Last week I was honored to judge the AAF’s American Advertising Awards National Competition.
The American Advertising Awards are the only major award show with a three-tiered competition. Each year, all across the country, over 40,000 local entrants vie to win recognition as the very best in their markets. At the second tier, local winners compete in one of 15 district competitions. District winners are then forwarded to the third and final tier, Nationals.
This process makes it different than any other show I’ve ever judged or entered. Rather than just recognizing the usual suspects, big brands like Nike, GEICO or Apple, there’s an amazing assortment of great work for local and regional brands you’ve never heard of, from agencies you didn’t know existed, in cities you don’t usually think of as creative hotbeds. As someone whose career has spanned all of the above, I found this incredibly inspiring. Because in addition to great creative talent everywhere, it means there are also smart, courageous clients at those unheard of brands and in those overlooked cities. The kinds of clients my DC-based agency can pursue and partner with as we continue to build our creative reputation and portfolio.
As my fellow judges and I toiled over hundreds of entries over two long days, a few themes emerged.
Great design is great design.
Whether it’s for a local boutique or a national retail chain, great design stands out regardless of budget or number of locations. Some of the best design work was for local restaurants, real estate developments or craft breweries. Thankfully, these types of businesses exist everywhere, not just in the big markets. Which means the opportunity to do something great exists everywhere as well.
Regional brands have more fun.
Maybe it’s less pressure on the clients from Wall Street, or less interference with the agencies from holding companies, but there were some regional brands in categories like QSR that really stood out for breaking the mold and taking some risks.
Talent (both marketing and creative) is everywhere.
This is not news. The New York, Chicago and LA stranglehold was broken a long time ago. But it’s gone well beyond the likes of Richmond and Portland to every corner of the country, and this show’s format allows all that talent to shine. I hope the clients are taking notice. Because it’s proof there’s really no excuse for them to feel like they have to look outside their hometown to find the right agency partner.
Certain categories are tough at any size.
Differentiating your brand is not easy in certain categories like Health Care, Retail, or Travel/Destination, where category cliches all too often rule the day. At RP3 we pride ourselves on working in those categories, but not doing category work. And it was great to see others with the same mindset, although with varying degrees of success. I saw some surprisingly good healthcare work, for example. But on the other hand, a lot of the destination work blended together. The campaigns may have been beautifully executed, but they fell back on the same old scenery and storylines. Note to tourism boards: beaches and waterfalls aren’t unique. You need to tap into the emotional side of travel to truly differentiate, which only a few of the finalists managed to accomplish. One of them was my personal favorite for Best of Show. But no spoilers allowed here. You’ll have to wait for the big reveal when the winners are announced on June 7 at AAF's Admerica 2019.