Originality strikes gold

Twelve years of Epica international advertising awards have done little to dispute a widely accepted truth (at least, in London agencies): British creativity is best. Every now and then, however, a challenger appears on the scene. A while back, it was Spain. Then, two years ago, Sweden knocked the UK off its pedestal. But these have proved temporary setbacks to a remarkably resilient ascendancy.

This year, the challenge came from a new and unexpected quarter, France. True, the UK won out overall, with 48 winners and finalists, but France beat Britain into second place with category winners: 12 against nine; and managed second place overall with 41 winners and finalists combined.

Other countries which performed extremely well were Sweden (eight winners; 40 overall) and Germany (eight winners; 38 overall). Holland and Spain were competent. Italy was the only main European market to disappoint.

Alternatively, we can dissect the awards – unique in that they are judged by a jury of specialist journalists rather than creatives – by agency and network benchmarks. Ogilvy & Mather Paris came top with four winners, while Paradiset DDB Stockholm had three winners and four finalists. By contrast, the UK’s top performer, TBWA London, languished in seventh place with two winners and four finalists. The most successful networks were BBDO and O&M, with six winners apiece.

So, how good was the creative crop? It wasn’t vintage, but there was plenty of quality work in a year which saw entries increase 11 per cent to 4,990. Film, as it frequently does, tended to smother the subtler attractions of print, but there were a few exceptions. O&M’s work for Paribas intrigued, while Ahlquist & Co’s series for Nordsj Paints pulled off the near impossible: combining a pertinent message with aesthetic appeal in the household maintenance sector.

BRW & Partners (Italy) produced a stylish piece of film for Campari called Red Passion, but the lesbian ménage trois theme was a sad cliché. Much better was the same agency’s ad for BMW, marking the launch of the new 3 series. The accomplished film montage launched the car into a faultlessly restaged Forties New York scenario and cleverly exploited nostalgia to convey a product at the cutting edge of technology. “New York, New York” was joint film winner in the most competitive single sector this year, automobiles. The other winner was EURO RSCG Paris’ earth-moving ad for the Peugeot 406.

Also noteworthy for its state-of-the-art animatics and general production virtuosity – if not a lot else – was Publicis Conseil’s work for Perrier. Leo Burnett Oslo’s gently humorous executions for Statoil (Carwash) and Thorn Rental Services (Aku Babu) also deserve mention; as does O&M London’s commercial for Impulse (Chance Encounter).

But there were only three serious contenders for the supreme prize – the Epica d’Or – this year. Early into the lead – and therefore a sure loser – was Wieden & Kennedy’s (NL) epic Airport 98 film for Nike. On the surface, it was everything you could ask for from an ad: big production, superbly crafted and highly entertaining. The plot could not have been simpler: the Brazilian soccer squad performing gravity-defying acts of derring-do around forbidden zones of the airport in a playful spate of pre-World Cup hubris. Ah, how differently the jury might have felt if that arrogance had paid off. Instead the ad seemed over-blown and a bit passé.

The other contenders for the Epica d’Or were TBWA London’s “Double Life” commercial for Sony PlayStation; and Paradiset DDB’s new TV campaign for Thomson Holidays, “We know the feeling”.

The PlayStation film had great style. Shot in moody black and white, its surreal and anarchic images were harnessed by a voiceover which cut perfectly from individual to individual, as men and women, young and old, cyber fantasists, all took up the continuous storyline.

Paradiset’s campaign had little of the slickness of the TBWA work. Where it scored was its near faultless interpretation of an original idea.

Originality is not something normally associated with the sun, sand and sex clichés of tour operator advertising. But UK-based Thomson, in launching successfully into the Swedish market last year, needed to come up with something memorable.

The proposition rests on Thomson being able to draw on more than 30 years’ experience in the world’s most demanding holiday market. After all, who can know more about appalling weather conditions than the British? Our climate is one of those truisms about British life with which almost all foreigners can sympathise. Certainly, Swedes are used to “knowing the feeling” after glimpsing endless low pressure zones over the British Isles on the television every night.

The commercials, made in English, with English actors and exploiting a very English style, use simple head-and shoulders frames of national stereotypes to achieve their end. Each descants on the joys of British weather in an ironic, humorous way. In one, a young English rose describes her fondness for grey; and, in the best-observed of the lot, a down-trodden divorcee in banking does a vox pop in the pouring rain, unsuccessfully contrasting the “happiness” of her own condition with that of her ex-husband, who has emigrated to Hawaii with his new wife.

Thomson beat PlayStation to the Epica d’Or by a single vote – the most closely contested winner ever.

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