Behind closed doors: Thierry Halbroth's 48 hours judging AdFest's Direct Lotus category

Thierry Halbroth.jpgThierry Halbroth, Executive Creative Director Commonwealth// McCann Bangkok, sat on this year's AdFest Direct jury. Here's his account of the experience and the judging highlights.

As ever, it was an honour and a pleasure to be invited to AdFest (this year was my second tour of duty), as the festival's organisers put a premium on creating a very laid-back and cosy judging atmosphere. This doesn't mean that we sat around sipping Mai-Tais and talking nonsense all day long, though. It just means that with only seven judges in a category, we got to know our peers more intimately and were strongly encouraged to engage in discussions - there was simply no hiding. It also meant that all jury members from all categories got to know each other pretty quickly, and while some arrived as strangers, all left having made new friends.

During his briefing, Grand Jury President Rei Inamoto asked us to look for new work that would set a benchmark for this season's award shows. AdFest being the first (or last) show of the season, we saw some of the new work going head to head with last year's "classics". This obviously created healthy tensions and made us re-evaluate those entries that had gone to win multiple gongs last year. It also set a good benchmark for the new work: would it be good enough to upset last year's shining stars?
So it was with open minds (and eyes) that the seven of us left the briefing room to discover the 252 entries waiting to be furiously scrutinised. Led by Sonal Dabral, the seven of us proved to be a very compatible mix of Asian experts from Japan to India, and having worked and lived in many countries in between. Cultural relevance was not going to be an issue.

Day One
We were given an hour to familiarize ourselves with all 252 entry boards laid out for us. This definitely helped us "bookmark" some of the work. The way I personally go about this is simple: familiar work, as in the stuff that's won before; new work; the stuff I haven't seen before, which is interesting and stands out; and bad work, the stuff that's either a copycat of something that was done in the previous years or the stuff that's a definite no-no for me. Anything in between will rise organically to reach the shortlist if it's really that good, after the review session of case studies.

But before embarking on our eight-hour, case-studies marathon, we simply reminded ourselves of the category we were judging and what the work should be judged against - in this case D I R E C T. This is extremely important, as nowadays the game of multiple category entries is played for extremely good reasons (the nature of our industry and multi-channel communication) but there's also abuse, as some bank on potluck.

Key highlights of the day:
·       Underwear has become a new "direct" medium in Japan. We saw both male and female versions of this - the former analogue, the latter digital. Memorable indeed, and most likely the only thing that got lost in translation.

BBDO Guerrero NUJP.jpg·       Newspaper is making a big comeback. We had instant newspaper recycling into wrapping paper by Saatchi & Saatchi Hong Kong, a newspaper ad space to pray on by TBWA\Sri Lanka, an entire newspaper printed with mosquito-repelling ink to fight dengue by Leo Burnett Sri Lanka, the font size of an entire newspaper increased to pay respect to the elderlies by TBWA\Sri Lanka, and newspapers used to recreate paper-mache bodies of the journalists killed in the Ampatuan Massacre by BBDO Guerrero.

·       Mobile, a very direct (and intrusive) medium, was most disappointing, which is surprising given the mobile penetration and concentration of the region we live in.

·       Many online entries were not relevant to the category. While technically a direct medium, there was a lot of blurring of the lines and drowning of the fishes in not so direct ways.

·       Ambient and social media definitely stood out as strong direct channels, reinforcing the fact that interaction with consumers and engagement are key.

·       Unless you can reinvent dimensional mail like Colgate did, traditional mailers of any forms are almost extinct.

At the end of the day, we all left the room happy to have survived the case-study marathon, and definitely ready for drinks and dinner, which we almost missed as we were the last jury to finish that day.

Day Two
Started 9am sharp. We lost no one to the revolving bar and were fully ready to discover our shortlist - just under a hundred. Again, we spend a good hour looking at everything and identify the oddities. We spent another hour debating taking things off and putting things back on the shortlist.

As Sonal highlighted in his awards ceremony speech, each of us defended and argued pieces of work passionately. But this was all for the good of the show, and we were soon liking each other a little more instead of hating each other.

We then spent some time ranking entries in their respective categories and, as we reminded ourselves of the Direct component and sub-categories we were judging, started to move things across categories (that's a lot of categories for one sentence). This process completed, we were left with our 75 finalists.

We then adjourned for lunch (well all but me, as I had to deliver a creative presentation via teleconference instead) in order to come back ready to vote for metals. AdFest is kind of particular as it will only let us award three metals total in each sub-category including one Gold. This means that anyone shortlisted as a finalist should be extremely proud. Sorry, we don't make the rules.

I have to say that, all in all, the metal voting went rather smoothly. We started off with a bang and three Golds, which is always a little scary but as I looked around there was no hesitation around the room. These were three extremely worthy pieces, including the one that eventually went on to win our Grande, Colgate's "Education in a Box". After that, things were a little less generous.

Colgate_GoodFood.jpgSome entries were discussed at length, some not so much. GAYTM and a few other "classics" were omnipresent but as we continued judging we were looking hard and long for courage: the client's courage to buy ideas that would definitely stand out, and the creatives' courage to present ballsy ideas. But when we added great execution to the mix, things started to get more difficult. This is truly what separated the "old" work from the "new" work, and I have to say that with GAYTM and Colgate's Education in a Box, the battle was going to be very hard to win.

At the end, the "old" work prevailed but we saw and rewarded some pretty interesting new pieces of work (bloodbook, Your Call, Health Cha Shree Ganesh). Technology is definitely not ruling the direct category (yet). That's the problem with today's world, we often use technology in lieu of an idea, and we should remind ourselves that there's hardly any substitute for a good idea. And so the "old" world won, with one of the most low-tech but remarkable traditional pieces that inspired the whole jury: a piece of carton, some beautiful illustrations, a mundane phone number with a simple voice recorded message, and some genuine goodwill to make the world a better place. Well done to both Red Fuse/Y&R and Colgate.

Stars of the category: Sri Lanka, Hong Kong, Australia

Upset of the category: The Philippines

Bloodbook.jpgI'll leave you with some work worthy of spending a few minutes with:

1.     bloodbook by Leo Burnett Jakarta. This should be a default Facebook function.

2.     British Council's "Know your English" by Grey Group Singapore. When was the last time you saw a really good banner?

3.     Crikey's "Set in Stone" by Leo Burnett Melbourne. Simply powerful.

4.     Nagar's "Concrete Playgrounds" by Grey Worldwide India. So simple, it's striking.

5.     3AW's "Your Call" by Whybin\TBWA. So simple, it could have just been stupid.

6.     Aershan Mineral Water's "Signature Bottle" by Cheil China. Anyone who's ever set foot on a shoot will understand.

7.     Tiger Air's "Infrequent Flyers" by McCann Melbourne. Unsubtly making a point.

8.     Mawbima's world's first mosquito-repelling newspaper by Leo Burnett Sri Lanka. The kind of stuff anyone would be proud of.

9.     Maxibon's "Hangryman" by Leo Burnett Melbourne. So stupid, it couldn't have been that simple.

10.  Oriental Princess "OP Secrets" by JWT Bangkok. The category Thais love to break.


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