Monday, March 7, 2011

How to improve upon TED's "Ad Worth Spreading"

As you may have noticed, last week the TED conference named the winners of its "Ads Worth Spreading" contest, a TED-esque spin on that hoary institution, the advertising award. It's an intriguing idea, if for no other reason than this particular contest doesn't seem to have been dreamed up by the advertising industry. It also stands out because, in a world where ad awards are given out for every sub-category imaginable, this competition focuses simply on ads (of no one, specified length) that the judges deemed worth sharing with other people. Nice. Isn't that the bottom line?  (A video describing why "Ads Worth Spreading" came about is above.)

But, if you were to assume that this meant the judges would lie outside the industry, you'd be wrong. And that's how TED can improve on this idea, assuming this becomes an annual contest -- "Ads Worth Spreading" simply cries out for judges who aren't in the industry, or at least a roster that includes a healthy dose of people who are noteworthy because they have little insight into the ins and outs of advertising and its sibling businesses like design, and communications.

Don't get me wrong -- some of this year's judges, like Goodby's Barbara Lippert, Socialistic's Colleen DeCourcy and CP+B's Jeff Benjamin -- are among my favorite people in the ad world, but I think we'd all benefit from knowing what other members of the TED-erati think of what the industry creates.

Maybe the results would be the same as what came out this time around. The panel selected truly wonderful work from agencies including Wieden + Kennedy for Chrysler, Nike and Nokia, Mother NY and Legs Media for Target, Venables Bell and Partners for Intel -- you get the drift. Of course, this meant a relative scarcity of winners from the behemoths that run the industry: The only big, New York-based agency that made the top ten was Ogilvy -- for a truly moving ad for The Topsy Foundation from its Johannesburg office. (The full list is here.)

But I always wonder how much of what we decide we like in the industry is pre-determined by what we know. Do we subconsciously like "Born of Fire," the Chrysler spot that won here -- and received critical acclaim after it aired on the Super Bowl -- because the industry (understandably) loves Wieden + Kennedy? Conversely, do we poo-poo work from industry behemoths because they are industry behemoths?

It's hard to say, which is why next year, I'd love to see TED populate its judges list for "Ads Worth Spreading" with TED-ders like Mark Bittman, or John Doerr, or Dave Eggers. God knows, there are dozens to choose from. After all, if ads are to be truly worth spreading, they have to be deemed worth spreading beyond the confines of the insular industry that created them.


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