The 10 Big Advertising Awards That Matter

The Advertising and Design Awards Worth Winning

Cannes Lions receives award

Francois G. Durand / Getty Images

Advertising awards are a lucrative business, which is why there are so many of them. The entrance fees usually start in the low hundreds of dollars, and if you're entering several campaigns, you could be out of pocket by a few thousand dollars. Sometimes, it 's a lot more.

So, with advertising agencies having less money to spend, but awards still being one of the few ways to show major credibility, which awards should you try and win?

Here, are the best award shows; the ones that actually matter. These are the awards that have high creative standards, are widely recognized by the industry, and mean something when you put them on your agency reel or your personal resume. After all, there's no point in listing all of the awards you've won if you have to explain what they are.

1: The D&AD (Design & Art Direction)

In the opinion of the most renowned names in advertising, the D&AD is the biggest and the best. It's one of the few awards that refuses to hand out gongs if the work isn't good enough. Most other awards will compromise their standards to ensure every category has a winner, but not the D&AD. They set the bar really, really high.

Founded in 1962 by some of the best designers and art directors in the world (Alan Fletcher, David Bailey and Terence Donovan to name a few) they set impossibly high standards from the get-go. 2,500 entries, 16 winners. Giants of advertising and design have since been president of the D&AD, including Paul Brazier, Graham Fink, Mary Lewis, Aziz Cami, Tim Delaney and Martin Lambie-Nairn.

The standards for even being considered for a D&AD award are so tough, they now have an award for getting a nomination. If you win a D&AD pencil, you're exceptional. If you win a D&AD Gold, well, you've just elevated yourself to a creative deity. But if money is tight and the work isn't absolutely fantastic, save your cash. Entering good work is not good enough, and you've just wasted your entry fee.

  • Chances of winning a D&AD pencil - Very, very slim
  • Bragging rights - Massive and forever
  • Effect - A D&AD pencil is a knighthood for your career

2: The One Show

Widely known as the US equivalent of the D&AD, and often more coveted in the US than the D&AD, the One Show is another giant of the advertising awards industry. The One Club was founded to champion and promote creative excellence in advertising and design. And it does that.

Just like the D&AD, the standards are high. Perhaps not quite as tough as the D&AD, but it's close. You need to have solid work and major confidence to even consider entering. Chances are, you won't see a win. But for those few that do win a One Show pencil, it's champagne and caviar to celebrate.

  • Chances of winning a One Show pencil - Very slim
  • Bragging rights - Enormous and lengthy
  • Effect - With its US connection, they're the Oscars of advertising

3: The Cannes Lions

The Cannes Lions are actually older than both the One Show and D&AD, having been born in 1954. They were started because a group of worldwide cinema screen advertising contractors (SAWA) felt like advertising should receive similar recognition to the movies playing at the Cannes Film Festival.

From that point, Cannes Lions have grown into a massive number of categories. They honor everything from advertising and design to creative effectiveness - something often overlooked in favor of pretty pictures and prose.

Cannes not only gives out awards; they also impart knowledge. Their speaker series reads like a who's who of the advertising and design elite, and those kinds of names ad serious credibility to the awards.

Again, if the work isn't absolutely dynamite, save your money. The standards are high and the competition is fierce.

  • Chances of winning a Cannes Lion - Slim
  • Bragging rights - Colossal
  • Effect - A Cannes Lion means a few extra stripes on your creative epaulets

4: Communication Arts Annuals

Every year, the esteemed creative publication Communication Arts puts out a series of printed annuals celebrating the best of the best work done that year. The annuals cover specific fields, including:

  1. The Illustration Annual
  2. The Interactive Annual
  3. The Advertising Annual
  4. The Typography Annual
  5. The Design Annual

On average, each annual receives roughly 5,000 entries and only 150-200 are chosen for the book. That means you have a 96 to 97 percent chance of not making the final cut. Ouch. If you're on a budget, a 3 to 4 percent chance of winning is not an attractive gamble. But those odds make it even sweeter when your work is chosen by a distinguished panel of jurors.

  • Chances of appearing in a CA Annual - Faint
  • Bragging rights - Mammoth
  • Effect - The Annuals stay on shelves for years - winning work is lauded for a long time.

5: The ADDYs

The American Advertising Federation (AAF) celebrates the notion that great ideas can come from anywhere. Local chapters of the AAF host awards shows, and the best work from those shows goes forward to the national ADDYs. It also receives over 40,000 entries each year, making it the world's largest advertising competition. And what's more, it boasts a smaller entrance fee than most other awards.

Judges for the ADDYs are some of the best, biggest and brightest in the industry. For example, the 2011 judging panel includes Aaron Allen, creative director of Weiden & Kennedy, Steve Babcock, creative director of Crispin, Porter and Bogusky, and Tom Coates, creative director of Butler Shine. These are tough critics whose own agencies have a history of creating some of the best advertising in the world.

The judging panels, plus the massive notoriety of winning, makes the ADDYs an oasis for agencies and creative looking to add more strings to their bow. Of course, even though it's widespread, winning a national award is tough. The local chapters are easier to win, but it's no cake-walk either.

  • Chances of winning a National ADDY - Faint
  • Bragging rights - Titanic
  • Effect - The judges are massive talents. If they love you, you're golden.

6: The CLIO Awards

Founded in 1959 by Wallace A. Ross, the CLIO name stems from Greek mythology, being the muse of history and the celebrator of accomplishments. Today, the CLIO Awards honor the best Interactive, Direct Mail, Content & Contact, Film, Print, Out of Home, Innovative Media, Integrated Campaign, Radio, Design and Public Relations. Student work is also recognized in Interactive, Film, Print, Out of Home, Innovative Media, Integrated Campaign and Design.

The judging process for the CLIO awards is also notably tough. Fewer than 10 percent of submissions survive the first round, from which juries re-evaluate the work to determine Gold, Silver and Bronze statue winners. Less than 3 percent of all entries receive a statue, and less than 1 percent receives the coveted Gold CLIO. Those are tough odds that some agencies and individuals don't want to mess with. But, when you win, it makes it an even more prized victory.

  • Chances of winning a CLIO - Minuscule
  • Bragging rights - Monumental
  • Effect - Surviving the tough judging procedure wins you some major praise.

7: The SHORTY Awards

One of the newest kids on the block, for obvious reasons, the Shorty Awards (aka Shortys) were introduced in 2008 by Greg Galant and Lee Semel of Sawhorse Media. The reason for their creation was in reaction to the expanding social media universe, and the vast amount of advertising and design that went into the creation of content for the platform. Now, it's huge. From Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube, to SnapChat, Periscope, Twitch and YouNow, social media is driving the conversation for brands both large and small. And with smartphones so prominent, breaking through in this space is essential. Prominent celebrities have also won Shortys for their contributions to this platform. 

  • Chances of winning a SHORTY - Slim
  • Bragging rights - Large
  • Effect - Shortys are big news. Get one, and you have done well. 

8: The PromaxBDA Awards

Focused on broadcast design and advertising, this highly-respected award includes categories for network TV, TV stations, cable networks and systems, radio, and interactive media. PromaxBDA includes 10,000 members in over 70 countries around the world, and past winners of these awards include HBO, FX Networks, Showtime, A+E Networks, Red Bee Media, and many more. The standard is high, and the judging panel is looking for overall creativity, production quality, and just as important, results in achieving the marketing objectives. 

  • Chances of winning a PromaxBDA - Small
  • Bragging rights - Large
  • Effect - PromaxBDA awards are recognized, and sought after.

9: The OBIE Awards

Not to be confused with the Off-Broadway awards, also know as OBIE, the advertising OBIE Awards celebrate excellence in advertising, with a focus on OOH (Out Of Home). Long story short, if you've done a killer billboard or outdoor activation, the chances are, you'll have a shot at an OBIE. This award turned 75 years old on May 16, 2017, and is one of the oldest awards in the advertising industry. All those 3D billboards, or interactive displays you see, they're the ones grabbing the spotlight at this particular awards show. The work is eye-catching, shareable, and takes a lot of effort and production.

  • Chances of winning a PromaxBDA - Slim
  • Bragging rights - Huge
  • Effect - If you can nail an OBIE, you'll be in demand

10: The EFFIE Awards

Creatives around the world never feel as proud of an EFFIE as they should, and that's a shame. Out of all of the awards listed on this page, this is the one that places a focus on the effectiveness of an advertising or marketing campaign; and at the end of the day, isn't that what really matters? Since 1968, the Effies have celebrated those marketing and ad campaigns that not only looked good, but performed well. These are the campaigns that moved the sales needle, and made money. Or, they got a brand noticed in a big way. 

  • Chances of winning a PromaxBDA - Small
  • Bragging rights - Big
  • Effect - With an EFFIE under your belt, management takes you seriously.