Axis recognition reflects standard of creativity

By Martha McKenzie-Minifie

You get a sense of the competitiveness of New Zealand's top creative advertising awards from the way the tally of honours looks.

As each award is announced, a bronze, silver or gold star is marked beside the winner's name on a table that resembles the TV's Olympic Games medal tally.

Perhaps next year the winners could pick a theme song and it could play, like an anthem, as they approach the podium.

"Competitive, aren't we?" laughs Mark Champion, chief executive officer of organising body CAANZ.

Competitive? Definitely.

The way the annual Axis Awards are so hotly contested shows just how important they are to agencies and clients, Champion says.

This year's ceremony was held last Friday and the flurry of comments about the results on industry weblog New Zealand Creative Circle backs Champion's official line that indeed the awards are more than just a good excuse to get dressed up and quaff some sparkling wine.

One of the online comments laments the awards as an "old boys' club". Others, in various degrees of colourful language, congratulate overall winner Colenso BBDO for its "rack of good work".

The consensus is that the four Grande Axis awards - in the print, electronic, direct and interactive - are well deserved.

The general opinion is that judges, led by Justin Tindall of DDB London, do not hand out gold gongs easily. Print stood out as a weak category, with few entries deemed worthy of awards.

The Axis Awards is one of three honours run by CAANZ (Communication Agencies Association of New Zealand) annually: the others celebrate media placement and effectiveness.

The New Zealand creative contest closely follows, in timing at least, the top international gala in Cannes, France.

Here, Colenso BBDO, under the relatively new stewardship of creative director Rich Maddocks and general manager Brent Smart, took top honours, scoring Best in Show for their SkyCity Let's Play Poker campaign and a Grande Axis for Tip Top's undies campaign. Saatchi & Saatchi won the People's Choice award.

At the international show in Cannes, Auckland's TBWA\Whybin was among the local agencies to score big, bringing home three Gold Lions and the honour of having its direct arm, Tequila, pronounced third best in the world.

This list of accolades can go on and on - New Zealand advertisers indeed are a creative bunch worthy of a swag of credits - but why do we care about awards?

SkyCity's New Zealand general manager of marketing, Jill Birch, says the campaign which took top honours at Axis used a different approach to advertising.

Advertisements of playing cards were placed on buses, in magazines and other media for players to "collect" into a winning poker hand.

As well as providing valuable recognition from an international judging panel, the win also has other spinoffs, including improving the company's employment proposition - particularly important considering the country's tight labour market.

Campaigns are not just about winning awards, they've also got to please clients.

Roy Meares, executive creative director at Ogilvy, says creatives can't lose sight of the clients' needs.

"The icing on the cake is to be acknowledged as a creative campaign," said Meares, whose MTC team, now part of Ogilvy, clinched two Gold Axis awards for L&P.

"I don't think I'll ever see a client who will say 'Look, I don't care that this campaign didn't do anything - I'm delighted it won awards'."

Saatchi & Saatchi chief executive officer Andrew Stone supports awards too, pointing to the way they make people strive for excellence.

"At our peril do we forget that at our heart we are a creative business," says Stone.

"You've got to be careful you don't worship a false god - because they are not a be-all and an end-all - but I think encouraging creativity is hugely important."

He says it is important the creative awards run alongside media and effectiveness gongs.

"I think the effectiveness awards are critical for our industry," says Stone, whose agency was named New Zealand's most effective for 2005 by CAANZ.

"I think that the creative and media awards are important to broaden people's minds - I think it spurs people on."

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