ADCCs return with special honour for Vonk, Kestin; Rethink is agency of the year

After nearly losing it for good during the pandemic, one of Canada’s most revered shows—the ADCC Awards—completed its comeback Thursday night.

Rethink was the big winner as agency of the year on a night that also saw Nancy Vonk and Janet Kestin given the highly respected Les Usherwood Award.

The ADCC holds a special place in the hearts of many Canadian creatives, who value it as a not-for-profit organization whose focus is on celebrating the craft and creativity of the industry. The show itself also earns special recognition for using an international jury as a way of avoiding some of the biases and politics that can sometimes leak into awards show jury processes around the world.

“The ADCC is a really special show; it has always been really important to Rethink because we see it as the fairest and most just awards shows in the world,” said Aaron Starkman, managing partner and chief creative officer. “This is an impartial jury. And they reward the best work without ever having an agenda creep in, which can happen on occasion.”

Last year, the ADCC came close to shutting down when the pandemic forced the cancellation of the awards show—the most critical source of revenue for the organization. But a large part of the Canadian advertising industry rallied to save the organization through a 24-hour fundraising webathon in July.

Traditionally a fall show, the ADCC moved this year’s event up to spring this year. The call for entries went out in January with a slightly larger entry window (June 2019 to January 2021) to accommodate work that would have been entered last year. Entries this year were up about 10% from the 2019 awards show.

“As difficult as it was to cancel the 2020 show, we knew it was the right thing to do at the time in support of the industry,” said Andrew Simon, president of the ADCC and Edelman’s global creative lead, CCO for Canada. “For similar reasons, we moved up the 2021 show to June to celebrate all the amazing examples of Canadian creativity that have happened over the past year-and-a-half.”

Rethink won more than 40 awards in total, including five golds for clients Kraft Heinz Ketchup (two for “Pour Perfectly” and one for “Ketchup Puzzle”) and Molson Canadian (two for “Make it Canadian”).

Other Scarlet Letter Awards, or “of the year” winners, included Cossette for Design Agency of the Year; Wedge for Design Studio of the Year; FCB for Interactive Agency of the Year; and Scouts Honour for Production Company of the Year.

In total, there were 53 golds and 379 awards. See all of the winners here.

“As this year’s ADCC winners clearly show, while the pandemic has fundamentally changed all our lives, our collective creativity has not diminished one iota,” said Simon. “It’s crucial that we continue to inspire each other to create beautiful, meaningful things and the ADCC is proud to champion the best of the best.”

The Les Usherwood Award is also widely respected and given to industry leaders in recognition of a lifetime contribution to the Canadian creative community.

“Janet and Nancy have been under serious consideration for the Usherwood Award every year that I have chaired the committee,” said Brian Howlett, chief creative officer at Agency59. “Normally, under the agreement between the ADCC and the award founders, the Usherwood can only go to one recipient.

“And of all there is to admire about Janet and Nancy, one of the most impressive aspects is how the two of them meshed together so seamlessly (famously becoming ‘Jancy’), so that it was difficult to separate one career from the other,” he said.

“This year’s panel argued quite strenuously that, given how Covid disrupted the regular ADCC annual calendar, an exemption should be considered. Once that suggestion was tabled and agreed upon, the choice—which you could argue was long overdue—became easy.”

The pair were also honoured in a special video put together by Rooster with tributes from some of the biggest ad names in the world, including David Droga, Colleen Decourcey, Susan Credel and many familiar Canadian leaders.

“I feel so lucky and honoured to receive this award with Nancy,” said Kestin. “It’s been a looooong, lovely ride filled with amazing people and experiences. I suspect we learned more from others than they did from us. And this is the result. So, thank you.”

“Winning the Les Usherwood Award was an out of body experience,” added Vonk. “Three decades of being attached at the hip with Janet paid off! What an incredible honour. We’re probably both proudest of helping others to do well. I can’t say enough about the rewards of mentoring—if there’s a key to success available to everyone, that’s it.”

In the student competition, Golds went to Jaclyn McConnell and Bethany Garrad from Miami Ad School Toronto for “Melanoma Manicure,” and to Cassidy Van Delft from the Wilson School of Design at Kwantlen Polytechnic University for “Hereabouts Locally Sourced Eatery.” See all of the student winners here.

David Brown