Same Clique, New Year.

Is it any wonder the CA Advertising Annual arrives during the holiday season? Mine arrived today via the postal service. Same cast of characters as always. You don’t even need to study it. Put the $24 (newstand price) towards some whiskey, is my advise. Or beer, if you favor malt beverages.
Crispin Porter + Bogusky, Fallon, TBWA Chiat/Day, Arnold, Carmichael Lynch, DeVito Verdi and Wieden + Kennedy are the big winners (with more than five citations). Volkswagon, Porche, Harley-Davidson, BMW, Mini, Apple, Nike, Citibank, Molson, Miller Brewing, Mt. Sinai Medical Center and Time are the some of the clients said agencies did award-winning work for.
Lately, I’ve noted what an echo chamber the blogosphere can be. The same is true of advertising. When a judge sees an ad for Volkswagon he or she knows it’s great, just like they know it’s from Arnold. To not vote for it would be blashphemy. Plus, the judge has friends at Arnold. It’s awfully nice to reward one’s friends.
In all seriousness, I do like one of the Volkswagon ads immensely. The visual is a pile of ticket stubs for Widespread Panic concerts. The “Drivers Wanted” tag is almost lost in the layout, which is intentional, of course. “MAKE THE LOGO SMALLER,” I can almost hear Ron Lawner saying. Anyway, this ad reminds me of the VW bus crying a tear for Jerry Garcia ad, which ran in 1995 when he passed.

About David Burn

Co-founder and editor of AdPulp. I wrote my first ad for a political candidate when I was 17 years old. She won her race and I felt the seductive power of advertising for the first time. I worked for seven agencies in five states before launching my own practice in 2009. Today, I am head of brand strategy and creative at Bonehook in Portland, Oregon.


  1. Of the 51 American agencies in this year’s advertising annual, there are five I’ve never heard of before: nail, Fort Franklin, Gianfagna Jones, Spearhead and Bubba’s Deli. The first three are real agencies, while the latter two are not (in my estimation). Please let me know if they are.
    I’ve mentioned before, that award show judges are increasingly spotting spec work and casting it aside. As they should. Spec has a place, but CA is not that place.

  2. I just did a geo-cultural analysis of where the creatives are. I’m a freak, what do you want? Nevertheless, here’s a breakdown of the 51 shops per market:
    NYC 12
    LA 6
    Boston 5
    Atlanta 4
    Chicago 3
    Minneapolis 3
    Seattle 3
    San Francisco 3
    Charlotte 2
    Miami 2
    Portland 2
    Boulder 1
    Austin 1
    St. Louis 1
    Detroit 1
    Richmond 1
    Providence 1

  3. Sunil Shibad says:

    There was a time I would eagerly look forward to my CA and One Show annuals.
    There was pathbreaking work. Truly inspirational stuff.
    The work there renewed your passion for advertising.
    No more.
    The same award-winning ideas are regurgitated every year.
    The judges can’t spot recycled ideas that won 2-3 years. (If you doubt it, look it up.)
    I have lost respect for CA and the One Show. They will now join Cannes and Clio as has-beens.
    The British D&AD is the last defender of the faith.
    PS: David, let us not underestimate small agencies. There was once an agency called Lunch Hour Inc. It later grew to become Fallon/McElligott/ Rice.

  4. Sunil,
    I’m all for small agencies. TDA in Boulder won again and they have about ten employees. But TDA is a real agency.
    I question Bubba’s Deli and Spearhead because they appear to be nothing more than a freelance team with a clever name. Not that a freelance team with a clever name can’t do CA-quality work, They obviously can. Yet, Spearhead’s entry is for a magic shop and Bubba’s Deli got in with an ad for a photographer.
    To me, part of what it means to clear the creative high bar takes into account that the work was sold to a big time client (who may have opposed it, at first). And that it ran in a place where people could actually encounter it (not a quarter page in a free weekly).

  5. Carl LaFong says:

    Kudos, Sunil and David, for putting the annual madness that is the CA Annual into perspective. I haven’t laid eyes on it yet, but I have no doubt that while there will be much to admire, there will also be the usual assortment of “ads” for tattoo parlors and pet stores and beekeeper schools.
    I’ve always thought that there is entirely too much emphasis placed on winning awards (possibly because I’ve never won any myself). Sure, it’s nice to get public recognition. But with outstanding creative getting exposure in the trade journals and on websites like this one, are they truly relevant anymore? And just how many competitions do we need anyway? It’s also funny that many creatives who scoff and belittle the notion of award shows – I believe Dan Weiden has, for one – keep entering them. Somebody somewhere is making some serious jack on all those entry fees.
    One final thought: Looks like Goodby failed to make into the top tier this year. If I’m not mistaken, they didn’t last year either. Has their star begun to fade? Or am I guilty of what I’ve just been railing against – judging an agency’s output by how well they do in the award shows?
    God, I need a drink.

  6. Carl,
    Actually no, the work is all real work for real clients as far as I can tell (minus the two I’ve singled out above). So on that front CA is making improvements.
    Goodby has no print work in this year’s annual. That surprised me. But they did win with TV spots for HP, AT+T Wireless and Saturn. And any agency anywhere with three TV spots in CA has not slipped very far.

  7. One observation regarding tackling small-scale clients. What if you’re a hot shop in Wichita with nothing but clients that are microscopic and yet are REAL clients? My opinions lie in the court that the best work should be the best work, regardless if it’s for Crest toothpaste or Crusty’s Pie Shop. While the latter client raises suspicions about its validity, the former had to go through layers and layers of bureacracy to get the green light. When millions and millions of dollars are on the line, I find it difficult to believe that entries in CA or The One Show ran “as is”, meaning it has been significantly altered to be more accomodating to the judges. Either way, it’s hard to detect which is which, so hopefully people are going by the honor system. I was lucky and privileged enough to break into the One Show with a pet store ad. The client bought it. It ran, and I still believe the idea was original enough that hopefully it was inspirational to others. If it creates a pleasant interruption to all the regurgitated ideas from “automatically in clients” like Nike and Harley-Davidson, more power to the people in having an array of ideas.
    Another thought: In some cases, agencies take the backdoor and advertise for high-profile clients, but use the retailer to push it through. I’ve seen “VW Beetle” ads done, where 95% of the ad is about the car, and yet hidden in the corner is the logo of the dealership, the true client.

  8. Jay,
    I’m glad your pet shop work actually ran and that it caught the attention of One Show judges. I hope it leads to more money or a better job, or whatever it is you hope to gain from it.
    However, I fail to undertsand why a big agency in a good-sized market with a roster of legitimate clients wants to be known as a shop that wins awards for spec work, fake work or real work for marginal clients. It does not reflect well on the agency, in my opinion.
    I also do not like the fact that this approach almost always excludes the account team from the process. So, some creatives had some neat ideas. Big whoop. Advertising is a team sport.
    This is what I recommend. Do pro-bono work for clients that really need your best efforts. Include the media dept., planning, acct. service and most importantly, the client in your thinking from the start. Then, you’ll have work everyone can be proud of, and with any luck it’ll serve its purpose in the marketplace. That is, it will help the client sell more product or raise more money, whatever the case may be.
    Creating work specifically to win awards is an exercise in self-absorbtion. And don’t we have enough p.r. problems, as is?

  9. Good discussion points.
    Regarding the “team” thing, I question the majority of account people, media people, etc… why they don’t own portfolios. You’re right. Advertising is a team sport. So when it comes to the work, why don’t people outside of creative show off the elements along with a resume?
    Regarding being an agency that is represented by “spec” work, it’s better than having no recognition. In some cases, it’s better than being a one-trick pony. Some major agencies have a couple of marquee accounts, but what about the work for their other clients? Is it an indication that maybe it’s the client not the agency doing good work? Stan Richards once said an agency should not be looked at through it’s best clients, but at its worst (or something to that effect).
    I feel I do strong work for the brewery I work for. But how am I going to get a solid radio script recognized by when Real Men of Geinus has owned the shows the last five years?
    Some agencies have altered their entries. Even the best of them. I find it shocking about the Kellys, how some agencies actually entered work that was altered enough and walked out with cash prizes. Totally legitimate clients.
    I know what you’re saying about national clients, but I think judges are lazy and lack full confidence in picking stuff. (Oh, look. A MINI ad. Crispin must have done it. It’s in.) THe funny thing, sometimes, the work is from their Canadian agency, Taxi.

  10. Word.
    And I agree, Jay, that account execs need to weild a book. Their book needs to be filled with work they sold.
    “Tell me Jeffrey, what did it take to sell this in?”

  11. Why is everyone worrying about ad awards won by agencies like Fallon, et al? They don’t worry about you. Get out there and find a job that will allow you to do great work (or great fake work) yourself. Postage and entry fees usually are affordable. Make those places chase YOU, instead of vice versa.

  12. Clyde,
    How about you do your job and I’ll do mine?
    And I beg to differ on the affordability of fees. The award shows in and of themselves have become a major industry. If we were to submit this site to CA for their interactive annual it would cost us over $100. Multiply that by the thousands of entries received and you can see one prominent show can earn some serious walking around money.
    I don’t mind people making money (I like money just fine), but it leads one to ask “What are the award shows all about?”

  13. Carl LaFong says:

    Excellent posts, one and all. As usual, you’ve provided plenty of food for thought. My copy of the CA Advertising Annual arrived in the mail on Saturday, but I’ll probably wait to look at it until after the first of the year. Why ruin the holidays? At least it’s nice to know that, contrary to my earlier assumptions, most of the work is for “legit” clients. Thanks for the update, David. And you’re right: Goodby’s three entries in CA this year are three more than most agencies.
    Oh, and congrats to Jay on making it into the One Show.
    I’m still ambivalent on the whole idea of awards. It’d be nice for the ego (and CV) to win one. And, at least in the days before publications like “Creativity” and “Archive” and websites like Adcritic, award shows served as one of the few showcases for outstanding creative.
    But do you really need Lee Clow or Dan Weiden or Luke Sullivan or anyone else – no matter how brilliant they are – to tell you whether an ad is good or not? Aren’t you perfectly capable of deciding that yourself? Is an ad automatically good because someone whose won a bunch of awards themselves says it is?
    Also, what exactly makes an ad “good?” Is it because of the idea? The execution? Or how well it connects with its intended target audience? (I guess that’s what the Effies are for.)
    As far as Clyde’s suggestion to stop worrying about Fallon, et al and “find a job that will allow you to do great work (or great fake work) yourself,” he’s absolutely right. But as I’m sure he knows, it’s easier said than done. I’ve been trapped in a Catch 22 for my entire so-called career: I can’t get into a good agency until I do good work – but I can’t do good work until I get into a good agency.
    Well, that and the fact that I suck.

  14. There comes a point where Sally Hogshead’s Radical Careering comes into play. I’m at that point. While I have work that I feel is pretty good, it’s not getting me to where I want to be. And thus, a few art directors and myself committed to our careers, not our jobs, are doing spec work. Not for shows, but for our books. We’d be honest during interviews, because in the end, I think my headlines are strong, but as long as they’re not for Harley, VW, Nike, or similar ilk, CA is a pipe dream.

  15. Carl, your copy sings, so I doubt you’re too far from creative stardom.
    Jay, you can attain CA from where you’re planted (it’s been done before, as you know), but it’ll be a BIG BIG WIN if it’s for Coors. That’s how you get made. You, and the agency.