How to Read an Awards Annual

You’ve probably already gone through the CA Advertising Annual and preordered your copy of the One Show. (If not, why haven’t you?)

It’s easy enough to go through these books page by page, thinking “Cool…Cool…How’d that get in?…Cool…I had that idea…”

But if you’re serious about understanding what makes an award-winning ad, you can’t just flip through the annuals. You have to study them. Yes, study.

One of the best techniques I know came from my old copywriting professor, Coz Cotzias. Here’s what you do…

  1. Sit down with an annual and a pack of Post-It notes.
  2. Go through the book flagging every ad you totally dig as a creative.
  3. Put the book down. Go see a movie. Read a book. Whatever. Just step away.
  4. Come back to the book, but this time, viewing only the executions you tagged as a creative, look at them as a consumer. Tag the ones you dig as someone who might actually buy whatever it is that’s being advertised.

These are the ads you want to aspire to. Why? Because they’re not just clever. They’re smart. They’re effective. They’re the ones that are rooted in a strategy. The ones that are really solving the client’s problem creatively.

For extra credit, go through all of these ads and see if you can figure out what the strategy was and who specifically they were trying to talk to. This isn’t to turn you into planners. It’s to make you better creatives.

I’ll leave you with this quote from Gary Goldsmith…

We all pay less attention to the process than we should. If doctors and scientists operated in the same manner that we do, it’d be a scary world. What they do is creative, too, in its own way. They’ve devoted a lot of thought to the way in which they arrive at a diagnosis, and the way in which they treat it. But with us, it’s almost like we have this thing in our head, we don’t need to do that, we should just sit down and come up with ideas.

Aristotle in the Market

Imagine you’re one of Aristotle’s disciples. One day, he leads you and several others to the market (that’s him on the right). All the merchants have their wares on display – haute couture togas, leather-bound copies of the latest epic poem, designer torches for setting your sacrificial animals on fire. And the masses are lining up to buy these things. Booth after booth, it’s the Times Square of ancient Greece. And this is what Aristotle says to you:

“Look at all of the things I don’t need.”

I was in Baltimore a couple months ago. I stayed right on the Harbor, and as I stepped outside my hotel I could see a Barnes & Noble, Hard Rock Café, ESPN Zone, P.F. Chang’s, Williams Sonoma, and a California Pizza Kitchen. I saw the exact same sight in San Francisco a while ago, and I can look out of my office window and see pretty much the same thing along Michigan Avenue.

“Look at all of the things I don’t need.”

Yet I’m in advertising. I spend my days trying to convince people to go to the market. To drop their drachmas and buy the latest high-end discus. Is there a conflict here? No one really needs a Porsche. Or an iPhone. Or vitamin-infused water. Right?

I’ll tell you how I’ve made my peace with this. But I’d like to hear your ideas first. Any takers?