The Return of the Big Idea

Two weeks ago, my colleagues and I attended the 2005 Clio Festival. It celebrates the best of 2004’s on- and offline advertising. Colleen DeCourcy, our executive creative director, served as Internet jury chair and presented category awards. Troy Young, our VP of interactive strategy, also served on the jury. After attending the conference and awards ceremony and viewing thousands of pieces of work, we sat down to discuss what we learned. Following, the highlights of our conversation.

Kingdon: The Clios are the Oscars of advertising. Why? And what was involved in chairing the jury?

DeCourcy: It’s important to understand the Clio is an international jury that judges international work. I think the Clios are actually more like the Golden Globes of advertising. From here, the winners go to Cannes for the big show, the Cyber Lions. What matters most is that the Clio has become a heavily attended event where the major agencies gather and discuss the state of the industry against the backdrop of each year’s submitted work. It’s a litmus test of how we’re all doing.

Chairing the jury involved selecting the jurors, providing a context from within which the work should be judged, personally going through all 1,300 submissions, assessing votes at the end of each of the three voting stages, selecting the shortlists with the panel, making the final calls on close votes, and, ultimately, choosing the Grand Clio winner.

Here’s an excerpt from the letter I wrote that kicked off the jury process:

Welcome to the 2005 Clio Internet Jury.

This is the year the Internet grew from a collection of under-funded, technology-led, interface experiments to a serious platform for advertising.

We stepped beyond online campaigns that read so well as theories in AdWeek but left us under-whelmed in application, or, worse, disappeared into “here today, gone tomorrow” banner buys on Yahoo…. their real intent captured only in an awards submission package.

This is the year every agency scrambled to create “their subservient chicken,” and then realize that — online as off- — great ideas are only fresh the first time. Great creative isn’t the product of trend-watching. Great campaign concepts are not for borrowing. This is the year we became advertisers, not geeks (well okay… I’m not willing to leave geek behind). This is the year we became Geek-Advertisers. This year, the traditional agencies took back the Internet and discovered it for the first time. When the Internet became the third pillar of advertising, it lost its ability to hide in the back of the cafeteria at lunchtime.

Things will never be the same.

Kingdon: Crispin Porter + Bogusky won for its Subservient Chicken work for Burger King. What’s the real scoop? What made its work stand apart from all the competition?

DeCourcy: Subservient Chicken won for a variety of reasons. First, it received the most votes in each of its two submitted categories, which means it received the most jury recognition. Also, each year the jury chair is given the power to select a piece of work and give it a Grand Clio (a combined recognition for most votes/categories won and impact on the industry). I felt the work merited the Grand Clio because www.subservientchicken.com was the most talked-about URL of the year, after Google. (Try to think of someone who didn’t receive it in his or her inbox.) I felt Subservient Chicken, good or bad, inherently changed the way online marketers attempted to harness the power of the Web for the majority of last year.

Kingdon: Troy, what was your jury experience like? What work was noteworthy and why? What does it take to win a Clio?

Young: Being a judge gives you a fantastic perspective of the best work being done all over the world. It also gives you a chance to see major trends. This year, we saw the fall of the dense and overtly complicated. A lot of heavy interface that dominated in past years (like Nike) got solid scores but didn’t break through.

So much of the work was good, it was really hard to stand out on a design level. The work that won was conceptually elegant and cultural. It was much more than good design.

Kingdon: Colleen, you made a point in your speech that there are individual awards for creative in different media categories, but in the future there could be one award for great communication campaigns. This was clearly a nod to the increasing importance of integrated marketing.

DeCourcy: Ty Montague, co-president and chief creative officer at JWT [who was] chair of the Content and Context jury for integrated campaigns and I were making essentially the same points.

Online, offline, and media are the three elements required to catch a consumer’s imagination today. There’s a diminished return any time you use only one or two of those pillars in isolation. Great creatives know how to think like planners, and great planners put creative in places where it has the most relevance. Our client, Julie Roehm, the Chrysler Group’s director of marketing communications, said it best: “It’s important to be consistent across the three pillars of traditional advertising, which are broadcast, print, and Internet.”

Judging these elements as separate entities in award shows like the Clios becomes a redundant process. It’s all about how all the campaign channels work together to create an evocative experience for viewers.

Kingdon: What did you take away that can and should influence our work in 2005?

Young: The Internet isn’t our exclusive domain anymore, amazing for those of us at interactive agencies. It will set the bar high. Traditional agencies are very focused on how they can use the medium to render complex campaigns and brand stories. It’s all about big concepts and big ideas that transcend media now. Interactive, direct, and traditional agencies are in the same game today.

DeCourcy: We live in an opt-in world. Consumers don’t have to watch, read, or navigate our ads. So great work now is work that evokes a response, an inquiry, a challenge, a question, a thought, an action. Truly exceptional work is work that gets passed on by consumers.

There are still too many one-off banner campaigns that rely on play on words or a visual pun to work and don’t bother to go deeper. They’re not experiences, they’re ads.

While “integrated” is the big focus today, integrated campaigns can very easily get too complicated. We have to be wary of asking too much of the consumer. Quick, immersive touch points across many screens that make us feel like we’ve spent more time with the product, service, or brand than we have are most likely to succeed.

Clients are back in “big idea” mode. This is fueling the creative renaissance we’re seeing in advertising generally, and in our space especially.

Conclusion

It’s an exciting time. The big idea is back. New agencies are challenging old ways of thinking. The Internet is a core part of every major campaign. And more than ever, the consumer is in control.

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