The Grand Clio Hunt

We had 20,000 entries to judge. And we had to do it sober

There are more art galleries than people in Santa Fe, give or take a few AWOL hippies. And for the myriad of artists and dealers, there’s only one bar worthy of mention. So when all the Clio judges got banned from this establishment due to a surreal incident on the first night of the gathering, our week ahead suddenly felt daunting.

How could we sift through some 20,000 ads, synchronize our jet lag and bond together as a formidable jury without rewarding ourselves with any form of off-piste recreation?

I’m not just talking about alcohol but a place to unwind, peel off the facade and dissect our decisions with perspective.

Well, as it turns out, this jury was unlike many others. Not just because of the diversity of talent, but because it was by far the most vocal and transparent jury I have ever been part of.

Almost from the start, everybody seemed to feel comfortable enough with each other to speak their mind openly. No hidden agendas or blinked national pride. Everyone had a say, everyone was heard.

That’s not to say we agreed on everything, but at least I felt that the process treated all the work with respect.

We set out to reward the most original work. It was not enough just to replicate what was good enough last year. As an industry we have become masters of emulation. So much so that a lot of print advertising that generally wins awards these days almost seems formulaic.

Now, I’m not complaining. The fact that more and more creative teams understand simplicity is a great thing. However, it has gotten to the stage now where our own cleverness seems to be hijacking relevance and insight.

So, we nobly (or hypocritically) set about digging deeper.

Shortlist is a massive compliment and achievement. Bronze is serious recognition for a fresh idea. Silver is an excellent example of great advertising. And gold is the absolute benchmark for outstanding ideas and excellence in our industry.

However, the Grand Clio is so much more. It is reserved for pieces of work that redefine our industry. Things so original and inspiring that they change the playing field.

This we debated for days.

And while we rewarded many wonderful ideas with worthy golds, we didn’t come across any Grand Clios.

That said, I would still crawl over hot coals to have produced many of the winners. Perhaps the idea that came closest to the Grand Clio was the FedEx campaign, which ironically ended up only on the shortlist. It turns out this campaign, which so captivated the jury, had been done before. Tragedy to the highest degree. Not only did I love the idea, it was perfectly executed.

And as the drama unfolded, it turned out that someone on the jury worked at the agency that did the original campaign, and someone else happened to have a copy of a magazine highlighting the ads’ similarities.

The real shame is that the campaign wasn’t done that well and wasn’t that visible the first time around. Sadly, it had won small at other shows, which made it impossible to award this time.

But there were many high points. Some wonderful ads I hadn’t seen before (nor had anyone else, for that matter). A spectacular jury. Spying on Matt Groening holidaying with his wife.

And all this without a single hangover to nurse.

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