Skip to main content
persuasion notebook

Television ads are posted in front of the Carlton hotel in Cannes.ERIC GAILLARD/Reuters

Persuasion Notebook offers quick hits on the business of persuasion from The Globe and Mail's marketing and advertising reporter, Susan Krashinsky. Read more on The Globe's marketing page and follow Susan on Twitter @Susinsky.

No industry is as fond of bestowing awards upon itself as advertising. All over the world, agencies shell out entry fees for the chance to be judged by panels of industry peers and trade press, and to show off a bevy of statuettes in the lobbies where they greet potential clients.

Applied Arts Magazine is just one of the publications getting in on the action. This year, however, they took a slightly different approach: in addition to the usual juries of industry professionals, they brought in a panel of regular consumers to judge the work. And they had some harsh words.

The ads were called out for being stupid, manipulative, or just plain bad. In fact, the majority of the ads that the jury of professionals had selected for awards, were panned by the sample of real people that they were supposed to be persuading. A full 70 per cent of the winning work was not approved by the jury of consumers.

"The problem with a lot of work that wins at awards shows: It talks to the judges but doesn't always work in the real world. The brilliant stuff does well in both," Zak Mroueh, chief creative officer and founder of Toronto ad agency Zulu Alpha Kilo, said in a statement. The agency guest art directed the September-October issue of Applied Arts, just released, which outlines the award winners.

The judging took place before the Cannes advertising festival in June, and the 30 per cent of work that both the professional and lay juries agreed upon was also work that ended up winning at the high-profile awards show. One example: a campaign from BBDO Toronto and Proximity Canada for the Ontario Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care. The ads mocked people who say they are social smokers, with jokes about how the same claims would sound for behaviour such as farting.

That snarky take on the public service announcement was a social media hit, and also nabbed a bronze at Cannes. It also landed a top spot in Applied Arts' Integrated category, with agreement from both juries.

The seven judges on the "lay jury" represented different demographics and social categories (such as a baby boomer, a millennial, and a hipster, for example).

In a video outlining the experiment, they had some messages for advertisers:

"Don't assume that we're stupid," Gen-X jury member Martin said.

"Don't take yourselves so seriously," said Tim, a 26-year-old student representing the hipster quotient.

A jury of common consumers delivering a bit of common sense.