“Fight for the little ones. They’re the ones that really fucking matter.”
With those words, 180LA chief creative officer Will Gelner accepted one of the evening’s first Grand Clios—in the Direct medium, for Boost Mobile's poltically-charged "Boost Your Voice" campaign—and perhaps unknowingly set the tone for the rest of the night.
If anything can truly define the 2017 Clio Awards, the 58th outing for the honor, it would be standing up for those without a voice. And if you can do it in song, all the better.
From host Cecily Strong calling in Boyz II Men’s Nathan Morris and Shawn Stockman to sing through mock taglines for the world’s worst ads—the SNL vet claimed to have had a previous career as a copywriter—the night had a musical flare throughout. In between performances from Marian Hill and Iron & Wine, the Clios presented Vogue creative director at large and fashion legend Grace Coddington with a Lifetime Achievement award with a song about her life and career that, yes, you heard correctly did rhyme “English country garden” with “enough to give the bees a hard-on” (take a bow, Grace’s GingerNutz co-writer Michael Roberts). Kasseem “Swizz Beatz” Dean then took to the stage to accept his Clio Music honor and fired up the crowd by proclaiming “Every day you are born again. Everyday is your birthday. Treat it like that. Wake up in the morning and be a better you.”
Not to be outdone, Clio Lifetime Achievement Award honoree (and chief creative officer BBDO Worldwide/chairman BBDO North America) David Lubars’ tribute video featured colleagues and family members reminiscing about his early work writing copy for the Teen Wolf, Too poster, all set to the bizarre cover of The Contour’s "Do You Love Me" that Jason Bateman lip-syncs to while in full wolf mode in the unfortunate 80s sequel. Lubars and his team would take the stage (sans werewolves) to close out the night with a Network of the Year win.
But on a more serious note, Dean’s impassioned tribute to the creative power of music and the entrepreneurial spirit ended with a pointed political message that highlighted the other side of the evening. No one was dour or pessimistic, but the room was unable and unwilling to avoid the elephant in the room and instead used the unsteady political climate to enhance their industry-wide calls to do more, for more people. “Everyone in this room is more powerful than the president,” announced Dean.
That burst of positive force carried over as Sesame Workshop executive vice president of global impact and philanthropy Sherrie Westin took the stage to accept the first-ever Clio Global Impact Award, something she said spoke directly to the heart of Sesame Street’s 50-plus year mission: To give every child a chance, no matter into what circumstances they are born.
The buzz in the room was (literally) audible by the time McCann New York took the stage to make Clio history by having the first piece of work win Grand Clios across five mediums: Branded Content, Events and Experiential, Innovation, Public Relations, and Out of Home. And that piece of work was, of course, the indomitable “Fearless Girl.” (And we’re not kidding about the buzz part, as Strong jokingly chastised the attendees with “C’mon! You can’t talk through the ads! Your ARE the fucking ads!”). Zuckerberg Media founder and CEO Randi Zuckerberg was on hand to present McCann New York with their statues and help celebrate their groundbreaking win. McCann New York managing director and president of McCann XBC Devika Bulchandani took the opportunity to relfect on her personal connection to the work (crediting her own "fearless girl," her 13 year-old daughter, Anya) and drove home the one ideal that seemed to characterize the 2017 Clios more than any other. That success takes more than creativity and inspiration. It takes guts.
As we watched Fearless Girl keep her chin up against raging bulls, crappy New York weather, and an onslaught of tourists, the crowd began moving out of Lincoln Center into the warm September night with songs in their heads (seriously, that Grace Coddington ditty was an earworm) and a renewed sense of what they and the Clios ultimately stand for: Not just great creative work, but truly impactful creative work.