N. Shatrujeet

Abby Awards 2003: The pulse is quickening

With just four days to go for the Abby Awards night, here’s a peek at what to expect at this year’s awards ceremony

With just four days to go for the Abby Awards night, it's not surprising that most conversations within agencies in Mumbai invariably amble their way to this year's awards ceremony, being held at the Tulip Star Hotel (formerly, Juhu Centaur), Mumbai, on Sunday evening.

Will O&M be able to dominate this year's awards, like it has done in the past? How big a surprise can McCann spring with Coke? Can the combined assault of Ambience, Burnett, Enterprise, Rediffusion, Contract and Mudra leave Ogilvy with a lighter bag to tote? Will Coca-Cola India walk away with Advertiser of the Year award? Can Prasoon Joshi and Santosh Padhi pull off ‘doubles' by bagging the writer and art director awards here too? Each question is stripped right down to its individual components and analyzed…

And why not? What with many top-order agencies choosing to enter their work solely at the Abbys, willy-nilly, the Abby Awards has become a sort of default national advertising award. Naturally, the stakes are high for every agency. A fact that Ramesh Narayan - chairman, Abby Awards Committee, and managing director, Canco Advertising - alludes to when he says, "The Abby has truly become a national award, as we get entries even from individual branches of agencies. With entries from all over India, the Abby has reached a stage where participation is assured."

Narayan also draws attention to the number of entries the Bombay Ad Club received this year to make his point. "This year, we had over 2,400 entries for the 17 categories in these awards," he says. This does not, however, constitute an increase over last year, but Narayan is still pleased with the numbers. "Given the relatively bad year advertising had in 2002, there were apprehensions that there might be a drop in the number of entries," he says. "But we are happy to see that the entries are on par with last year. I think this is an indication of the premium agencies attach to the Abbys."

One of the highlights of this year's awards is the constitution of three new awards: Best Actor, Best Actress and Best Director in television commercials. Giving reasons for the creation of these awards, Narayan says, "We all know that television commercials have a lot of appeal because of the skills that directors and actors bring to the final execution. Yet, these professionals remain unsung heroes, and it is the agency that enters the ad that ends up winning an award. The Awards Committee felt the need to focus on the efforts of people who enhance the overall quality of the ad, by ensuring that that talent was awarded." He quickly adds that awards given away in this category will not translate into points for the agency whose work won the awards. "These are individual awards, and will have no bearing on the points tally in the race for Agency of the Year," he says. Incidentally, these three awards have been judged by noted feature filmmakers Govind Nihalani, Mahesh Bhatt and Subhash Ghai, as the Awards Committee was "keen to have the category judged by people who were ideally equipped to judge it".

Another award that has got a lot of attention this year is the INS ThinkPrint Award. Though not strictly an ‘Abby Award', the award - which is in its third year - has seen 945 entries this year, twice as many as last year. "I think the number of entries this year is a ratification of the award, and the INS is quite thrilled," says Narayan. Incidentally, this year's brief for the ThinkPrint Award was to use a single 200-cc ad to launch a lipstick brand keeping the ongoing World Cup as a theme. The three-member jury for the award consisted of Simone Tata, Elsie Nanji and Preeti Vyas. Same as last year, the winners get a trophy - and an expense-paid trip to Cannes!

For all the goodwill generated, this year's awards have come in for some criticism - mainly on account of juries and their constitution. For one, there is a feeling that the Awards Committee has invited too many judges on board, which would lead to inconsistency in the results between categories. Demands to the effect that the Abbys follow the international norm of having fewer juries have been vocalized. Narayan has his defense ready. "To begin with, the number of judges has not increased over last year, so that is a misconception," he says. "Yes, we might have some 60 judges, but they have been divided equally to judge print, television and the campaign categories. That makes roughly 18-20 judges per category, which is fair." Narayan also believes that having a greater number of judges eliminates the bias - perceived or otherwise - in the judging, "which is a good thing".

Another move that has drawn flak from some quarters is the induction of clients and ‘suits' into the juries. Here too, the contention is that clients and suits are likely to bring in too many perspectives into the judging, which could cause an unnecessary tilt in the results. The feeling is that the Abbys are not brand performance awards but about creative excellence, so let's keep it that way.

Narayan doesn't agree. He, in fact, points out that it was only six years ago that it was decided that the Abbys would be only about creative impact. "That was when we said that we'd have only creative people on juries, and even changed the judging parameters to weigh creativity alone," he says. "Before that we had a lot of ‘non-creative' people as judges." Precisely the point being made by the critics. One step forward and two back, they insist.

But Narayan still believes it's worth it. "I feel we have to be open to listening to the market," he says. "The feedback we got from clients was that they saw advertising awards as an occasion for agencies to pat themselves fiercely on their backs. So clients had started distancing themselves from the awards game. Now this is not good because, ultimately, it is the client who has to buy creativity, and we think no client should distance himself from creativity. By getting them on the jury, we are involving them in the process of evaluation of creative, and in the long run, that will benefit the industry immensely. And we must realize that the suits judge creative everyday, so we shouldn't underestimate them."

Well, the juries might have cast their votes, but for most ad folk, the jury is still out on who will end up wearing the laurels… © 2003 agencyfaqs!

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