The pandemic canceled the 2020 Clio Awards which means 2021 jurors have double the amount of work to vote on: this year’s entries and last. As they assess remotely, we spoke with Games Jury Chair for the Clio Entertainment Awards and Ayzenberg executive vice president and executive creative director, Scott Cookson. Cookson has been on many juries over the years but this marks his first stint as jury chair. Ahead, the games marketing veteran shares what entertainment marketers should consider when entering, what sets great work apart from award-winning work and how submissions are shaping up so far. 

As jury chair of the Clio Awards this year, what advice do you have for entertainment marketers looking to enter?

One very important thing to remember about the Clio is that they are awards for creativity. So regardless of how successful or unsuccessful the marketing initiative was, it’s not really relevant to what we’re evaluating.

We’re not looking for the scope, the reach or the success of the campaign. We’re looking for how creative and innovative the ideas were. It really is a celebration of creativity and the people who do that work. So if anyone feels like they’ve done something unique and distinctive and memorable, then I would say absolutely enter the work into the Clios.

We get many people who do case studies and talk about how effective the campaign was, which as a marketer, is ultimately our objective and our job; to sell our clients’ products or services. But that’s not how we judge things in the Clios. Again, we judge solely on originality and creativity.

Other than creativity, what other criteria are considered when judging the creative?

I’ve actually been voting today, so the voting has already started and we’re about halfway through the process right now. There’s some really good stuff. We’re also going through last year given that it was canceled. It’s a lot of work going through two years’ worth of entries.

What they’re looking for is originality and innovation. They don’t actually tell us how to judge. They leave much of the power in our hands to decide what we think creative is, what we think good work is. They don’t give us much guidance other than to focus on the creativity and not on effectiveness, reach or budget. 

The other interesting thing that a lot of people forget or don’t know is that it’s not like there’s always one gold, one silver and one bronze. Some years there may be no awards given in a particular category because we don’t think anything meets the standard, or we can award 15 golds. 

So everything is judged on its own merits. It’s not as much of a competition against the other entries as you’d imagine. So, for example, there can be two trailers in a category and we give them both golds or we give them both silvers or we give one gold and one bronze, or one gets a shortlist and one gets nothing. It’s whatever we think the work deserves based on its own creative execution.

Based on the work you’ve voted on so far, have you noticed a common theme?

The big one is no surprise – no live events and a shift to virtual events. And of course, that makes sense given the pandemic. But creatively, I’m not sure I can say there’s a trend I can identify. Although that said, I think I’ve seen more music-related partnerships than I have in past years.

I’m sure people have tactically decided that they weren’t going to do real-world experiential advertising like IRL events. So there isn’t very much of that type of work. Nevertheless, there are likely more digital and live streaming events—things that are safe and remote.

It’s worth noting here that in the entertainment industry, there can easily be a formulaic approach to things. We’ve all seen trailers and can argue that they seem to feel very similar to one another. We’ve all seen a lot of different key art posters for movies or games. They all seem to share certain commonalities that we are all kind of used to, right? So the work that really kind of breaks or plays with those norms and expectations, and who tries to rise above that baseline; they try and do something different. For me personally, the creative that tends to rank higher is the work that stands out and gets noticed and takes your breath away or is more memorable. 

What role, if any, do you think nostalgia plays in breaking from those norms and nailing the creativity of the work? 

I think it’s going to be situational and it’s going to really depend on the IP. When I look back at, for example, a movie like Han Solo for Star Wars, Star Wars has an incredible amount of nostalgia infused into it. When they did their key art, it really had a nostalgic feel to it that worked really well for them. But when you take a step back, that actually makes sense for Star Wars—you want that kind of nostalgic feeling when it comes to a franchise with older fans. They want those older fans to feel like they’re getting what they remember from when they were kids and they want the kids to have that same experience. It all kind of makes sense.

On the other hand, there are certain games or entertainment properties that don’t need or want a nostalgic play. For example, it might be a brand new IP that doesn’t tie to anything nostalgic whatsoever. So, to answer your question, it does depend really on the IP. I think you have to strategize based on your IP and who it appeals to. Only then can you determine how best to target that specific audience, and nostalgia can be one of those arrows you pull out, but it might not always be the right one depending on what you’re working on.

Culturally, we know that nostalgia is something Gen Z finds appealing and I think it works for plenty of other audiences as well. You can see that manifested in annual gaming titles like Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War or new IPs like Deathloop. And of course, when you market those titles, you’re going to lean into that nostalgia, and that’s going to be a driving creative influence, especially on things like music, design or motion graphics. I feel like nostalgia is a topic I hear come up often in strategy discussions over the last year or so in relation to Gen Z, but every generation has its own relationship to nostalgia.

Is there a piece of work you’ve seen this or last year that just blew you away? 

Yes, definitely. I can’t talk about it too much, so I won’t say the title. But there is a game whose assets I find incredibly compelling and that checks all those boxes I was discussing earlier where it breaks the mold in terms of creativity and innovation. It’s not your typical trailer and it’s very unexpected. 

Frequently when evaluating work and determining how to grade it relative to others, I ask myself whether this is something that I wish I would have made. And if so, would I be proud of it? Would I be showing it to all my friends? Would I be putting it into my portfolio? Am I jealous that I didn’t get to work on it? And this one piece of work definitely checks all of those boxes and has been entered in a lot of things. I think it will do very well. 

We get a wide mixture of work—some that while not horrible, are lacking something special, or just too common. And then there are works that leave you with an emotion or that take your breath away or that you can’t stop thinking about and you wish you would have done what they did. Those are the ones that really rise above the rest and become the Grand Clios, which is actually the ultimate prize in all of this. 

Is there an area you believe that marketers fall short in creating good creative? 

Whether it’s lack of time, budget, talent, initiative or bravery, it’s easy in entertainment to play by the rules and follow the cookie-cutter approach to doing just about anything from key art to trailers. The work that really rises above, though, is the work that doesn’t do that. It doesn’t follow the easy way out. It’s the one that really takes time to think about doing something special, risky, unique and memorable. Marketers must remember that these factors are critical to producing work that becomes special and noticeable. And while they don’t have to check off all of them, they usually have to have at least some of them to create a work that stands above the rest. 

On the games jury, we vote on a huge range of work. I’m not a hundred percent positive, but in some of the other categories like in theatrical, they organize by discipline. But the games jury is voting on trailers, brand partnerships, PR, digital and social campaigns. And certainly, not everyone is an expert in all of these things. We all come from different worlds—some from the agency side, some from the client-side. Others may be vice presidents of marketing and touch on everything a little bit. Some people come from a digital agency or specialize in social only. So it’s really interesting to be exposed to that incredible range of work. 

I’ve been on the jury a few times. This is my first time as jury chair, but I’ve been on the jury many times, over my career, going back to when it was the Key Art Award. When the jury finally convenes at the end to discuss the awards, that’s really the fun part. We have these great conversations about the work and debates about what should get what. Typically we’re in a theater watching the works for an entire day. This year will be a little different obviously, with everyone working remotely, and so they’ve created a platform that’ll replicate that in-person feeling we’re used to. We’ll be reviewing hundreds of entries given that this year’s Clio includes 2020’s entries as well. 

Can you share a little about the Clio awards Ayzenberg has won?

I’ve been with the company for two and a half, three years, and since that time there have been two Clios. So when I came, there was a Clio and then there was COVID and now there’s another Clio coming. In that first one, I believe we won five or six Clios—one of them was for one of my favorite trailers that we’ve done, a CG trailer for Deathloop.

And I believe that won silver for best CG trailer, and I think it won for copywriting and (…) for music. There were some other things that won Clios that year as well. I think another piece we did for Assassin’s Creed won. And then there was some social that won as well. So there were a number of Clios that the agency won.

We have a lot of work entered this year as well, probably 10 to 20 entries. Because all jurors must abstain from voting on work from the company in which you work, I won’t be able to vote on any of Ayzenberg’s entries. 

In the first round of judging, it’s essentially the weed-out stage where everyone gets a third of the work and we decide whether it’s in or out. So I haven’t even seen everything yet. I’ve only seen 30% of the entries. We now take all the work that’s in and judge it.

As EVP and ECD, where do you find inspiration?

At this point, I try to find inspiration from the people I work with. I’m really focused on building and managing teams and inspiring creatives to be the best they can be, doing great work and putting them in a position to succeed. I am amazed at the talent that I’m surrounded by and how incredible all these people are, and how passionate they are about the space and their work.

I’m really trying my best to let them realize their creative vision. 

In a way, I started as an editor and that’s a talent that I learned a long time ago, because a lot of times as an editor, you’re sort of inheriting this vision of a writer or a director who maybe wrote a script or shot a movie and they have a passion or a vision that they’re trying to achieve. And as the editor, you’re coming in fresh and helping them shape what they want to do to realize their goals. In a lot of ways, I feel like that’s what I’m doing with all the teams I work with here. In a way, even though it’s not a common path to be an editor that becomes a creative director that then becomes an ECD, for me, it worked out well that way. That path has taught me many skills about how to work with people and how to craft creative and inspire people to get to where they want to go.

What does putting your team in a position to succeed entail? 

It’s not a one-size-fits-all sort of a thing. Nevertheless, I try to manage from a position of accepting that the work and the ideas are not mine, they’re theirs. I try to not have a sense of ownership over it. I also think about what they’re trying to achieve and what they’re trying to say. And then with that perspective, I critique the work in a way that helps them to see the possibilities or the limitations of where they’re at in that particular moment. So it’s really about trying to put yourself in their shoes and understand what they’re trying to do and also knowing what the client’s objectives are and then bridging that gap and getting to a place where those things meet in the most successful way possible.

How have games shaped your trajectory?

I’ve been working in games marketing for almost 20 years. I moved to Los Angeles in 2001 and I was working as a trailer editor. I started working in games at that time and joined a company called Ant Farm in 2004. Ant Farm became a leader and innovator in the game trailer space and gameplay capture space, and making trailers that had emotion and told a story, were more narrative-based and not just a sizzle reel of clips to an EDM cue.

One of the first trailers I cut was for a game that was just coming out at the time called Call of Duty and they became a big client of Ant Farm. And we worked with them for over 15 years and did a lot of other huge games as well. I launched Destiny, worked on a lot of Assassin’s Creed games, Far Cry—so a lot of huge IPs over the years. When Ant Farm closed in 2018, I brought the games team from Ant Farm over to Ayzenberg. We’ve been part of this family ever since.