Students Host First Annual Backbone Awards, Recognizing Ad Agencies with Integrity

Feb 13, 2023

The Backbone Awards

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — Students from Minerva, The University of Alabama’s advertising portfolio program, challenge the advertising industry’s ethics by sending “Backbone Awards” to agencies and professionals whose works makes a positive cultural impact.

Minerva nominated nine advertising agencies and professionals for The Backbone Awards’ inaugural competition. They then invited university students across the country to vote for their favorites. This year’s bronze winner is Leo Burnett for their “The Last Class” anti-gun violence campaign. Aluminum winners include MullenLowe and The Workshop, who are recognized for their anti-sexual violence and free creative mentorship program, respectively.

Minerva students award Leo Burnett the first bronze Backbone Award.

The award is a response to The One Club’s Young Ones competition, which tasked students with crafting a campaign highlighting “Call of Duty: Warzone,” a first-person shooter video game, “celebrated by mainstream culture.” But just four years earlier, the organization had asked students to build a campaign against gun violence, citing “cultural glorification” as one of the many contributing factors to the gun violence epidemic.

“It felt like they were following hot topics and money over wanting to make active changes in both advertising and the world,” said Morgan Egan, a master’s student. “We wanted to let The One Club know that we were paying attention and felt like they did not have a backbone when it came to these issues.”

In response, Egan and her classmates Erin Brown, Ginger Ellis, Matthias Meyer and Miles Neto developed The Backbone Awards to spotlight advertising work that stood for something more than just selling a brand. The trophies are cast in aluminum and bronze and feature a sculpt of a human spine.

“It is an art form to have a backbone in this industry, so we wanted the award to be a heavy piece of art you hang on your wall. It looks raw and gritty because that is how much of this subject matter tends to be. It is heavy, like gun violence and speaking up for underrepresented groups,” said Mark Barry, assistant professor in advertising and public relations and director of the Minerva program.