Advertising Trophies

183: Every Day is an Advertising Contest

This is the time every year, when I prepare my clients’ entries for the auction industry’s annual advertising contest. The preparation work, as always, is fueled by hope. 2017 could be the seventeenth straight year that I’ve won at least two national awards for my auctioneers.

Every year, I’m surprised by what wins and loses in the competition. I’ve won with stuff I’d be embarrassed to show my friends and lost with the best work of that previous year—if not my career. That fickleness is true of most awards shows, as art is subjective. So, we contestants do what we always do: (1) enter as much as we can and (2) cross our fingers.

The reality is that judges really can’t determine which is the most effective advertising.

If they tried, everything would be measured by sales figures, auction registrations, web site traffic, or efficiency scores. Because assets vary in value and campaigns vary in scope, success is relative to each sale. A results competition would be more daunting than comparing apples and oranges. It’d be judging the entire produce department—at Whole Foods.

Scoring RubricThat’s why the contest comes back to aesthetics. Audio and visual elements are not created equal. Commercial art can be evaluated, even if subjectively. The challenge comes in uniting under the same determining factors.

Recently, a state association official gave me something I’ve never seen in the auction industry: the scoring rubric for his state’s advertising contest. He asked me what I would change. “Tear it up,” he invited. So, I did. I crossed out every criteria and wrote a measurement that should replace it.

If I wrote the criteria for any state or national advertising contest, I’d use the following questions to rate the entries.

Would this piece stand out in its native environment?

Since our advertising competes with media from every other industry on a constant basis, would this advertisement draw attention to itself in the mail box, newspaper, bulletin board, social media, broadcast medium, etc.? Is it intriguing, unique, or beautiful?

Are the images compelling?

Do these photos look like they were professionally taken or at least intentionally snapped with marketing in mind? Do they look like the images major retailers use for similar assets? Are the pictures given room to breathe? Is the lighting and composition good? (These same criteria would apply to video capture.)

Is the text succinct and easy to read?

If everything is bolded, nothing is. So, is there hierarchy of font size, boldness, etc.? Is there good contrast between the type and the background? Does the advertiser refrain from visual redundancy by avoiding headlines like “real estate” or “farm equipment” with pictures that already indicate that? Do they use a benefit-based headline instead of the word “auction”? Does the auctioneer say only enough to get the audience to the next desired action?

Does the layout draw attention to the asset instead of itself?

The primary purpose for advertising is to sell stuff (or promote a cause)—not the ad agency. When I look at the piece, the first thing I see shouldn’t be a color or font or pattern. Distracting elements in the era of short attention spans are disqualifiers. Everything must draw the audience to the asset.

These are the questions I would ask in an aesthetic competition, because these are the questions I use to guide my design and social media work—when possible with the content I’m provided. These are questions we all should be asking ourselves every day about our advertising.

Advertising awards affirm our actions and can even be a competitive advantage. Their importance, though, pales in comparison to the impressions that the marketplace has of our brand and its iterations. We don’t compete just against other auctioneers. We compete every day against the entire marketplace—all the different ways and places that people can buy what we’re trying to sell. Whether we like it or not, that marketplace is asking these questions. Are you?

Stock photo purchased from

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