every answer is right. So where should the focus be? Should we strive to make every ad “award winning?” Of course, there is a contest everyday. If the judges are moved by our work, they go to the client’s place of business and spend money. The happy client in turn will come back and spend more money with the station. The station makes budget and we are rewarded with a paycheck, and maybe even a bonus or a mumbled “good job” from the powers that be from time to time. As always, the real satisfaction of knowing that you are doing a good job needs to come from inside, and realizing that being “taken for granted” by the station is really a compliment—if nobody is complaining, you must be doing something right. It may not be glamorous, but then again, when was the last time your landlord let you pay your rent in trophies?