It had been a tough, typically acrimonious battle selecting the print winner for this year’s Epica, the European creative awards that – uniquely – are judged by journalists rather than creatives. There were four good, but (and here was the problem) no outstanding contestants for the top prize, and the winner only yielded itself up after a discussion that felt like trench warfare. Then we moved onto the film Epica d’Or – which most would argue is the biggest trophy of all – and something unprecedented happened.
The only show in town
For the first time in the 18 years the awards have been running, a spontaneous decision was reached about the film winner without the need for a discussion of the merits of any other shortlisted candidates. Such was the ad’s brilliance that judges from a clear majority of 23 countries had no hesitation in acclaiming it.
And the winner was…? Well, the launch of Honda’s first diesel engine does not, on the face of it, provide the most promising of creative clay. It’s a bit technical, a bit boring even and, worse, almost everyone else in the automotive industry is already launching and lauding to the skies second-generation common-rail diesel technology.
All the more reason, then, to celebrate something which elevates a fairly banal product idea into one of the most startlingly creative ads we have seen for a very long time. Grrr, the commercial in question, created by Wieden & Kennedy London, is really corporate advertising disguised as a product execution. In this lies the power of imaginative transformation.
For many years, Honda chief engineer Kenichi Nagahiro had literally hated diesel engines; when he finally changed his mind, it was only on condition that Honda would design and build one from scratch. The result is generally considered one of the finest in the world. Hence the ad’s theme: “Hate something. Change something. Make something better.” Heroic corporate “can-do” is played out in a surreal animated Utopian landscape populated by far-from-Disneyesque animals dedicated to the extermination of dirty diesels. But what ultimately gives the commercial repeated viewing potential is the sing-along tune, sung by author Garrison Keillor and accompanied by the symphonic whistling of creative team Mike Russoff, Sean Thompson and Richard Russell (who also composed it).
And who ultimately won the print Epica d’Or? On the final shortlist were the BMW X3 Mix Your Playground campaign by BDDP & Fils and two entries from Abbott Mead Vickers.BBDO: Harvey Nichols Sales and the Guinness Rugby campaign. But, though well executed, they lost out to another entry by BDDP, this time for Les Echos, the French sister publication of the Financial Times. Les Echos won because it had a bigger idea than the others. Shopping, for instance, shows a woman trying on sports shoes next to three piles of shoeboxes that resemble a bar chart measuring the number of child labourers in third-world countries. In other words, events in the political, social and cultural sphere are only illuminated by an understanding of the business world. An ironic pat on the back for Karl Marx, perhaps, from a leading authority on the capital markets.
Static ads’ declining quality
It was generally agreed, however, that the quality of print advertising has been sadly declining over the years. Not so films, which offered much more competition than in the previous year. Some of the category winner highlights included J Walter Thompson London’s Smirnoff Matrioshka campaign; BETC Euro RSCG’s Evian Waterboy (Paris); TBWA/London’s Mountain work for Sony PlayStation 2; and the curiously amusing Subtitles campaign for Gauloises Cigarettes executed by Kolle Rebbe (Hamburg).
Against a background of entries up seven per cent at 4,755, the biggest winner of golds was the UK (17), which in turn was second only to France in terms of total awards (71 to 74). Close third was Germany (70 winners; nine golds against France’s 13). TBWA/Paris was the most successful agency with three winners and 12 finalists, followed by AMV.BBDO with three winners and nine finalists. DDB Paris came third.