The 2010 Obie Awards. Judging the best outdoor advertising in America.

February 22, 2010

Sign, sign, everywhere a sign…

We finished judging the 2010 Obie Awards yesterday, on time and, for the most part, in agreement. For those unawares, the Obies celebrate the best outdoor advertising in North America and abroad.

Among my co-judges were old friend, John Butler (Butler, Shine, Stern & Partners) and living legend, Stan Richards (The Richards Group). Rounding out the team were Scott Boswell, John Marson, Joe Zubizaretta and Tony Calcoa of Crispin Porter & Bogusky. Definitely a good panel.

OAAA Chief Marketing Officer, Stephen Freitas and Company run a tight ship, from judging process to final gala. The awards ceremony (which, by the way, I will be hosting) takes place May 4th at the Desert Ridge Marriott in Phoenix, AZ. In addition to the parsing of awards, the exemplary MINI Cooper campaign will be inducted into the Obie Hall of Fame.

Since my wonder years on Altoids, I’ve long appreciated the out-of-home (OOH) medium and know what it can do for a brand as well as a career. 😉 As other mass media fades in its importance to advertisers, OOH continues to stay relevant, if not downright indispensable. Social media is all about establishing personal connections and, ironically, so is good outdoor. Yes, a billboard seems about as mass as mass media gets, randomly targeting every Tom, Dick and Harry driving along the highway. But look at it this way (and you really should): many drivers see the same boards every day during their commute, establishing a bond of sorts with the message. Each day the person rethinks his or her position on the message, even if subconsciously. Either way, these boards become icons on their trip. Signposts. Familiar.

The connectivity between OOH and consumer only increases, as the messaging gets closer to the street -to where a person works and plays. Guerilla marketing, street theater, wild posters (all categories in the Obies) are, if done well, nothing less than propaganda and among the strongest weapons in the marketing arsenal.

Back to the judging… Usually, there are a couple front running campaigns that dominate the field as they did in market. In years past, campaigns from Apple, Altoids and (obviously) MINI Cooper have shown well here. This time around the heir apparent was the ubiquitous and iconic campaign from Snickers. Surely, you’ve seen these oversized brown wrappers in your neck of the woods. In addition, with its colorful and controversial packaging re-design, Pepsi also had a significant presence in the show.

Did either campaign win an Obie, let alone the grand prize? Not so fast. I only said they were poised to. Frankly, my favorite campaigns came elsewhere. Besides, Best of Show voting was done by secret ballot so any number of gems could win, even a one-off, of which there were several remarkable pieces.

Enough teasing! I made a vow of secrecy to the Obies and I’m already feeling dubiously Biden-like in my chattiness! Good luck to all the entrants and I’ll see you in Arizona.

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11 Responses to “The 2010 Obie Awards. Judging the best outdoor advertising in America.”

  1. outdoor should be held to a higher standard because unlike a tv or computer you can’t shut it off. when it’s bad–and most of it is–it literally pollutes the landscape. unfortunately, billboard companies will put inappropriate imagery–most of the alcohol and cigarette stuff–where anyone, including kids, can see it.
    sorry to disagree, steffan, but, at times, it’s a pretty shameful industry.

  2. SRP said

    No need to apologize!
    No question OOH can be a blight on landscape. But great OOH actually adds to it.

  3. Tony Alwin said

    Every industry has it’s dark side, but we like to focus on it’s illuminated side and try and make it better. Outdoor is it’s own art form… communication at it’s essence in the public gallery. It definitely comes with responsibilities to do it right. Steffan is a great leader at helping that cause. (Clap Clap)

    P.S. Cigarette ads were outlawed on billboards in the 90’s. Most of the major outdoor companies are good about self regulation of content to fit the community that they are in. However… just like all society, there are always a few out there that are only interested in themselves and make things hard on those that do care.

  4. Bob said


    Couple of corrections – tobacco companies are not allowed to advertise on OOH media (since 1999, I think). Also billboards have restrictions that forbid alcohol advertising if it is close to a school. I do agree that most OOH advertising is bad – hopefully these winning entries will inspire better creative.


  5. SRP said

    Out of home advertising is the oldest form of advertising on earth. Think scribbled cave drawings. We will never live in a world without it. The only option is doing it well. I love a good challenge. Don’t you?

  6. Jim James said

    Some advertising can be pretty cool, while other can be quite distracting. I always find that good out-of-home advertising can be extremely compelling.

  7. Doug Stephen said

    It was billboards that first got me interested in advertising. The driver/passenger typically only has a few seconds to see your ad, so you have to to get your point across fast. Figuring out how to do that sounded like a lot of fun to me. But I majored in archaeology instead.

  8. It’s always nice to see these types of competitions because the level of creativity is astounding!

  9. tyler said

    Very true… these competitive type things def. bring up the level of creativity.

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