Three of the winners…

Earlier this week, I attended and helped host the MPA’s 2010 Kelly Awards in New York. The Kelly Awards celebrate the best magazine advertising in North America. I also served as a judge for this year’s competition, an activity that I wrote about on a previous post. In addition, my agency, Euro RSCG was lucky enough to be one of 25 finalists for our work on Valspar paints.

Historically, The Kelly Awards are known for the substantial cash prize given to winners of the Grand Kelly, for best print campaign in America. When I won it for Altoids, the prize was 100 grand! This year’s winner will receive 25K. Considerably less, yes, but still nothing to sneeze at. Part of why the number shrank is that more categories were added to the winner’s list. A mixed blessing, I kind of liked them having 25 finalists and one winner.

I owe the MPA a debt of gratitude, and not just for the hundred grand ;-) but also for providing me what has to be the highpoint of my career thus far. I’ve written about this before. The year Altoids won the Grand Kelly, my brother, Jeremy and father, Larry, also had finalist campaigns. That all three of us were in attendance at the ceremony was pretty special. Me winning iced it! Suffice it to say, this year I was honored to judge and help host the show.

More intimate than prior celebrations, this year’s Kelly Awards, at the Prince George on 27th Street, was clearly pared down for economic reasons, indicative of myriad challenges facing the magazine industry. Nevertheless, the MPA and its primary supporter, RR Donnelly made a game show of it.

The Kelly Awards continue to be about one thing: the best magazine advertising in America. Maintaining this focus is key to the show’s integrity. The crowd may have been smaller than in past celebrations, but there was still plenty of creative talent in attendance. Agencies up for prizes included Crispin Porter & Bogusky, Goodby Silverstein & Partners, BBDO, GSD&M and numerous smaller shops known exclusively for creative excellence.


image from Grand Kelly winner, Haagen Dasz

Creative director, Margaret Johnson, from Goodby won the Grand Kelly for her work on behalf of Haagen Dazs ice cream. I applaud this choice. It’s a delightfully simple, fresh campaign emphasizing those very same characteristics of the brand. Other winners included the lovingly crafted Taylor Guitar campaign from Vitro, The Martin Agency’s work on behalf of the JFK Museum and yet another brilliant execution in the “Truth” campaign (public service) from Arnold. No surprise all three have been here before, as finalists and winners. They’re good.

That’s the other great thing about the Kelly’s. Nothing in this show even flirts with mediocrity. All 25 finalists are best-in-class examples of their craft. With the exception of Cannes, most advertising award shows don’t have this level of quality control. Advertising creatives have always known this, which is why we consider the Kelly’s among the top tier of award shows.

For a complete list and showcase of winners go here.

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“Dahling, you just don’t get it.”

In honor of the recent passing of Fashion Week and, with it, designer Alexander McQueen, who recently committed suicide in his London flat, I thought a story about fashion advertising would be appropriate.

By definition fashion is advertising. But not the kind you and I specialize in. Uncut and undiluted by narratives, fashion advertising projects the creativity of the fashion designer or the “House” from which it originates: Gucci, Prada, Channel, Dior. For the most part these iconic brands eschew advertising campaigns in the ad agency sense of the word, preferring projection to conception. It is the line that matters and by that I don’t mean theme line. Fashion advertising seldom resorts to anything as parochial as tag lines. Or copy. That would be so uncool.

I’m not being condescending –not completely- when I say fashion campaigns are nothing short of pornography. And like good porn, it is usually quite frank. No need to fast forward through storylines to get to the good parts. The entertainment is the product, be it bags, glasses, or eveningwear. “Shut up and show us your… handbags!”

To be honest, this has always frustrated me. As a copywriter I loathed fashion’s indifference to my craft. Where was the story? What’s the big idea? I disdained these glossy ads for their obsession with obsession. At the same time, I envied their big budget bravado.

Still, it is not lost on me that fashion advertising is almost single-handedly keeping many of my favorite magazines afloat. Where would Vanity Fair, GQ and Esquire be without all that lavish advertising? And for every man’s magazine relying upon fashion advertisements there are dozens of female-oriented publications that are literally devoted to such “window dressing.” Can you say Vogue?

Ironic then, of the hundred or so print campaigns I judged at the Magazine Publishers of America/ Kelly Awards I’d guess less than five belonged to fashion. The closest candidate was the joyous holiday work from the Gap. Yes, the Gap. It seems only mainstream “houses” attended the print mediums most prestigious festival. Here we also found the latest iconic red and white campaign from Target. (Not at the Kellys, other examples of mainstream brands playing in ad land’s sandbox: Dockers “Wear the Pants,” Levis “Go Forth,” and CP&B’s irreverent use of mannequins for Old Navy.)


“Blimey, I’m in a %#@X! fashion ad!”

But where was Gucci, Prada and Ralph Lauren? And what about that striking campaign from Louis Vuitton? Arguably more of a showcase for celebrated photographer Annie Leibovitz, is it not still a commanding use of print? Of course it is. But in the fashion sense. And I’m afraid fashion sets its own criteria for what works and what doesn’t. Our notions of good print advertising falls into the latter category.

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When I was a wee pup scratching at the doorstep to Adland, I fantasized about writing my first big, national magazine ad. I dreamed of making a glossy back pager the way other men lusted at the Playboy centerfold. Back then centerfolds and magazines were the shit. And not just for consumers, but copywriters too. For me, nothing symbolized the art of copywriting more than a really good magazine ad. While most of my peers at Leo Burnett coveted television assignments, I felt happiest attacking a print brief. Receiving the Magazine Publishers of America Kelly Award for best print campaign in North America (Altoids) was more satisfying than even winning Lions in Cannes for TV (Heinz Ketchup). Of course, the hundred grand prize may have had something to do with that! And while I’ve jokingly called the out-of-home medium my mistress (so immediate and so bodacious!), to this day I still carry a torch for print. Print is my wife and I love her dearly.

Thanks to the Internet, like all mass media magazines are in jeopardy. Maybe not as much as newspapers but for many “books” the situation is dire. Last year, two magazines I subscribe to went out of business.

So I have to wonder the tone of this year’s Kelly awards, of which I am honored to be judging. I know the MPA well. As you’d expect, they feel righteous about their industry and can point to various signs of relief. Certain publications continue to thrive, for both consumers and advertisers. Who doesn’t love People Magazine or Vanity Fair? Still, the challenges magazines face are real and some unsolvable. Suffice it to say, the golden age of magazines is over.

But that doesn’t mean the medium is finished. Not by a long shot. Frankly, I’m guessing the pubs that remain will be better than their predecessors. Only the strong survive, right? In terms of advertising, it seems to me any truly great integrated campaign will have magazine ads in it. We’ll see.

Judging by the caliber of judges for this year’s Kelly Awards, I am not the only ad man with a rooting interest in magazines. Jeff Goodby. Stan Richards. Steve Hayden. Dave Lubars. Men of a certain age, yes, but they are doing as well today as ever.

Despite the difficult environment magazines now live in I look forward to seeing the work and to meeting so many distinguished judges. For complete information about the MPA Kelly awards including the list of judges please visit: MPA Kelly Awards

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