Ad Industry Receives Dubious Achievement Awards

While the advertising industry last week toasted itself at the 38th annual "Clio" awards -- the Oscars of commercials -- leading media critics and scholars recognized the same industry for its B-movie performances at the first annual "Schmio" award ceremony in New York. Several hundred enthusiastic guests flocked to the event, created to call attention to commercialism's insidious reach into all aspects of public and private life today.Nike was the star player of the evening, having been awarded the Lifetime Achievement Award for, among other things, paying out $1.8 million a day for advertising that encourages young women to have confidence and believe in themselves (and buy Nikes), while girls working in Nike's Asian sweatshops are paid 20 cents an hour for long days of grueling labor. The event's academic luminaries included master of ceremonies Dr. Neil Postman, educator and author of "Amusing Ourselves To Death." The event also included the East Coast premiere of "The Ad and The Ego," filmmaker Harold Boihem's documentary on the relationship between advertising and consumer culture. The evening's original title, the "Counter-Clio Awards" was dropped when the Clio Awards' sponsoring organization served a cease and desist notice regarding use of their trademarked name. Postman, in his usual wry style, introduced the awards as "The Schmios."Held one day prior to the official Clio ceremony, the Shmio Awards ceremony clearly shared nothing in common with its glitzy counterpart, except the subject of advertising. "The average American sees over 1,500 ads every day, yet we like to think that we're not influenced by advertising," said spokesperson Jean Kilbourne. "We organized this event to call attention to the pervasive power of advertising, and its inappropriate role as a transmitter of cultural values." Kilbourne, a media critic renowned for her film "Killing Us Softly: Advertising's Images Of Women," gave one of the 10 awards presented, "The Last Tango On Madison Avenue Award (For Most Deviant Use of A Dairy Product)". In her speech, Kilbourne discussed advertising's substitution of food for erotic experience, and the irony of an industry which presented near-anorexic models essentially making love to their refrigerators. The award was given to the ads of two ice cream companies; one Hagen-Daaz commercial that depicted a couple incorporating ice cream into their sexual activities, while the company Kibon propagandized with animated sperm-like spoons racing toward an ice cream scoop ovum.Three-time Pulitzer prize nominee Leslie Savan, Village Voice ad critic and author of "The Sponsored Life," gave the "Excellence in Blaxploitation Award" to Miller Lite for one of the company's "Dick" spots, which spoof an adman creating wacky campaigns for the company. The commercial that garnered Savan's award featured Dick's best friend, a black man, "testing" Miller Lite by jumping off of buildings and throwing himself through plate glass windows. Said Savan, "It looks like a very funny, hip blaxpliotation movie, but when you boil it all down, it's just a postmodern minstrel show."Mark Crispin Miller, Professor of Media Studies at Johns Hopkins University and author of "Boxed In: The Culture of TV," created "The Aldus Huxley Award for Most Terrifying Vision of Totalitarianism," which went, with hot competition from several other contenders, to Time Warner. The winning ad campaign, which depicted impossibly gleeful looking people paired off with various Time Warner-owned shows and characters, was geared to demonstrate how integral to our lives the company is, said Miller. What was intriguing, he added, was that the people in the ads had ceased to discern between television and reality; one woman wants her appendix taken out by George Clooney, who plays a doctor on the popular nighttime drama E.R., while a couch potato cat wants to eat "his favorite character," the cartoon bird Tweety.Pat Auferheide, associate professor at American University's School of Communications, presented "The Hype-ocrisy Award" to Johnson & Johnson, for pulling their advertising from the much-sensationalized coming-out episode of the television program "Ellen," while continuing to advertise its HIV detection kits in gay-oriented magazines. She shared with them a slogan which was recently heard on Capitol Hill: "A spine is a terrible thing to waste."Marcia Ann Gillespie and Barbara Findlen, editor in chief and executive editor of "Ms." magazine compiled the 10 worst selections from the magazine's "No Comment!" section for "The More Things Change The More The Ad Industry Ensures They Stay The Same." Five selections from 20 to 25 years ago were juxtaposed with five recent ads, showing that "though feminism has done much to improve the portrayal of women in advertising, many anti-woman themes still persist." One pair of ads included a mid-1970's ad for clothes which promised that the wearer's friends would hate her more each time she wore them, while a very recent ad for stockings read "What the bitch who's about to steal your man wears." As the presenters said, sisterhood is powerful. Other awards included "The Toxic Sludge Is Good For You Award," given by John Stauber, author of a book by the same title, to America's TV news directors for accepting and running so-called public relations-produced video news releases, which Stauber called "the advertising best disguised as journalism."Matt Weiland, managing editor of "The Baffler," presented the "History Is Bunk Award" to Pizza Hut for their "Strike Break" spot, which showed a disgruntled group of striking laborers receiving comfort in the form of a pizza delivery, ordered by one of the company managers. Makani Themba, co-director of The Praxis Project, gave the "Jimmy The Greek Big Black Buck Award" for most demeaning target marketing to clothing company Sir Benni Miles, for their depiction of a nude couple entwined, the woman in chains, and both greased painted black from head to toe.The Center For Media Education's "What A Tangled Web (Site) You Weave Award," for the Web sites that most craftily ensnare children, was presented to McDonalds and Budweiser. Co-sponsors of the "Schmios" include California Newsreel, the Center for Media Education, the Media & Democracy Congress and NYU's Department of Culture and Communications. Additional support was provided by Adbusters and The Learning Alliance. The responsive good nature of the full house audience seemed to indicate a highly successful evening, and plans for an expanded event next year are already in the making -- although the name of the event is still up for debate.

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