If proof were needed of the rude health of the European advertising economy, it would certainly be provided by this year’s bumper crop of entrants to the Epica creative ad awards.
Figures were up 15 per cent to 5,752 compared with the previous year, while the contributing countries – 37 in all – ranged from the European big five to Iceland and the Ukraine.
Rude, however, is the word. And not simply because of a European-wide obsession with toilet humour. Many of the ads possessed a crude vigour, but failed to charm with the originality of their idea, slickness of their delivery or the power of their coherence.
Fortunately, there were exceptions. The Swedes, for example (Lowe Brindfors to be precise), provided us with a slightly macabre, simple, but highly effective poster campaign (obligingly translated into English for the multi-lingual judges) which won the print award for the public interest category. It consisted of a series of road-side panels containing nothing more than speech bubbles with captions such as: “Out driving drunk? So was I.” The bubble points upwards to heaven.
Still in the same corner of the world, Grey Copenhagen produced an unlikely winner for Copenhagen music evening classes. The cinema campaign was a spoof at the expense of the world’s most pretentious, and ignorant, would-be rock and roll group descanting on why it is the best. The punchline, a heartfelt “Why don’t you shut up and learn how to play?”. Ali G would be proud of them.
There was surprisingly high quality among car ads, which made picking a category winner difficult. In the event, DDB and the Volkswagen Lupo picked up both the print and film awards, although in different countries. On balance, the print ad, produced in France and majoring on fuel economy, was the better of the two.
In fact, France had a very good year. Fourth overall with 45 awards (behind Britain in third place with 48, Sweden with 58 and Germany with 87), it tied for top spot with Britain for the greatest number of category award winners: nine.
British agencies, it has to be said, do themselves few favours by continuing to operate an informal embargo on the awards. Although the quality of creative work always shines through, it is only thanks to the distorting prism of UK production houses that the jury – unique in that it is fielded by trade journalists rather than
creative luminaries – gets to sample the best of British. Which leaves an odd impression with the rest of Europe.
Nevertheless, some of what we could see was pretty good and, as usual, featured disproportionately in the shortlist for the top prize, the Epica d’Or – drawn exclusively from the category winners. Outstanding, though over-long, was Lowe Howard-Spink’s “Celebrity stalker” campaign for Olympus, produced by Tony Kaye.
The film subverts a conventional theme. A casual celebrity hunter, Ralph, makes the mistake of snapping actress Joan Collins. Hunter turns hunted as La Collins, with undertones of Glen Close in Fatal Attraction, ruthlessly tracks down her prey in an attempt to destroy the unflattering evidence of her ageing. A great platform for putting the little camera through its paces.
But the glory went elsewhere. In the end, it came down to a straight fight between the German public interest campaign Handicap, produced by Hope & Glory Commercials, and Lowe Howard-Spink’s cinema work for The Independent, “Litany”, which was produced by HLA.
Odd to find the Germans having a laugh at themselves; even odder, perhaps, to find ourselves laughing with them, especially since the theme is no laughing matter. Right-wing violence, particularly neo-Nazism, is still rife in Germany. The campaign ridiculed the macho rigidity of this Neanderthal sub-culture by adopting an ironic documentary approach. There are ways these misguided young men can be reintegrated into society. For example, by doing useful tasks such as hanging up the washing. All you need is a neo-Nazi at each end of the line and the magic words: “Heil Hitler…”
But however inspired, well-produced and witty this contender was, it enjoyed an unfair advantage over other categories: the right-on social values vote that requires no commercial endorsement.
Eventually, the jury opted for the alternative as Epica d’Or winner. Even though it picked up the grand prix at Cannes and Cresta, “Litany” continued to stand out among more recent competition as the ad of the year. The grainy black-and-white images created a newsprint aura that perfectly harmonised with the bullet-point litany read out by poet John Cooper-Clark: “Don’t talk. Don’t touch. Don’t walk. Don’t walk at night… Don’t be ordinary. Don’t be different. Don’t stand out. Don’t drop out…”
The Independent endline came as a relief to the relentless bombardment of claustrophobic social prohibitions.
But if the Lowe Group excelled with some of its work, it was by no means the most successful network. That prize went to TBWA, which claimed eight winners, followed by DDB with seven and Leo Burnett with five.