Advertising is an easy field to be cynical about, but I have a genuine appreciation for all things advertising. While it may not often rise to the level of fine art, a lot of creativity and sensitivity can be expressed through a well-done ad (and even some not so well done). With a huge ad smorgasbord just around the corner at the Big Game (better safe than sorry), it can be easy to overlook the great advertising work done on smaller scales.

So, when I was invited to judge the local component of the American Advertising Awards (lovingly known as the ADDYs for you local advertising folks) this year in Jackson, MS, I jumped at the chance. Well, kind of.

Truth be told, having never really been to Mississippi, I was a bit skeptical. Like many Floridians, the only time I  had set foot in the state was at a convenience store along I-10 while traveling to New Orleans. Still, I was curious to see just how good the work would be in a market that’s a little off advertising’s beaten path. Plus, I needed some creative inspiration.

Judge, Jury and…mostly Judge

Addy-logo-for-websiteThe American Advertising Awards are split across three levels: local, district and national, with local winners advancing to district competitions and so on. It’s win and advance, so every entry starts in a local competition. I’ve entered my own work for nearly 15 years and amassed a nice collection of local and district awards, although a national award continues to elude me. I’ve also judged multiple competitions inside Florida and even chaired a district level competition.

As a judge, the number one thing I look for is originality. I want to experience something new, either in the concept or the execution, but ideally a combination of both. I also want to feel… something, anything. Any entry that makes me smile, cry, fear or squirm is a guaranteed winner. To my delight, the Jackson entries I reviewed had all of those qualities. 

Since winners haven’t been announced, I want to talk about things I noticed rather than specific entries. 

First, the overall video production in Jackson is fantastic. Entries are judged blind, so I can’t say whether the majority of the video pieces I reviewed came from the same agency/production company or not. I do know there was a ton of beautiful cinematography, editing and graphics. Even the acting was solid, which is pretty rare for a market this size. I’ve seen work from Top 10 markets that wasn’t nearly up to Jackson’s standard.

Second, you don’t need a huge budget to make an impact. Some of the simplest pieces stirred the most emotion. I distinctly remember flipping the pages of a non-profit’s year-in-review and finding myself smiling. Words and images in perfect harmony – and it made me smile. Winner.

Even with the video entries, one of the highest scoring campaigns was seemingly shot entirely on someone’s phone. But the content was genuine and honest and inspiring. Winner.

Third, logos are really hard to judge. In the American Advertising Awards format, there’s no means for an entrant to explain a piece to the judges. Each logo entry is just the logo by itself printed on a white sheet of paper. When it comes to logos, you have to understand the history, vision and principles of the company to understand why it is what it is. Otherwise, you’re simply judging based on how nice the illustration is. There were several beautiful illustrations, but I rarely knew enough about the company represented to assign a winning score.

Well, some logos are hard to judge.
Well, some logos are hard to judge.

Fourth, websites rarely make good entries for this competition. This was my first time judging an ADDY competition since joining 352 a year and a half ago. Since then, I’ve gained a whole new appreciation for the thought, labor and expertise that go into making a truly great website. This competition, however, isn’t about creating a great website, it’s about creating a creative website. Being aesthetically pleasing, functional and a huge profit center for the client don’t necessarily mean anything here. As I said earlier, from a judge’s perspective, I want to see something I’ve never seen before and I want to be inspired. Few websites meet these criteria because most are built for practical use.

Ironically, as I came to these realizations, 352’s American Advertising Awards entries – all of which are websites – were being judged 600 miles away. I wonder if those judges shared my view on websites when it comes to this competition.

Don’t Sleep on Jackson

I was highly impressed with the work I saw in Jackson, which is a testament to the wealth of brilliant advertising minds throughout the U.S. Just because a market doesn’t have the population or perceived industry prestige of New York, Chicago or L.A., don’t think for a moment there aren’t super-talented people there producing outstanding, influential advertising. Just ask the good folks in Jackson.

On a personal note, I’d like to thank my fellow judges, Judy Thompson of AAF Cincinnati and Matt Stewart of Disney’s Yellow Shoes Creative Group, and our gracious host Janet Walker and the other AAF Jackson folks who catered to our every need. You made the experience a pleasure. Much appreciated.

Photo credit: Brian Turner


Damion Wasylow is a senior marketing strategist at 352.