The UK’s performance at the 1996 Epica Awards is best described as limp, coming in a tame third to France and Sweden – the only really bright spot being O&M’s Epica D’Or victory. Stuart Smith assesses the highs and lows

1996 was not the UK’s year for Epica awards. True, Ogilvy & Mather London’s “Bicycle” ad did, after prolonged wrangling, carry off the supreme prize. But elsewhere things were bleaker than usual.

In a year which boasted a record number of entries to the competition – at 4,245, up eight per cent – the UK merely marked time. And significantly, it underperformed in the league table. Usually it manages to dominate the top of the table fairly effortlessly. Last year it struggled. It was knocked into second position overall by Sweden, which gained 48 winners and finalists against the UK’s 40 in a field of 281 awards. In the outright winners’ category, where the UK tends to be unchallengeable, it was knocked back to third by France, which took 11 awards against Sweden’s nine, the UK’s eight and Holland’s seven.

The informal self-denying ordinance, which some top UK creative agencies have imposed upon themselves, probably did not help the British case – by restricting entries. But this was far from the only reason for the UK’s relatively limp performance.

The fact is other European countries are now making more headway. France is a particularly good case in point. Though entries were not particularly prodigal (about half the number of the UK’s), its success ratio was exceptional. Particularly worth noting were the “Too many racists” commercial from EURO RSCG (winner in the public interest sector); the print campaign for RATP, Paris’ transport network, (EURO RSCG again – winner in the transport and communication category) and DDB’s “Rorschach test” ad for the VW Golf.

There were some creditable entries from Eastern Europe, too. Russia scored its first wins with Video International’s “Drawings” ad for Lotus toilet paper and Premier SV’s print push for the Russian election. A creditable performance, as well, from Ammirati Puris Lintas Warsaw for its print winner in automative and accessories – the elegantly simple Kormoran tyres campaign. An Epica first for Poland. And finally, let’s not forget the enigmatic, or perhaps downright weird, commercial from Norway’s New Deal DDB Needham for Radio P2, a winner in media entertainment

Though the UK may not have done so well in the heats, it excelled, as often, in the finale: the contention for the Epica d’Or. A number of UK category winners were in the running from the moment the jurors drew up the long-list. They included “Candle Power”, JWT London’s campaign for Madame Tussauds; and the very convincingly executed “Cheat” commercial for Guess jeans (created by UK production house Great Guns, for US agency Paul Marciano Advertising). Sweden’s Paradiset DDB created another powerful contender in its “Jesus Lives” commercial for Diesel. But the campaign which seemed to capture the imagination of most jurors initially was “The Sea”, a moody piece of film for Superga tennis shoes, by Pirella Gottsche Lowe, Milan. It managed to combine an alluring pastiche of Italian neo-classical film style with a rousing score, a seductive widow and some useful product placement. However, “The Sea” did not pack the punch of O&M’s “Bicycle”, produced by Tony Kaye and incidentally his third Epica d’Or.

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