The Ads That Never Were

It is an old saw among the creators of advertising that the best ads often don't run. An agency will bust tail to come up with something truly clever, unforgettable and outrageous--a campaign that is sure to sell billions of sprockets. At the last minute, Mr. Spacely himself cans the plan.

"Too strange," he says. "It makes my boiler churn. Try again."
For agencies in Phoenix, there is a place to send those brilliant-but-edgy campaigns before they die. For the past two years a local advertising contest--the Phoenix Addy Awards--has sponsored a special competition for ads that the clients simply couldn't--or wouldn't--use.

Why did these ads die before their time? Chris Poisson, a vice president at the Phoenix agency Pollick & Associates, and co-chair of the 1988 Addys, and creative director on two of the Best Idea That Never Flew winners, says you never can tell. "The reasons that clients [kill ads] are too many to list in the newspaper," he says. "None of the ideas that we won awards for were turned down for negative reasons, like they were off-strategy or whatever. They were turned down for more practical reasons."

For example, an eye-catching ad that meant to use Adolf Hitler to lure voters to the polls was scheduled to run in the Arizona Republic last fall but was pulled at the last minute, Poisson says, because it was scheduled to run on the Jewish holiday Rosh Hashanah. "The reasons for having the award," Poisson says, "is not to pooh-pooh the clients and say, `You don't know what good "creative" is.'"

"Creative" apparently is ad talk for A) people who get paid to daydream, and B) the result of their dazing. "The real reason is to take creatives at their best, and supposedly this is the work where they really let both barrels go, and where they might take more of a risk.

"Most creatives think that their best ideas go in the round file. That's probably a biased viewpoint. But it isn't just an art, and it isn't just creative. It's a combination of art and science to sell things. Creative types are the first ones to forget that there's a bottom line to this business."

A bit of a related controversy marred this year's Addys. One local agency, Moses Anshell, was honored for an outrageous idea that apparently never flew yet was entered in one of the "legitimate" categories. Once discovered, the agency forfeited its award, but not before an embarrassing column or two about the flap made the Sunday paper.

The Addys, sponsored by the Phoenix chapter of the American Advertising Federation, are the first step in a chain of contests leading to prestigious national awards. A Best Idea That Never Flew competition is a relatively new concept, Poisson says, and it is becoming a trend around the country. A California-based contest is planned that will feature nothing but rejected ad campaigns.

The local Best Idea category in 1988 had thirty or forty entries, Poisson recalls, including print, TV and outdoor campaigns, making it about as popular as one of the regular categories. Due in part to the unpleasantness caused by the controversy in this year's Addys, some rules-tightening is foreseen for next year. No longer will "spec" ads be allowed in the Best Ideas category, Poisson guesses. "The category has been open to ideas willy-nilly," he says. "I think next year it's going to be limited to actual work ordered by real clients, not speculative stuff that you did in a pitch or stuff you did for your own portfolio."

Or, he doesn't add, work done merely to enter in contests, a practice that apparently is pretty common out there in agencyland. Both of the print ads for which Poisson acted as creative director would have qualified under the tougher rules. So would have the "What Most Mexicans Think" campaign, which won an Addy for Thomas-Tvert Inc. and creative director Charlie Thomas. "The ad itself was part of a package of things we showed them," Thomas says of his client, the Scottsdale Princess resort. "Typically, in the agency business, you show them your best stuff. You suggest to them that if we push [the viewer] to the edge, that probably indicates it's a better ad. The other ads we did for [the Princess] were similar, but not as provocative. "I felt it was a good ad and that it had something different to say. They felt that there was some potential for backlash from the Mexican-American community for that particular ad. To tell you the truth, I never did understand it at all. They eventually said they were not willing to take the risk."

"Creative types are the first ones to forget that there's a bottom line to this business."


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