Introducing The COVIE Awards, a new awards show for unprecedented times

A new Canadian “awards show” is celebrating the creative that has come out of these unprecedented, Zoom-filled, shaggy-haired and pants-optional times (or is that just us?).

Conceived by Canadian creatives and longtime friends Jordan Finlayson and Mark Rowe, The COVIE Awards is being touted as the first—and hopefully last—”pandemic-vertising” show.

It’s actually a satire, with no entry fees or awards, and entrants instead urged to make a donation to industry charity nabs.

While there have been growing calls to either cancel awards show spending or for major shows to reject COVID-related ads, Finlayson and Rowe decided instead to poke (gentle) fun at advertising talking about “unprecedented times” or “the new normal,” while at the same time raising funds for colleagues who have lost jobs as the global pandemic unfolded.

“I’ve had a lot of friends who’ve been furloughed or laid off because of the pandemic… and I know a lot of people are looking for work, so it kind of started with how could we help people who are in a dire situation at the moment,” says Finlayson, a copywriter with St. John’s agency Target.

“As much as people like to give their opinion about awards shows and the state of awards shows, they still remain relatively constant and people still fork over the money to enter them,” says Finlayson. “So we thought why not create a show that instead of entry fees has a donation option.”

Finlayson and Rowe are particularly fond of what Finlayson describes as “silly side projects and fun initiatives,” and COVID-era advertising, with its by-now familiar tropes, felt like an area ripe for some mild-mannered mockery.

The COVIE Awards consists of 12 categories, ranging from “Best use of emotive music in a ‘We’ll be back next year’ commercial,” to “Best use of social media to promote curbside pick-up,” and “Best COVID-19 themed illustration.”

While The COVIE Awards were conceived as what Finlayson describes as “a fundraiser masquerading as an awards show,” he says they’d like to attract entries—even if they’re made in the tongue-in-cheek spirit of the show itself. “I’m not sure how realistic that is… but we figured it was worth a try,” he says. “If we fail in that regard, at least nabs is on people’s radar.”

All of the entries will be posted on a dedicated Instagram page and judged by a team of “incredibly discerning creatives who’ve got nothing better to do than critique your work, bake sourdough, and stream Tiger King,” according to the website. In truth, Instagram is a mechanism for spreading awareness and inviting people to tag any COVID-themed ads they come across.

Finlayson and Rowe created the website using free stock photos from Unsplash, writing the site’s copy after-hours and on weekends. Rowe, an art director at the Calgary office of agricultural marketing agency AdFarm, designed the logo, which features a stylized version of the spiky coronavirus image in the middle of an awards ribbon.

“When everything started we saw a lot of brand manifestos and people using archival and B-roll footage because they had to, and all the jokes about ‘uncertain times,’ but now we’re actually starting to see some pretty cool stuff,” says Finlayson. “I think it’s getting better.”

Chris Powell