Local ad agencies have extra fun with Addy videos

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The Oscars, Grammys, Tonys, Emmys. Winning any one of those awards would be great, but watching while other people collect accolades can be boring.

Unless, say, there is a good dance number. Or some new music. Or the host offends the audience with his jokes.

That last one actually could occur at the Addys, the informal name of the Pittsburgh American Advertising Awards show that brings together the local marketing industry in all its creative -- and sometimes edgy -- glory. This year's show is set for tonight at the Carnegie Science Center.

A few years back, the Pittsburgh Advertising Federation, which puts on the annual contest and the show, decided to offer its talented pool of members the opportunity to create introductory videos for categories in the contest.

It wasn't clear if anybody would volunteer to make the videos, which could be seen as a networking/self-promotion opportunity -- or just free work.

Mike Giunta, a copywriter for Downtown-based Garrison Hughes and one of the people who works to pull together the show every year, recalls thinking few people would bother.

He was wrong.

When the call went out about a month ago for this year's volunteers, the slots went fast. "As they've been snatched up faster and faster, it's almost become a competition within the competition," Mr. Giunta said

The videos have produced some of the more entertaining moments during recent Addy shows, which are otherwise straightforward affairs where winners are invited to the stage to pick up their honors -- without time to thank their bosses, family members or hair dressers.

There have been "Godfather" spoofs, voiceovers of old Westerns and wry uses of technology, like the intro for the interactive category that had fun with the idea of cookies (the edible kind vs. the ones on computers).

Much of the humor is not quite ready for prime time, the kind of jokes told by people who work long hours trying to be creative on demanding deadlines. It also can appeal only to insiders. "It's a chance for us to laugh at ourselves," said Mr. Giunta.

One video in the 2008-2009 show introduced the category of "Ad Industry Self-Promotion" with film of streetwalkers leaning into cars. Those in the industry who've worked on pitches that never turned into paid business could relate to the voiceover dialogue: "Yo, let me get a freebie." "I told you, I don't do spec."

In addition to being fun to make, the videos can be an opportunity to stretch creatively. Downtown agency Brunner invites members of its creative department to participate, said Jay Giesen, co-executive creative director, and often young employees get involved. "That's how you build your reputation and your book," said Mr. Giesen.

The audience, after all, is the Pittsburgh marketing community, which is known for having staff members who've worked at more than one local shop. The Pittsburgh Ad Federation has even started allowing the videos themselves to be entered for local Addys, although they don't go on to compete at the district level.

Some who have worked on the videos say it's given them a chance to work with tools like animation and other new technology, or just do things they don't regularly get to do.

"It gives us an opportunity to work with different creatives outside of a paying client," said Ray Tragesser, editor and owner of Downtown-based Upper Cut Studios.

Last year, people from seven different agencies worked together on a "We Are The World" take-off called, "We Got No Golds," a satirical celebration of the feelings of those who don't pick up lots of prizes.

Not all the videos that people dream up win cheers at the show. Jay Green, owner of Big Science Music, Downtown, said he received mixed reviews on one that used stop-motion ants at last year's show. "Some people loved it," he said, but others told him they hated it.

He's got a new one for this year's show involving live actors, including a cameo from a well-known Pittsburgh marketer.

There might be 12 videos this year to introduce the different competitive categories, if everyone who volunteered manages to come through, said Mr. Giunta.

The recent President's Day weekend found a small crew shooting scenes in Market Square and in front of the Carnegie Science Center for a satirical rap video that Mr. Giunta developed music and lyrics for. He used a day off to do the shoot.

The stars of the video -- James Nesbitt of North Side-based Wall-to-Wall Studios and Matt Hildebrand of Mullen, in the Strip District -- recorded the audio ahead of time and then lip-synched. That was trickier than it sounds. "They forgot some of the words," recalled Julia Hannan, a video editor at PMI who was polishing up the piece at her agency's Downtown office earlier this week.

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Teresa F. Lindeman: tlindeman@post-gazette.com or at 412-263-2018.


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