Disparate Entries Create Jury Dilemma

NEW YORK Unusual ideas like creating a giant metal sculpture spelling “Newborn” to celebrate Kosovo’s independence or using Apple’s iPhone sales launch as a platform to raise $100,000 and awareness for a children’s HIV/AIDS charity have garnered recognition but no grand prizes so far in this season’s awards show circuit.

These ideas often defy classification by blending an event, public relations and Web-driven promotion. Just as when Crispin Porter + Bogusky parked a Mini Cooper atop a Ford Expedition in 2002, it’s hard to separate media strategy from the core idea. But that virtue may also be an obstacle when jurors pick the best of the best, especially when weighing wildly disparate entries.

The latest example: the recent Grand Effie judging, which pitted Anomaly’s piggybacking on Apple’s iPhone launch for Keep A Child Alive (KCA) against Leo Burnett’s target-redefining launch of Nintendo’s Wii game console. (Seven judges considered five final entries but ultimately narrowed their focus to these two, said sources.)

Wii won the top prize at the Effie Awards two weeks ago, but sources said the decision came after an hour-long debate in which a small but vocal minority of jurors argued that Anomaly’s effort was incredibly effective — turning a $600 investment into a $100,000 donation to the charity by auctioning an iPhone on eBay — and trailblazing as well as an example of how the industry is redefining itself. “It’s the lack of resources that made it interesting,” said one juror. “What is it? I know it’s not an ad campaign.”

In its submission, Anomaly noted that beyond cash, the initiative generated 100 interviews with reporters who flocked to a multi-block line outside an Apple store in Manhattan. At the front of the queue, they found Johnny Vulkan, an Anomaly partner dressed in a KCA T-shirt who, with the help of the New York shop’s staff, held his place for four days until the store opened its doors to sell its first iPhone on June 29, 2007. KCA supporter Spike Lee joined Vulkan as he entered, and both flashed cash as Vulkan bought the phone later sold on eBay. The scene was captured in a video the agency posted on YouTube.

In the end, however, the majority of the jury — which included Euro RSCG North American CEO Esther Lee, Chrysler CMO Deborah Meyer, AKQA co-CCO Lars Bastholm and Verizon Wireless svp of marketing and digital media John Harrobin — was blown away by Wii’s results, with some determining the KCA effort more of a powerful tactical stunt than a sustainable marketing concept.

The “Wii would like to play” campaign included traditional ads as well as face-to-face outreach designed to show how easy it is to play, thereby expanding appeal beyond core gamers. The estimated $50 million U.S. launch helped propel the product to sales of 1.1 million consoles in the first month, according to the entry materials. “Leo Burnett’s marketing strategy for the Wii will forever change the gaming industry and its dialogue with consumers,” said Meyer, the jury chairman, in a statement.

Lee, who supported the Wii entry, nonetheless acknowledged that the choice was difficult, particularly since the efforts were so different. “It’s like comparing an apple to an orange,” she said. “It was a very tough decision.”

Some jurors said the Effies missed a chance to make a statement about where advertising should go, like last year when Cannes jurors singled out Ogilvy & Mather’s “Evolution” Web video for Unilever’s Dove for the Film Grand Prix — an honor historically given to a TV spot.

“Where do we want the conversation to go?” said one juror. “I would never bad-mouth the winner. But is it the most engaging piece we had to choose between? Not necessarily.”

Said another juror: “It’s not necessarily the big-spend campaign in traditional media. Sometimes [it’s] the great idea that doesn’t require a lot of money in order to blow away its objectives.” –with Eleftheria Parpis