’50’ Is Nifty

Advertising isn’t what it used to be. Thirty-second broadcast spots are becoming 37-second viral videos. Clever headlines are being edited for Twitter. Radio spots are . . . well, poor suckers never got much respect anyway.

Ad agencies are launching social networks, incubating new technologies, and inventing fresh, relevant ways to connect brands and consumers.

But while agencies try to move forward, awards shows seem stuck. Particularly at the local level, they tend to reward executions and vendors, instead of breakthrough ideas.

When we launched the new Denver Ad Club in 2006, we decided that we could make a powerful statement by reinventing the awards show.

First we got rid of categories. We weren’t interested in awarding the best $500,000 TV spot or the best quarter-page black-and-white print ad. We were hunting for the best ideas. And we wanted to give those ideas a level playing field.

In addition, eliminating categories would stop agencies from resizing one idea so that it could win multiple trophies. (We’ve all seen shows where one concept wins awards as a poster, a magazine ad, a newspaper ad, a half-page newspaper ad, and so on. Yawn.)

Speaking of trophies, we got rid of them, too. Our research showed that the Denver community wasn’t interested in chunks of Plexiglas for the agency shelf. What it asked for was a printed book that could be used to merchandise the market. The club used entry fees to pay for a bound book designed by Pure Brand and printed by Rastar – The Denver 50.

Lastly, we moved the judging online. Our theory was that we could get better judges if we didn’t ask them to give up three days of their lives to come to Denver. Our strategy worked. Mike Byrne of Anomaly, Kevin Roddy of Bartle Bogle Hegarty, Mike Lescarbeau of Carmichael Lynch and Rob Rasmussen of R/GA agreed to judge the inaugural Denver 50.

That’s a judging panel that the One Show would envy. And we believe it’s the best collection of people to ever judge a local show.

Our four judges logged onto a Web site specially designed by Texturemedia, and sifted through hundreds of entries to pick the ideas that make up the 2007 Denver 50.

The judges were excruciatingly tough on anything resembling traditional advertising. In particular, there were a couple of amazing print campaigns that the judges felt weren’t innovative enough to be featured in The Denver 50.

The final 50 ideas were revealed at a party in December. They included a blog, a proprietary social network, a few microsites, a mobile marketing breakthrough and several integrated campaigns.

While the party on Dec. 6 was a huge hit, reaction to the book didn’t start to trickle in until a few days later. Agencies had been a little unsure about The Denver 50 concept. Once everyone got their hands on our first book, their eyes lit up. Most people loved it. Others wondered why we didn’t specifically tell them they could enter their strategic plans, their architectural models, and their public relations stunts. Our response was always the same: “We never told you how to define an idea. We simply asked for your best ones. Next year, make sure you send them.”

As a result, we expect an even wider array of work in 2008. And we are trying to attract judges that are the equal of our 2007 panel. So far Scott Goodson of StrawberryFrog, Gareth Kay of Modernista!, Rob Schwartz of TBWA, Ty Montague of JWT and Adam Owett, evp of the creative group at Sony BMG Music Entertainment, have all given a thumbs up to the idea of judging.

And we’re excited. Because we feel like one of the best ideas to come out of Denver in 2007 was The Denver 50 itself. The book is an ad for Denver’s marketing community. If it helps raise our city’s profile, we’ve done our job.

Matt Ingwalson is a senior copywriter at TBWA\Chiat\Day’s Karsh\Hagan in Denver.