There are many in the industry who feel that this year's gold win by Taxi is long overdue.

And perhaps to compensate for the delay, it was a very definitive win, with Taxi listed as first or second choice by every judge but one.

But while Taxi's coronation may come as no surprise, the silver win by Bensimon*Byrne and Zig's bronze are a bit more unexpected. After all, neither agency was even invited to take part last year.

That's partly because of the competition's extensive two-stage process. First a shop has to make a splash in the marketplace so that it garners enough "yes" votes when we poll marketers and agency execs to establish the shortlist. Secondly, it has to produce a fairly large body of work so that it can pull five consistently excellent campaigns from the year's output. It's a long and rocky trek, and it's not necessarily friendly to young up'n'comers - but a look at past winners (page 66) shows that it works: The winning agencies truly are the agencies that are consistently producing the best work in the country at the time they win.

As always, the gold, silver and bronze agencies won purely on the quality of the five campaigns they submitted, and this was evident in the judges' comments. Taxi, in particular, wowed both our strategic and creative panels by not only coming up with clever positionings and strategies, but executing them in ways that had judges laughing, crying and grooving along with some truly excellent tunage.

The Covenant House campaign, which has already brought home the brass at both the London International Advertising Awards and Cannes, was a particular fave, rightly credited for moving and enlightening viewers without resorting to saccharine sentiment or cloying guilt tactics. The Mini and Viagra campaigns were also popular, with pure entertainment most often cited as their strengths.

Another campaign that really hit the mark with judges was Bensimon's Pro-Line work - for both its shrewd repositioning of the lottery for a wider audience, and its use of puking football players to great effect. Zig's "Man Breasts" for Rethink Breast Cancer and "Sex with Stu" for W were also mentioned as standouts for using sexuality in a "clever manner" without being "exploitive and peep showy."

In fact, as judge Joan Fedoruk, president of Vancouver agency Big House noted, the calibre of strategic thinking behind most of the work submitted by the seven finalists - Bensimon*Byrne, Cossette Communication-Marketing, J. Walter Thompson, Palmer Jarvis DDB, Rethink, Taxi and Zig - was so consistently high, she found that it was only the entertainment factor that separated the outstanding from the excellent.

Many will be surprised by Palmer Jarvis DDB's honourable mention this year, especially after three consecutive golds, but one should perhaps not read too much into the drop. The agency is currently dealing with two conditions suffered by all hugely successful agencies - loss of talent and fast-paced growth - but it seems to be dealing with them very well. In particular, the agency's decision to spin off Downtown Partners as boutiquey creative hotbed within a growing full-service empire will likely allow the agency to retain its edge while taking on larger clients and more integrated, national work.

The best news to come out of the 12th annual AOY competition is that this year's judges seemed much more upbeat about the overall state of advertising in Canada than panels in previous years. While comments on the overall quality of the work ranged from slightly disappointed (Dave Bell, KesselsKramer) to almost gushing praise (Alvin Wasserman, Nicole Dubé), Nestlé Purina PetCare VP Susan Molenda probably best expressed the prevailing opinion by noting "a trend to bolder and more daring creative."

The judges also commented, as always, on what has become a hallmark of Strategy's Agency of the Year competition: That of the five campaigns each agency had to submit, it's the fifth one that makes or breaks you. Because any agency can produce one good campaign. But only the best can do it every time.

Duncan Hood
Associate Editor