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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VW advertising: Inspired vs. Inspired lunacy

Volkswagen is in review. Either the churlish magicians at Crispin Porter & Bogusky ran out of spells (doubtful) or VW’s brand managers ran out of patience (more likely). Here is a quote from their VP of marketing, Tim Ellis pulled from Adweek:

“The Volkswagen brand needs to inspire our base of enthusiasts as well as reach out and captivate those in mainstream America. Therefore, we are re-evaluating all areas of our business, and after careful considerations have decided to take the necessary steps to ensure we have the right agency partner in place.”

For their part, CP&B provided a polite good-bye, citing their policy not to defend in reviews. Bully for them.

Forgive me the following cliché’ but “Yada, yada, yada.”

This is not the first time a red-hot agency came, made its mark on VW, then left. We all know the history. Doyle Dane Bernbach changed advertising forever by calling the VW Bug a “Lemon” in an advert. Dozens more iconic print and TV ads followed. This was a big deal for both parties but mostly (and somewhat secretly) it was a big deal for the agency. When the buzz died so too did sales. And so began a rollercoaster ride for the automaker that has continued to this day, of dizzying highs and demoralizing lows.

VW has got to be the most underachieving car brand in the world. Always flirting with being great but never achieving it. VW is like someone’s troubled big sister: sexy, beautiful, well heeled, but she just can’t get her act together. Always in the conversation but never in the driveway. What’s her problem? She has everything going for her. Poor girl. What a shame.

You’ll notice I keep referring to Volkswagen as a “she.” That’s because it’s a female brand, unmistakably feminine. And that just might be the problem. VW is German. And Germany is masculine…very, very, very masculine. How does the brand reconcile the two? My opinion, it doesn’t. Hence the metaphor of one’s confused big sister. Can you say bi-curious?

VW has always adored creativity. Hence all those fun ads from DDB, Arnold and CP&B. But America has trepidations about this girly German. The ads draw us to her but then we, too, get confused. Guys won’t (can’t?) buy Jettas and Pissots and certainly not the Bug, with that silly flower holder by the dash. Das Auto looks like a lady! Clearly, not enough women buy VWs either. I think they’re just as puzzled by the brand.

Whichever agencies participate in the review better not get hung up on the brand’s notorious advertising past. They and Volkswagen would be better served delivering a message of stability and integrity. The hipster stuff is just making everybody nervous.

While you’re musing on the sexual orientation of Volkswagen, check out the fascinating anthem below. Somewhere inside it lurks both VW’s problem and solution.

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