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Fast-paced video key to the Mobius
Advertising Awards

United Visual Rentals goes behind the screen at the annual ceremony

Video projection at the Mobius Awards Say Oscar and you think of movies. Say Emmy and television comes to mind. But say Mobius and odds are you'll get a blank stare. It may not be a household name yet, but the annual Mobius Awards are steadily growing in importance in the international advertising industry.

According to J.W. Anderson, founder and host of the awards, 2000 was the most successful in the awards' nearly 30 year history, with entries from over 37 countries. Anderson's company held the ceremonies in the domed rotunda area of the Museum of Broadcast Communications in downtown Chicago. Three hundred guests watched the awards presentation and the winning commercials simultaneously on a large rear projection screen. Hidden behind that screen was a video and audio presentation system from United Visual Rental, together with rental technician Bob Clark, who operated the system throughout the ceremonies.

What's a mobius?

In mathematics, a mobius is a two-sided circular surface with unusual properties. In the world of advertising, it's an international award for excellence in the fields of television, radio, print and packaging. Anderson, who had already founded the U.S. International Film and Video Festival, began the awards in the early 1970s, though he he did not add the Mobius symbol until 1989.

"We had plaques that we gave out and everybody else had statuettes," says Anderson, "something you could put your hand around and hold up. We went through all the Greek god names and and everything under the sun and finally hit on the Mobius." To make a mobius, take a long thin strip of paper and give one end a half twist. Then join the two ends together. You'll have a circular strip whose surface never ends yet turns itself indefinitely. "We liken it to communications, ongoing and never ending. The fact that the statuette is a little abstract and asymmetrical is, again, like communications. It's viewed differently by different people from different aspects."

Backstage at the awards

United working backstage at the Mobius AwardsBecause it's not as large as the organizations that hand out the Oscars and the Emmys, the Mobius staff runs the awards a little differently than most people would expect-striving for a faster pace that emphasizes the work more than the winners. They stage their awards ceremony to look much like the TV commercials it showcases. A live announcer stays hidden behind the rear projection screen, delivering his comments in the form of voiceovers. Though they purposely do not rehearse, Mobius staff time the program closely and run it without any stops. A Mobius employee acting as director, also behind the screen, keeps a close eye on the script, handing United Visual's Bob Clark videotapes and cueing him when to switch the video from preview monitor to the big screen. The videos are interspersed with slides of the print winners and audiotapes of the radio winners. "It was interesting watching all those video clips," says Clark "but it was tense in a few spots because everything was moving so fast." There's an element of excitement to any awards ceremony no matter where you sit, and the unrehearsed nature of the Mobius Awards keeps things electric.

For the last two years, Mobius staff has rented all of the audio-visual equipment they use from United Visual, including the Epson LCD projector that does most of the work. Clark arrives at about three in the afternoon to begin setting up the equipment for the six p.m. show. He and one assistant set up a large fast-fold rear projection screen and draperies to create the projection area. There he sets up two three-quarter inch VCRs, two preview monitors, and the sound system, which includes two microphones-one for the unseen announcer and one at the podium out front. Clark also sets up a video mixer that allows him to use fades or wipes to provide smooth transitions between videos.

Building toward the awards ceremony

"We've developed a very comfortable working relationship with United," says Anderson. "We feel very confident with their capabilities. That is a very big help because the night of the awards there's a certain amount of pressure to make sure everything comes off properly." It's not just one evening's success that's in the balance, but the months of preparation and judging that go into the awards. The annual call for entries ends in October and then the screenings begin. Staff edit all entries in each category onto one tape and send them to industry peers for judging.

Not every entry is a sample of technological wizardry. Some countries are more advanced than others, and some producers just don't get excited by special effects. But sometimes the lowest budget public service announcements get their point across quite well. "People really enjoy seeing what people are doing in other countries. No matter where the entry may come from, there are universal elements that are sure to sell...children, pets, family values, and of course, humor. The true test of advertising," says Anderson, "is whether or not it sells a product."

In a similar way, not every entry is in the contest for reasons you might expect. While agencies value the Mobius as a way to establish their industry credentials, Anderson says the number one reason has more to do with agency morale than with clients. Everyone likes to be recognized when they do a good job. Agencies have learned that writers, designers and producers like to work for a company where they know that recognition is possible.

One result of the effort to keep things a little different is the fact that most contestants know in advance whether they should expect a statuette. That's partly because the awards are international, with people going through significant expense to travel from Europe, Asia and Africa to accept an award. But it also keeps the ceremony fast paced. The only unannounced winner is the Best of Show, who also gives the night's only acceptance speech. Instead of listening to speeches, the audience can concentrate on their peers' best work.

United Visual and the awards

Though not as well known as an Oscar or a Pulitzer, the Mobius is coming into its own.

United Visual is not as well know as a Pulitzer either, but, like Mobius, makes up for that in the quality of its program. "In the old days," says Bob Clark, "our customers would rent a simple slide or overhead projector. But presentations are getting more technical and clients are expecting a lot more." A firm like United Visual can be very important to a show like the Mobius Awards. United is offering lighting and staging services now as well as computer multimedia and the kinds of video and audio setups used at the awards. Yet, says Clark, the most important thing they offer is the ability to take on the technical worries in a given presentation and allow their clients to concentrate on the task at hand.

Many of today's commercials cost more than the programs they interrupt. On the night of the Mobius Awards the commercials become the program. They make you laugh, they make you cry, they make you think. Isn't it nice to know the best of them are being recognized?