Monday, June 23, 2008


When I was just starting out covering the advertising agency business -- in June, 1988, for those who are counting -- I became aware of the industry's obsession with awards. Clios, Lions, Obies -- I was able to find some 500 advertising awards programs, a proliferation that prompted me to ask: "Is the One Show one show too many?"

So other than pleading to the folly of youth, how can I come to you 20 years later and recommend in good conscience that you submit your best interactive success stories to the digital advertising industry's premiere awards showcase, IAB's MIXX Awards?

Because the MIXX Awards is the only ad-industry awards program that actively uses contributors' submissions to teach agencies and marketers how to grow their businesses through interactive advertising.

I'm calling this out to you today because, even though entries to the IAB's fourth annual MIXX
Awards are running at record levels, last Friday we extended the submission deadline to the end of next week. The reason: We want your success stories. Your case studies will help us take our collective case directly to market.

Honorable Conversations

The rap against advertising awards is probably as old as awards programming itself, but the din was quite loud in the 80's, when, a neophyte industry reporter, I began covering marketing communications. At that time, the scandale du jour was the fact that some agencies were giving away their work -- at cost, and occasionally pro bono -- to small, local clients (charities, barber shops) that would allow them unfettered freedom to shape unusually creative campaigns. Some agency leaders labeled this practice "deception."

The complaints obscured some fundamental points, of course. First was that breakthrough creativity was the best way for agencies to market themselves, because that was explicitly what clients were seeking. Second was that the larger an agency and the size of its clients grew, the more cautious it and they became; awards were an opportunity to educate potential backsliders in the customer base about what worked and why. Third was the understanding that awards programs, when done right, are an opportunity for the agency business -- and potentially the entire marketing-media ecosystem -- to have a conversation about how to improve advertising.

Sometimes, that conversation can be utterly internalized, to unintentionally comic effect. After the Boston agency Hill, Holliday won the top Lion at the 1986 Cannes International Advertising Festival for its John Hancock "Real Life, Real Answers" cinema-verite style campaign, the airwaves were washed by a wave of reality programming. (The Beef Industry Council's contribution was "Beef: Real Food for Real People," while Winston cigarettes offered up "Real People, Real Taste.")

But fast forward to this year's just-concluded Cannes Lions festival, and it's very clear that the annual gathering has evolved into a central gathering spot for the discussion of trends, the brokering of relationships, and the doing of deals for a now-fully global industry. So, too, with the One Club for Art & Copy's One Show. It remains the only place in the agency business where the interests of the creative class are represented fully -- and so it has been for several decades the central marketplace for creatives, the forum in which they can find new opportunities for themselves and their agencies.

Why is this important? Because creativity remains the life's blood of marketing -- the essential link between analytical inputs and market activities. Even Google CEO Eric Schmidt (pictured left) recognizes this: As he told the American Association of Advertising Agencies Annual Meeting in April, "We’re not creative, we’re sort of boring. We need to provide those [analytical] tools and figure out a way to get the analytics in and make way for the story-telling and the creativity.”

Teach Me How

Some awards programs play roles that transcend the "conversation" and "marketplace" functions. For example, the Effie Awards, bestowed by the New York Chapter of the American Marketing Association, are explicitly about the "road to how." "Effie," the AMA says, "awards Ideas that Work – the great ideas that achieve real results and the strategy that goes into creating them." Now celebrating its 40th anniversary, the Effie program has expanded to 39 countries, becoming a sort of international university of advertising effectiveness (hence the name). The Magazine Publishers of America also has used its Kelly Awards program for outstanding magazine advertising to document both the inputs to and outputs from great periodicals advertising. On the MPA's Web site is an archive of case studies drawn from past Kelly winners.

At the Interactive Advertising Bureau, we, too, have been archiving and making available case studies. But we also recognized that we had a remarkable, additional opportunity: To answer a growing chorus of requests from our customers and bring these vivid, visual best practices directly to agencies and to marketers themselves -- at their invitation.

In dozens of conversations with IAB stakeholders as our senior team prepared our strategy and budget for 2008, we kept hearing about the need for education and training. Indeed, the Marketing-Media Ecosystem 2010 study, done by the consulting firm Booz & Co. for IAB, AAAA, and the Association of National Advertisers, indicated that education remained the single greatest barrier to the growth of interactive advertising. So we labeled one of our major initiatives for this year "Teach Me How, Teach Me Now," and vowed that we would shape a training and development program for our customers.

We did, launching the IAB Boot Camp for Senior Marketers in February at H. J. Heinz in Pittsburgh. Heinz brought 90 of its most senior marketers from eight brand groups for a full-day training session, including tutorials on various platforms, emerging-practice illustrations, and team breakouts. "Companies will need to train themselves with a new 'dialogue' skill set and build expertise to leverage a whole new set of available tools," Heinz North America Chief Marketing Officer Brian Hansberry (pictured right) said after the Boot Camp concluded. "IAB's marketing boot camp enabled us at Heinz to begin that work."

Mr. Hansberry went on to say that the IAB session "has served as the stimulus for us an organization to commit to being a leader in the new communication world."

Our guest "tutors" came from across our ecosystem, and included MySpace Senior Vice President for Client Solutions Heidi Browning, on social media; AOL Vice President of Platform A Strategic Insights Anne Hunter on behavioral targeting; DDB Chief Executive Chuck Brymer on "swarm theory"; and IAB SVP David Doty and Research Director Joe Laszlo on social marketing best cases.

And where did those cases -- as well as others illustrating our industry's best successes -- come from? From IAB's MIXX Award winners.

A Superior Mix

As we were preparing for the Heinz boot camp, the IAB team realized that we had in hand the best teaching tools our industry could offer: the scores of finalists and winners from the past three years of our awards program. Last year, the victors included a panoply of the best agencies and marketers in the United States:
  • The Brand Awareness/Positioning gold went to The Martin Agency for its Barely There lingerie campaign
  • Goodby, Silverstein & Partners' online campaign for Rolling Rock beer, featuring the infamous beer apes, garnered several golds, including Viral/Word of Mouth/Peer-to-Peer and Digital Video
  • Leo Burnett's repositioning of Pontiac inside Second Life got the gold for best In-Game Advertising
  • The gold for best Search campaign went to TM Advertising and its work for American Airlines
  • The gold for top B2B effort was awarded to Stinson Partners' online "ecoimagination" campaign for GE
  • BBDO captured the gold for Online Integration, with its creative cross-platform effort for Mars's M&M's
San Francisco's Goodby also won best in show for its brilliant reimagination of HP -- an effort as emotionally engaging as the best television advertising.

The power of these examples derives from the fact that they are more than visual: Each entry is accompanied by a written case describing the objectives, the analytical inputs, the creative process, the technical underpinnings, and the results. The judging has been done by pros -- marketers themselves, who have been asked to weigh the ads for both effectiveness and creativity.

I've taken this powerful set of teaching cases around the country. In addition to Heinz, we have used these cases to illustrate best and emerging practices at such places as Sprint, AT&T, the McKinney agency, and Cisco -- all during the past few months alone.

Our hope and our expectation is that, as we build out IAB's ability to program boot camps for agencies and marketers, we'll be able to bring evolving sets of publishing, agency, and marketing executives on the road with us to demonstrate and explain the practices that have worked for them. A superb example of this occurred at IAB's Digital Video Leadership Forum in May, when Sprint, Unilever, Mindshare, and MSN executives teamed to present a case study of their successful joint venture to bring the "In the Motherhood" original Web video series to life.

You, the Jury

As successful as the MIXX Awards have been, for 2008, we are making a significant and, we believe, potent change in the mix of judges. Because we believe that success in interactive marketing requires all parts of the marketing-media value chain to come together collaboratively, we have populated the jury with representatives from across our ecosystem. For the first time in a major ad awards program, the judges will include marketers, agency executives, and publishers, working together to decide on the best. They include:
  • Heidi Browning - Senior Vice President, Client Solutions, FOX Interactive Media
  • Marty Cooke - Chief Creative Officer, SS+K
  • Mark D'Arcy - Chief Creative Officer, Time Warner Global Media Group
  • Joseph Eibert - Executive Director, Interactive Marketing, Warner Home Video
  • Jane Grenier - Vice President, CondeNet
  • Cheryl Guerin - Vice President, Promotions & Interactive, MasterCard Worldwide
  • Jenny Howell - Manager of Interactive Marketing, American Honda Motor Co., Inc.
  • Carole Irgang - Senior Vice President, Integrated Marketing Communications, Kraft Foods
  • Carol Kruse - Vice President, Global Interactive Marketing, The Coca-Cola Company
  • Arjen Linders - VP of Marketing, Philips DAP N.A.
  • Wonya Lucas - Executive Vice President & Chief Marketing Officer, Discovery Communications
  • Jean-Philippe Maheu - Chief Digital Officer, Ogilvy North America
  • Tim Murphy - Senior Director Digital Marketing, Anheuser-Busch
  • Hans Neubert - Executive Creative Director, Avenue A|Razorfish
  • Michael Prieve - Chief Creative Officer, Doremus New York
  • Suzie Reider - Director of Advertising, YouTube
  • David Roman - VP, WW Marketing Communications, Personal Systems Group, Hewlett-Packard Company
  • Alan Schulman - Senior Vice President, Executive Creative Director, Executive Director of User Experience, imc2
  • Debbie Jo Severin - VP - Marketing, Covad Communications Group, Inc.
  • Baba Shetty, EVP, Chief Media Officer, Hill Holliday
  • David Sturman - Chief Technology Officer, Massive (a Microsoft company)
  • Todd Wasserman - Editor, Brandweek
  • Lauren Wiener - Senior Vice President, Meredith Interactive Media
This shift in the judging gets me very excited, for a slightly subversive reason: We have no idea how consonant or discordant the opinions of such a diverse crowd are. There may be fireworks -- but it takes heat to cook a great meal, no?

The judging mix should also serve as a reminder that any creator or subject of an online advertising program can enter the MIXX Awards -- marketer, agency or publisher. The latter are non-traditional presences in advertising honors, but considering the rise of publishers as customizing co-creators of interactive campaigns, we reason that they, too, should be open to recognition for their contributions. Details and entry forms are available here.

Two other changes are worth noting: We'll be moving the MIXX Awards ceremony to a larger venue, to accommodate more tables of nominees and winners from among the agencies and marketers. Oh, and we've replaced the professional comedians we've been using as hosts with someone equally funny, but much more knowledgeable about interactive media: Group M Interaction CEO Rob Norman.

So enter our MIXX Awards -- and enter our case study archives. And enter IAB's teaching ranks

And grow.

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