Prodigious victory

The UK staged something of a recovery in this year’s Epica Awards. Although failing to seize the supreme prize – the Epica d’Or – it emerged triumphant elsewhere.

Britain replaced Sweden at the top of the league table with 14 winners and 50 finalists; Sweden, at number two, managed five winners and 48 finalists; France was third, in aggregate, with six winners and 26 finalists. All this in a year when a number of Epica records were broken. Entries were up five per cent on 1996 at 4,481; there were 59 more companies (agencies and production houses) participating – 666 in all; and 35 European countries were represented, three more than in the previous year.

Epica is unique as an advertising awards scheme: the judging panel is composed exclusively of specialist journalists, as opposed to creative directors. Although the UK creative community has sometimes been dismissive, Epica’s track-record in picking winners is in fact impressive over the years. A number have subsequently achieved top-billing at the international advertising festival at Cannes – a creative mecca if ever there was one. Hopefully, this year’s result will prove no different. Certainly the vigour and passion with which the contenders for the supreme Epica prize were proposed, debated, urged and condemned, imparted to the 1997 awards something of the partisan zeal of Cannes.

In contention were a number of outstanding category winners – at both ends of the budgetary scale. One of the most amusing – and economically financed – was the series devised by Mother promoting the “unknown” Jack Docherty show on Channel 5. Ogilvy & Mather’s “Art School” execution for Impulse raised a few smiles and the “St George” Blackcurrant Tango ad from HHCL & Partners created so much spontaneous excitement it nearly, but not quite, carried off the Epica d’Or.

Other category winners failed to receive the full recognition they deserved. The Spanish agency Delvico Bates produced an admirably crafted vignette in its “Matches” commercial.

Working with a far from riveting subject (the client was Planeta Encyclopedia), the agency nonetheless built an ingenious story of marital infidelity around it, crisply shot in black and white, with an ambiguous end-line. Rather different in tone, but equally impressive, was the elegantly composed and classically understated “Falling in love again” commercial for Mercedes-Benz, by Gerard de Thame and Lowe & Partners.

More obviously popular were JWT Amsterdam’s mega-budget “Refuelling” spectacular for Shell and (a rare print contender) Paradiset DDB’s spoof montage treatment for Diesel jeans of the famous line-up of Churchill, Roosevelt and Stalin at the Yalta Conference.

But the two most serious contenders for the Epica d’Or turned out to be Pirella Gottsche Lowe’s “Challenge” commercial for Superga Shoes in Italy and Forsman & Bodenfors work for the Gothenburg Post in Sweden. They could not have been polar in their appeal and the attempt to find an overall winner proved so contentious that at one point it split the jury down the middle.

The Gothenburg Post campaign was advertising in microcosm. It consisted of poster ads supporting the strength and diversity of the local newspapers classified section. Their ingenuity rested on the way they were executed: by members of the public through a competition. Many of the judges felt Forsman & Bodenfors had shown exceptional creativity in dealing with what could otherwise have been a dull parochial brief.

At the other end of the scale was Superga: a big-budget TV extravaganza with a cast of thousands (well, 500), directed by Tarsem. The Challenge certainly made up in visual and aural stimulation what it lacked in subtlety. Located outside a factory where an animal rights demonstration is moving into uncontrollable overdrive, the film revels in scenes of radical youthful protest and violent repression by the forces of reaction, all to the deafening background of The Prodigy’s Fire Starter. Just to point the moral a bit more, it’s shot in black and white. Irony of ironies, the protester who loses her Superga shoe when spread-eagled over the factory owner’s limousine turns out to be – the factory owner’s daughter.

The Gothenburg Post ads were probably more imaginative, but lacked the raw emotional energy and range of The Challenge. That at least was the majority verdict of the 1997 Epica jury.

It was, incidentally, a particularly poignant victory for Superga – which was pipped at the post for Epica d’Or last year.

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