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February 18, 2009
A few weekends ago I found myself in Albuquerque with four other smart advertising people to judge the New Mexican community’s body of advertising work. I wonder what Cormac McCarthy would have said about this state of affairs. Probably not much. But then, he wasn’t an ad man.
These sorts of things usually start with an email. “Will you come?” Like an invitation to not quite a wedding, not quite a funeral—more of a reckoning, and you’re “the reckon-er,” as our last president might have mangled it.
So you fly into the desert highlands, or wherever the judging happens to be.
Ad Fed judging is generally awkward, because whomever is there to greet you, transport you, host you, dine you, is also most likely connected in some fashion to the work you’re supposed to judge. But the folks in Albuquerque were exceedingly pleasant, and kept implying we shouldn’t consider their good manners when reviewing the work.
Albuquerque’s got character. There’s a bustling film community. No Country For Old Men was shot around the area, and word was George Clooney was filming nearby with Kevin Spacey. The land stretches out, turning pink and orange when the sun gets tired. We met a man running the fabulous El Pinto restaurant who said of himself, “I might be short, but I’m hell in a bathtub.” Come on. That’s half the reason to go judge an award show, if you ask me.
Local character aside, it’s a little weird to spend 72 hours focused so deliberately on a succession of advertisements. (I can’t imagine judging Cannes.) But I do think there’s value in the experience and good reason for advertising award shows to continue.
Time to focus on craft and concept
Clients might not appreciate the hours spent on typography choices, kerning, balance of negative vs positive space and the eccentricities of advertising details, but this is the craft we practice. And we noticed, whether it was Charlie, Julie, Fredrik, David or myself. Otherwise, what’s the point?
What makes one ad so much better than another? Aside from the core concept—which is an incredible feat in and of itself - how has it been executed? That’s an area advertising judges can illuminate. We saw a lot of good ideas humbled by poor execution in Albuquerque. It’s as if James Harrison intercepted the pass, then got tackled a few yards later due to poor blocking. But we also saw a lot of ideas executed with taste and nobility—elevating the core premise and advancing the communication.
A deconstructivist paradise
Sometimes we spent 10 minutes discussing the minutia of an individual ad—it’s color balance, typography, graphic design, overall concept, copywriting, image production—what we assumed might have been the strategy and instigating business problem. We got involved. That’s the pleasure and the responsibility. The goal being an assortment of ads we hope the community can agree are, in fact, pretty awesome.
Microcosm in a bottle
This happens all across America and the world.
Local organizations bring in “experts” from who knows where to evaluate the community’s annual output. Are we right? The answer is entirely subjective. I saw work in Albuquerque I wish I’d created. I saw work I admired. I saw work that sucked.
See you later
Riding out of town, driving past dozens of billboards for brands and services I’d never seen, listening to local radio I’d never heard, I remembered this is an ongoing affair.
We can only try.
David Ogilvy put it best, “Clients get the advertising they deserve.”
Local advertising shows are extremely worthwhile. They provide an opportunity to step back, to question, to think. I only wish more marketers were involved in the process.

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As a writer, creative director and drummer, Tim Brunelle started in advertising in 1993 after receiving a B.A. in Jazz from the University of Cincinnati. Since then, he's worked with TBWA/Chiat Day, Heater/Easdon, McKinney & Silver, Arnold Worldwide, OgilvyOne, Mullen and Carmichael Lynch. Tim now works for his own entity, Hello Viking.

Tim has provided strategic and creative leadership to A.G. Edwards, Anheuser-Busch, Brown Forman, Goodyear, Harley-Davidson, Porsche, PricewaterhouseCoopers, and Volkswagen.

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