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October 11, 2007 | Tate Linden
Oh the stuff that Thingnamers get to do...

I had the opportunity yesterday to help judge the Brass Ring Awards for the International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions with numerous other leaders in the Association Marketing space. My judging team selected the Best Integrated Marketing Campaign, Best Seasonal or Special Event Marketing, Best Print Advertisement, and Best Outdoor Advertisement.

While I'm not at liberty to say who won in the various categories, I was surprised to discover many trends in verbal and visual branding that become apparent only when you're confronted with 120 campaigns all selling what is essentially the same thing - a day of entertainment for the family.
  1. The smallest organizations fall into two categories - either they mention every single attraction the park offers (in the hopes, we assumed, that at least one would be interesting to the audience) - or they were completely off the wall and creative. The smaller parks typically have no guidance from a corporate office somewhere so if the marketing department knows what they're doing they get the chance to be amazingly strange (and effective.) They also don't get the coaching that the mid- to large-sized parks get and aren't prevented from putting out adverts that look an awful lot like catalogs, penny-savers, or junk-mail. Lesson learned: If you're a small park you shouldn't see marketing campaigns as places to save money or try shotgun marketing - see them as places to take a stand. The ones that just said "this is who we are and why we're cool" really impressed us.
  2. Animal parks, zoos, animal events, and animal experience sites were far and away the most creative. I'd assumed I'd be leafing through pages of "come see the baby panda" and "Hey kids - come for your birthday - our elephants won't forget to give you a present" sort of stuff. I was wrong. In an age where kids and adults are more likely to watch a video or simulation of animals the zoos have really risen to the challenge and come up with some great ways to show not only what they have to offer, but why it is important that we (as people, families, society) really need to experience it. While quite obviously the visuals were stunning, the words they used were also spot on. When the awards are announced I'll spend more time on this.
  3. We'd been drooling over the prospect of judging the batch of major theme parks - the biggest in the world. Sadly, this group really let us down. What we discovered was a batch of very clean advertising with a singular message (textbook, really) that had absolutely nothing unique about it. They were often beautiful to watch, but gave the viewer nothing to connect with. They really contrasted with the low-production-value small parks with interesting messages. Many were the sort of thing you'd expect to see on an intercontinental flight between movies. They felt canned. Sponsored. Fake. Empty. In a few instances we had trouble finding a runner up (or even a winner) because every single park took the exact same approach to an event. Corporate thinking... isn't.
  4. Most entertaining (though not always award winning)? The rare literal break-out piece. A billboard being broken into pieces. A sign flipped sideways to give better perspective on an attraction. Using the edges of an advertising space to help convey the size of something at the park. The most effective pieces were so great that I wanted to hang them on my wall... They really show how closely linked art and marketing can be. The best ads tended to be visually striking - and made all the judges in the room immediately say "I want to do *that*."
And a side note to potential entrants of contests... if you're going to submit multiple entries you may want to consider submitting low multiples. It's really hard to see how unique a particular park is when they submit (say) five similar campaigns in every single category. Sure, odds seem to point to a better chance of winning... but it also means that every single one of your campaigns seems less special.

Awards judging is similar to the original point of marketing. You want to stand out. You can't do that if you create a crowd as soon as your entries hit the table. Pick your best... leave the rest.(tm)?

Hey... that slogan works for the ad campaigns too.

Many thanks to my fellow judges for a fun day and to Eamon Connor for selecting a Thingnamer such as myself for such a cool project.