Every year here in Halifax, a local movie theater takes a week off from typical Hollywood fare and schedules screenings of 90 uninterrupted minutes of television commercials - winners in the annual Cannes Advertising Awards. (The 53rd edition of the Cannes Awards is taking place this week in France.) Considering how much effort we generally put into avoiding commercials (whether with the TV remote or online pop-up blockers), it may seem odd that this theater can fill every seat in the house with an audience willing not only to sit through an hour and a half of non-stop ads, but pay for the privilege as well. But as this annual booking proves, people can recognize and appreciate quality regardless of the medium. With luck, the Cannes Awards will permit temporary online viewing of this year's winning entries over the next few days or weeks, but even if they don't, Ad-Awards is standing by with a year-round, constantly growing collection of some of the best TV advertising from around the world.
Launched in 2004, Ad-Awards takes television commercials that have been submitted by their proud agency parents and then employs a group of judges from across the advertising industry to select and post the best ones on a monthly basis. (While there is a section of the site reserved for future print-based projects, for the moment, Ad-Awards' content is strictly video.) And unlike other 'cool commercials' sites that require paid subscriptions (fine for those in the industry, or for a annual big screen event, but unlikely to attract the average online viewer), Ad-Awards is entirely free of charge.
The layout of the site is simplicity itself - with a homepage that features thumbnail previews from the month's winning ad, and a random selection of three other entries (which changes every time the page is reloaded). Click on any of the thumbnails, and the site opens a new page with a self-launching video of the selected commercial. Once you've seen the ad, you can then explore others in the same vein (Food, Sports, Non-Profit, etc.) from an index that automatically synchronizes with the active content while displaying fresh thumbnails from each available ad as you mouseover the related links. If you choose to move to another topic, a category index sits to the left of the page, while a navigation bar near the top of the page offers the option of arranging the content by ad agency, country of origin, or chronology. (Archives date back to the August of 2004 - albeit with a rather peculiar ordering of the months within each year.)
As for the content itself, examples range from a commercial about cars made with that extra human touch, to the full- length version of the "Stunt City" ad which has recently made its way into the North American market, a French spot for "March of the Penguins," (marketed under the original title of "March of the Emperor"), a case of sport-induced domestic estrangement, lessons in English as a second language and music history, Nicole Kidman's Chanel epic, an elegant and effective example of "putting The shoe on the other foot", and, perhaps unavoidably, a wide selection of Super Bowl entries.
In addition to its no-charge status, Ad-Awards also stands above other similar sites by offering video clips with a technical quality that does at least some justice to the standards of the commercials themselves. That's not to say the video will fill your screen with high-definition magnificence, but unlike the pixellated pictures and annoying and unreliable file formats of some other sites, Ad-Awards uses high-quality videos that launch into the Flash-based layout without incident or hesitation. The site also benefits from a more extensive collection than most, and a lack of intrusive "side" content - so while there may be ads worth seeing at other industry sites, smaller selections and busy layouts will almost certainly result in shorter stays.
Of course, even though Ad-Awards' catalog is larger than most, it's also limited, and there's a good chance that you won't find a particular personal favorite here. (Though it's probably available somewhere on the Web.) But there will be plenty of classics that you've never seen before - and more than enough to remind us that commercials don't have to bore, annoy, or insult their audience. Here's hoping more ad agencies come to the same realization.
Ad-Awards can be found at http://www.ad-awards.com/.