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If one wonders what the banquets were like in the dying days of the Roman Empire as the Barbarians marched upon the gates of Rome, Friday’s Revolution Awards would have perhaps given one an insight. For while there was copious revelry and backslapping as in the previous twelve years of the UK digital marketing industry’s awards ceremony, there was unease in the air. While the name of the magazine that organises the event, ‘Revolution’ was emblazoned on the banners at Grosvenor House on Park Lane in London, that other R word seemed to have wafted into the fashionable hotel and affected the tone of the evening: Recession.

But back to that later. I had been invited to the awards by Carl Davis, the charismatic CEO of DGM UK. As well as being one of the main sponsors, DGM had booked a table. Also attending from DGM were Chris Russell-Smith, Helen Southgate and Kevin Sutton, with guests including James Cooper of Media Contacts, Matt Bailey of i-level, Mark Joseph of Omnicom Media Group and Peter Wakim of Quidco.

A delectable meal was followed by the usual B-List comedian with the barrage of filthy jokes, and then onto the purpose of the night: the awards ceremony itself. It was anticipated beforehand that the Nike PhotoiD campaign would crush everyone in its path and this was proven to be right, as Nike’s Marketing Director Simon Pestridge lifted the ‘Digital Marketer of the Year’ award and Nike’s agency, AKQA won ‘Revolution Award for Innovation’, ‘Best Use of Mobile’ and the coveted ‘Agency of the Year’ gong.

AKQA came out top in so many categories that the agency’s Co-Founder and Chairman, Ajaz Ahmed, had to head to the stage time and time again. The publicity-shy Ahmed stepped off the stage before the official photographer even had the chance to take the picture of him with his award (his humility was underlined when, later in the evening, my friend and I congratulated him on lifting so many awards and he responded, “it’s all down to my team… I have an incredibly talented bunch of people working for me”).

AKQA’s Nike PhotoiD idea is a truly innovative one. It allows consumers to take a photo with their camera phone and then send the picture to a shortcode via MMS. Within seconds consumers receive a link to the NIKE PHOTOiD mobile internet site that features their customised footwear, in the most prevalent colours in the picture, superimposed over the photo that inspired it. The footwear design can be saved as mobile wallpaper, sent to a friend, and, by entering the unique DESIGNiD at NIKEiD.COM, consumers can link directly to their design to complete and buy.

As Ahmed says, “Most advertising is clichéd and predictable. AKQA has taken a stand against what we call ‘multi-mediocrity’. We want to stir it up and be doing new things all the time rather than follow some formula that might have worked in a different era.”

While most marketing, design and innovation awards were hotly contested and the winners were truly impressive, other categories were weak. The winners of the email marketing award, for instance, were eCircle and Argos, whose ‘innovation’ was to send a personalised trigger email two weeks after somebody had made a purchase on Argos.co.uk to encourage the buyer to write a review of the product on the Argos website. It would not have been worthy of an innovation award in 1999 nevermind 2009.

One thing that became stark to me during the evening was how there was a huge swathe of the marketing industry that had been earning a huge wad of money for being little more than a bit wacky; they weren’t expected to demonstrate accountability for their output. Big advertisers have been willing to blow hundreds of thousands of pounds on hip websites or marketing campaigns without expecting their agencies to demonstrate a tangible ROI. Essence, for instance, lifted the ‘Not-for-Profit Award’ for an iGoogle widget for Cancer Research UK that a mere 3,452 people had bothered to use.

I refer to such agencies in the past tense because, in a recession getting bloodier by the days, many advertisers have awoken to the need to see a ROI; and, when swanky designers and marketers can’t demonstrate that, budgets are fast being pulled.

There was the usual razzmatazz that one finds in these ceremonies, but there was also a sense of foreboding. Five whole pages of the guest list were ‘Guests of Revolution’ i.e. people who had not had to pay the £287.50 for their seats, but gotten in for free. Similarly, it was pointed out to me that in previous years the tables had gone all the way to the back of the Great Room, whereas this year there was an empty space at the back probably because of the lack of attendees. One guest even told me, “with the way the industry is going, who knows, there may not even be a Revolution Awards next year”.

A frightening prospect for one end of the marketing community, but a stark contrast to the other side, where people have to sweat to earn their dollars, constantly prove they are generating £2 for every £1 they spend, and the awards ceremony grows year upon year.

One of the reasons the A4U Awards came into being was because other marketing awards, such as Revolution, kept ignoring affiliate marketing year after year, and one can’t but feel if they had not repeatedly turned their noses down at one of the truly accountable and hence now thriving marketing disciplines, they may have had more attendees at their ceremonies when the big bad R began to bite.

Below is the full breakdown of the award winners. You can view a digital version of the brochure describing all the winners and their campaigns here.

Revolution award for innovation

PhotoiD

Brand: Nike

Agency: AKQA

Grand prix

Play Balloonacy

Brand: Orange

Agency: i-level

Digital marketer of the year

Simon Pestridge, marketing director, Nike UK

The Revolution hotshot award

Jamie Murray Wells, founder, Glasses Direct

Agency of the year

AKQA

Technology & telecoms

Orgy of Fun

Brand: O2

Agency: Agency Republic

Leisure & travel

Yesterday

Brand British Airways

Agency Agency.com

Media & entertainment

The Insiders

Brand: Turner Broadcasting/Boomerang

Agency: i-level

Financial services

Retirement planning

Brand: Prudential

Agency: in-house

Retail

The Big Book Bank

Brand: Waterstone’s

Agency: Wax Communications

Not-for-profit

iGoogle alcohol awareness gadget

Brand: Cancer Research UK

Agency: Essence

FMCG

Live studio

Brand: Inbev/Beck’s

Agency: Dare

Automotive

Problem Playground

Brand: Honda

Agency: Collective

B2B

Generation Green

Brand: British Gas

Agency: LBi

Best use of search

Brand: Domino’s Pizza

Agency: BLM Quantum

Best use of email

Brand: Argos

Agency: eCircle

Best use of mobile

PhotoiD

Brand: Nike

Agency: AKQA

Best use of affiliate marketing

Brand: Dell

Agency: TradeDoubler

Best website

Milk matters

Brand: Arla Foods/Cravendale

Agency: Outside Line

Best viral

Tipping Pot

Brand: Unilever/Pot Noodle

Agency: AKQA

Best use of online advertising

Play Balloonacy

Brand: Orange

Agency: i-level

Related Links: Read a review of last year’s Performance Marketing Awards UK.

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