Giving their best shots

This year the UK’s ad agencies had a fine run at the Epica awards; with nine winners they came second only to the French agencies. Marketing Week editor Stuart Smith reviews Europe’s winning campaigns

For those who see a reflection of social trends in advertising, the crop of Epica European advertising creative awards 2002 must convey a puzzling message. There was no avoiding the cascade of babies, dogs and pigs tumbling out of the production houses last year. Why this excessive affection for small, vulnerable and usually dysfunctional creatures all of a sudden?

Much easier to interpret is another trend that has been building momentum for several years. The most successful agency network for the third year running was BBDO, with nine winners out of a total of 58. It was followed by Leo Burnett with eight winners and Euro RSCG with five. Even more clear-cut was the performance of BBDO’s London agency Abbott Mead Vickers.BBDO (AMV), which was the most successful single entrant with four winners. Indeed, the UK agencies, as ever, managed to punch well above their weight. The UK was second only to France in the number of its winners (nine versus 11), out of a total of 28 countries competing. Italy came next, with eight, Sweden with six and Germany, five.

With belts tightening and heads rolling within the industry – in other words, caution the watchword – this was never likely to be a year of outstanding creative achievement. And so it proved. Entries were down slightly, and the quality of advertising was patchy. Panache, slickness and humour yes, but little that was truly ground-breaking. An interesting, though flawed, exception was the Euro RSCG “The cloud” commercial for Air France – winner of the transport and tourism film category – which had a curious dream-like feel about it, and really did seem to mimic the ideal experience of flying.

Work of art?

There were some interesting contributions from smaller advertisers, too. The black and white Tandem DDB execution made for the Year of Gaudi festival, which won the recreation and leisure category, deserves praise for its thoughtful crafting – though some of the judges deemed it art rather than commerce. At the other end of the spectrum, the “Visigoths” execution, made for Canal Plus (Euro RSCG again), gave interesting insight into the psychotic behaviour of film directors bent on no-holds-barred cinema verité.

Still in France, Gang Films produced a memorable, if slightly rebarbative, treatment of the long-running Lynx deodorant (now Axe) campaign for Argentinean agency Vegaolmos Ponce. Should we see “Metamorphosis” as cradle to grave advertising, or as Bartle Bogle Hegarty’s Lynx lad recast in David Kronenberg’s Shivers on speed?

But where the rest of Europe (and beyond) occasionally showed flair, it was the UK contingent which impressed in a difficult year, with its consummate professionalism. Whether it was AMV’s ‘”Kill your speed” commercial, hardy perennials like the latest Lowe execution for Stella (“Doctor”), the “Lava” Guinness commercial (AMV again, and itself strangely similar in plot and feel to a Stella ad) or, in print, the Mother Schweppes Mixers execution featuring Geoffrey Archer and Maggie behind bars, the effect was the same. A sense of effortless craft mastery prevailed.

Its impact was clearly felt in the shortlist for the Epica d’Or, the grand prix award which encompasses all categories. Most of the above got a nomination, and their number was swelled by the curious, fetishistic Levi’s offering from Bartle Bogle Hegarty, “Rub Yourself”. The UK ad which made the most impression, however, was a good old, classic piece of poster work: the “Missing Piece” execution for the Economist magazine, put together by AMV. It couldn’t be simpler, or more compelling for those who know the longstanding campaign. No copyline, only a red background with, in the right hand corner, a single piece of “missing” jigsaw picked out in white.

Driven to think

Though the contest was incredibly close, Missing Piece did not win. That honour went to Euro RSCG MCM Milan’s commercial for the Peugeot 206, called “The Sculptor”. It’s the one where a young, trendy Indian trashes his pristine Hindustan Ambassador (a type of car made in India) with the help of hammer, wall, oxy-acetylene torch and even an elephant, with a view to fashioning it into the very much more sexy Peugeot, which he achieves in a tawdry kind of way. Object: to look cool and impress the girls. There must be simpler and more cost-effective methods available. And, by the way, why does the Peugeot end up as a left-hand drive model, when everyone in India drives on the right? That can’t be very hip.

Still, while it’s undoubtedly full of percussive noise, The Sculptor makes a welcome departure from the usual blazing sugar cane plantations, hurtling hurricanes and exploding volcanoes that populate most mainstream car advertising.

Stuart Smith was a judge on the panel of the 16th Epica Awards. Their point of difference to other advertising creative awards is that the panel is composed of senior journalists from leading European trade journals

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