Thursday, June 4, 2009

Was it the drugs, or was it the clios?

If Hunter S Thompson were still alive, and if he were an ad guy, and if he still wanted fodder for a Las Vegas-based tale of distorted reality, he could do a lot worse than what we did a couple weeks ago: hop a cheap flight down to the Hard Rock Casino and Hotel to catch the last day of the 50th Annual CLIO Awards.

You have to feel for the organizers. The CLIOs are a business like any other, and their 50th birthday deserved to be a full-throated celebration - but the GFC put paid to that. Ticket prices sure didn’t help. (Though some enterprising folks managed to get the ultimate discount.)

The final evening, which featured all of the film awards - once upon a time the glamor portion of the proceedings - was uncomfortably devoid of guests.

It was like… hmmm… Twisted Sister booking an arena for their farewell gig, only to play to a crowd of less than a hundred.

What we did have was plenty of good old, cornball Mad Ave nostalgia. The CLIOs loves advertising, all of it, and as such is in its own way a much more complete reflection of all the flavors of ‘good’ that our industry creates. Witness the gyrating figures just beyond the entry to the show - not just showgirls, but a bevvy of life-sized ad critters. The Michelin Man. The Kool Aid Jug. And the multiple, multiple films about “The History Of The CLIOs”. And, most bizarrely, a Goldfinger-esque CLIO, enlivening one more retrospective with an interpretive aerial dance.

Wait, did I say ‘most bizarrely’? Actually, that CLIO went to the UNLV marching band and Charlie Tuna, performing another (!) paean to CLIOs past.

No, check that - the Grand Weird CLIO went to giving Barry Manilow an honorary CLIO. Not that he’s not deserving of such a recognition. The man wrote many of those annoying, cloying, outrageously effective jingles of the 70’s. It was that the room-packing, head-lining superstar performed a medley of his biggest ad hits (ie “Like a good neighbor… coz the Band Aid’s stuck on me…”) to such an empty room. With so many flashing lights and raking lasers and 120 decibel hoopla.

On two serious notes:

Let it be said that the work recognized was awesome. Say what you like about the CLIOs. Their place in the award show calendar, and their global reach, always gives them an authoritative shot at pronouncing what was great in the year gone past. Chairman of the jury, Mark Tutssel, did not disappoint. Nor did he give a grand CLIO. Stingy, standard-raising bugger that he is.

Second, the films that won were of such incredibly high executional standard. Meticulous. Fanatical. And, it seemed, most often entered by a production company rather than an agency. Which led me to wonder if that’s the future of award shows in a shrunken margin era - promotional opportunities for production companies. Who else could afford the labors of love on display? Who else has more to gain from flaunting those wares in front of an audience of creatives?

Yes, it was a moment in the history of advertising. The 50th CLIOs. The year no one showed up. The year we looked back on fatter times. The year we applauded brilliance, while trying our best, just for one evening, to ignore that growing sense of irrelevance.

Image by CLIO Awards

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