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The jury’s out on Cannes’ creative verdict

June 27, 2012

One way or another the “C” word defined this year’s Cannes International Festival of Creativity. Naively, I came away from the ad industry’s annual Rivièra fest thinking “C” stood for Chipotle and Creative Artists Agency (CAA), the duo that pulled off the film grand prix and the top lion for one of this year’s new categories, branded content & entertainment. What a deserved breakthrough for the Colorado-based fast food outfit, whose wholesome message may one day may do McDonald’s some serious brand damage.

And here, just to prove that the Cannes judges not only know a winner when they see one but are prepared to back it without fear or favour, is that very “Back to the Start” grand prix winner, to the tuneful accompaniment of Willie Nelson:

How wrong I was about the “C” word, though. It turns out that “C” stands for Corruption. No sooner had WPP emerged as the top Holding Company of the Year for the second time in a row, and its subsidiary Ogilvy & Mather as Agency Network of the Year, than the allegations of vote-rigging began to fly. What, momentarily, had seemed WPP global creative director John O’Keeffe’s triumphal moment – in which he definitively proved that last year’s laurels were more than a passing fluke – was soon clouded by recrimination and counter-recrimination.

At the centre of the row is Amir Kassaei, worldwide creative head of Omnicom-owned DDB, who has accused WPP agencies on the Cannes jury of wresting what he clearly regards as Omnicom’s rightful crown from it by foul means. WPP racked up 1,554.5 points in the competition, and Omnicom – at number two – 1375.5, leaving Publicis Groupe trailing a distant third on 1032. Here’s what Kassaei had to say:

“We had a meeting in New York just ahead of Cannes, and I made a very, very clear statement to all our jury members that this festival is about integrity and responsibility. I said to them, you have to vote for the best work, no matter which agency is behind it.

“I have since been notified by no fewer than 12 jury members that people from other holding companies this week are being briefed to kill Omnicom, especially BBDO, DDB and TBWA, this is a fact.

“This is not about being a bad loser, or even supporting Omnicom, this is about the integrity and responsibility of the Cannes Lions Festival as a beacon of excellence around the world.”

Right on, Amir. But actually, no. It’s just part of the rough and tumble that afflicts Cannes voting patterns every year. Next year Omnicom may boycott Cannes, you say? Come off it. It’s about as likely as me selling my grandmother (if I still had one) into slavery.

The Great Holding Company Award Scandal is simply a continuation by other means of a long-running guerrilla war between WPP, Omnicom and Publicis Groupe over who’s best boy creatively. Before the award was given official embodiment two years ago, the bosses of the three big network groups used to engage in a covert but nevertheless acrimonious tally of who had actually bagged the biggest statue haul. Frankly, Omnicom used to win by a country mile, even after discounting any creative arithmetic; which meant that the most entertaining part of the contest – vigorously disputed by WPP boss Sir Martin Sorrell and head of Publicis Groupe Maurice Lévy – was over who had come second.

But with WPP out in front – and officially out in front at that – Omnicom seems to have lost its seigneurial disdain for such squabbling.

Not that WPP is exactly blameless in this regard. Clearly nettled by the fact that Omnicom-owned Manning Gottlieb OMD won the Media grand prix for a Google campaign, Sorrell recently told Mediaguardian:

“One thing I’ve noticed this year in particular [are] some practices creeping in that are a bit disturbing. Practices of pressure on the jury by [the chairman] of the judges. There are some techniques to these things. I was at a dinner and there was lots of chatter about one of the functional areas [awards categories] where lots of pressure was put on an organisation in terms of voting.”

Although Sorrell is not category-specific in his complaint Group M, the WPP media buying network that includes Mediacom and Mindshare, is known to have made a complaint to the Cannes festival management. While a little mischievous to do so, it is worth mentioning that the chairman of the media category judges was Mainardo de Nardis. De Nardis is, of course, chief executive of Omnicom-owned agency OMD Worldwide. But perhaps just as importantly, he is not best buddies with Sir Martin. The feud dates back to the Marco Benatti scandal, when de Nardis was a WPP employee.

Plus ça change, as they say at Cannes, plus c’est la même chose.

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Nokia, Microsoft and AT&T hold their breath for Lumia 900 smartphone launch

April 9, 2012

Like me, perhaps, you missed one of this year’s most critical product launches. That’s because, for reasons still not entirely apparent, it took place on Easter Sunday.

Never mind that though. All the most influential tech reviewers are agreed: the Nokia Lumia 900 is undoubtedly one of the finest smartphones money can buy, with its big, 4.3in screen, intuitive operating system, 8 megapixel rear camera and VGA front-facing cam, not to mention 4G LTE data capability. And at the astonishing price of only $99 (terms and conditions apply, 2-year contract only, sorry rest-of-the-world, you’ll just have to wait and see…), it looks like a snip.

But will it be? The Lumia’s significance lies not so much in it technological prowess as who’s behind it.

This may be the first and only chance for Nokia, Microsoft and AT&T to break the iPhone’s increasingly assured stranglehold over the sector. Nokia, once hailed the world’s leading mobile phone manufacturer, has so far made almost no impact in the dynamic smartphone sector dominated by Apple and Google/Android. Microsoft, developer of the admired but definitely connoisseur-only Windows Phone 7.5 operating system, has so far lacked a suitable vehicle to gatecrash the market. And AT&T, the US carrier with sole Lumia launch rights, is playing a desperate market catch-up game with its rivals Verizon and Sprint Nextel, after earlier losing exclusivity over US iPhone sales.

Little, apart from that quirky Easter Sunday launch date, is being left to chance. And with some of the world’s powerful brands behind it (AT&T, for instance, is America’s second biggest advertiser) it seems hard to conceive of abject failure. AT&T alone is spending $150m through BBDO on the Lumia launch campaign – more than it ever spent on the iPhone. And there has been much hullabaloo in Times Square with a spectacular live event – watched by “tens of thousands of people” and videoed on Facebook – featuring 60-foot CGI-generated waves which cascade down a building.

If only smartphone marketing were simply about price, position, product and promotion, the Lumia 900 would have a field day. Alas, it’s also about apps. As a leading member of the tech commentariat David Pogue, of the New York Times, points out:

The Lumia 900 is fast, beautiful and powerful, inside and out. Unfortunately, a happy ending to this underdog story still isn’t guaranteed. Windows Phone 7 faces the mother of all chicken-and-egg problems: nobody’s going to write apps until WP7 becomes popular — but WP7 won’t become popular until there are apps.

And it’s anyone’s guess when that might be.


Nick Brien heads for McCann exit. But who would wish to step into his shoes?

March 16, 2012

Word reaches me that Nick Brien, chief executive officer of Interpublic Group’s troubled leviathan McCann Worldgroup, will be stepping down very shortly. Possibly within a few weeks.

The size of Brien’s no doubt handsome severance package is likely to remain a mystery, the reason for his departure less so.

McCann has, in recent years, been a slow-motion accident gradually picking up speed. The traditional banker of Interpublic, accounting for 30% of group revenue (according to the Wall Street Journal), it was once a licence to print money on account of 5 foundation global clients. These were: Unilever, Exxon Mobil, Nestlé, L’Oréal and General Motors. More recently it has come to rely upon Microsoft as well. Here’s the recent tally:

Unilever (mostly Walls) has long gone, and the souring of the relationship can hardly be blamed upon Brien (even though the last bit of media did leave in 2011). Less excusably, his 2-year tenure has coincided with serious difficulties afflicting the other five.

Nestlé? McCann lost the crown-jewels global Nescafé creative account (worth about $25m income annually) to Publicis Groupe. McCann had handled the vast majority of the business for several decades.

Exxon? Lost the $200m creative account (which went back to 1912) to BBDO after a year-long review completed late last year. Universal McCann, MRM and Momentum have, however, managed to cling on to media.

General Motors? McCann lost out in the recent contest for GM’s $3bn global media business (of which Universal McCann had a substantial chunk), and is still on tenterhooks over whether it has won, lost or drawn in a creative review of the worldwide Chevrolet business, which accounts for the bulk of GM adspend.

Did I mention the Microsoft débâcle? About a year ago, UM and Mediabrands lost more than half Microsoft’s global media business after a review which saw the $615m US business pass to Publicis’ Starcom MediaVest.

And so to L’Oréal – perhaps the single most important McCann relationship, accounting (I’m told) for about 20% of its operating profit. Brien made a fundamental wrong turn last year when he sought to shoehorn Maybelline into a standalone shop, Beauty Village, which was also to house L’Oréal’s main brands. Characteristically (for a former media man), he had spotted the cost benefits of ruthlessly streamlining the business. Equally characteristically, his critics would say, he showed almost zero client empathy in setting about the task. When L’Oréal’s ‘C Suite’ finally tumbled to what he was doing, they were apoplectic and nixed the whole project.

Worse, it would appear, is on the way for McCann. L’Oréal now seems poised to take a considerable amount of its creative work in house. From what I hear, it will drop one of its two global agencies. And given that Publicis is the Paris-based home team, currently rejoices in a better brand name and – in Digitas – a superior digital operation, who do you think that unlucky agency might be? Driving L’Oréal’s thinking, sources say, are potential cost savings of $50m a year.

An indication of the way the wind is blowing may be detected in the recent defection of McCann’s L’Oréal worldwide account director Aude Gandon, who joined Publicis Worldwide last month. Gandon was a Brien protegé. She was formerly managing director of Leo Burnett’s beauty, fashion and luxury division, Atelier-lb, and was brought into McCann shortly after Brien got the top job.

Hers is not the only departure. Note that Garry Neel, the GM brand leader at McCann is quitting (although he will stay on as a consultant). As is Matt Freeman, who was hired as chief global chief innovation officer and vice-chairman less than a year ago. Only last week, Cathy Saidiner, president of McCann LA since 2008 – and a key Nestlé contact – also quit, according to an AdWeek report which also carried a denial that Brien is about to step down.

Against all these losses, McCann under Brien has yet to nail a significant new business win. Sense a pattern, anyone?

Equally interesting, while on the subject of Brien’s imminent departure, is who might replace him. Who, now that Brett Gosper has quit, has sufficient stature within McCann? And if an external candidate, which first-rate suits would be prepared to risk their reputation in taking on such a vertiginous challenge? The ideal candidate might well be Andrew Robertson, BBDO Worldwide CEO (who has not so far landed that top Omnicom job he was rumoured to be angling for). But why would he want to go to McCann? Surely not for the money.

UPDATE 19/3/12: Another top level casualty: this time Tom Gruhler, global managing partner at McCann Worldgroup, who is heading off to Microsoft as vice-president of phone marketing. Gruhler, who joined McCann in 2003, oversaw a specialist technology and telecoms unit the agency was developing. Previously, he was point man on the Verizon account, but much of that defected to agency-of-the-moment McGarryBowen in 2010. There’s now an inescapable whiff of the Führer Bunker, April 1945, in the air.


Print and posters more persuasive than film at Epica 2011 creative advertising awards

January 7, 2012

Creative advertising award schemes are, by their nature, an imperfect guide to reality. If your agency doesn’t enter, your work doesn’t get considered; on the other hand, those who do enter and win may be regarded as unrepresentative of general industry opinion.

Even so, hardy annual schemes provide a rough and ready guide to agencies and agency groups that are performing above standard.

Which is exactly what you find with the latest Epica international advertising awards. Set up in 1987, they are Euro-centric or rather EMEA in their scope and differ from most in the genre in being assessed by senior advertising trade-magazine journalists (usually editors) rather than the creative community. Creatives may dislike their work being prodded and probed by what they probably regard as a bunch of philistines, but they cannot deny that experienced journalists bring a degree of objectivity to the proceedings.

So what does Epica 2011 tells us? First that Germany, not France or Britain, is the advertising power-house of Europe. To be sure you would expect the biggest country – and the only one with a thriving economy right now – to be the most prolific entrant. But it also hauled the most winners: 15 golds, 45 silvers, 29 bronze – 89 awards in total. By way of perspective, France came second with 66 awards, of which 11 were golds; and Britain trailed Sweden in fourth place with 41 awards (Sweden: 58), of which 12 were gold (Sweden: 8). Germany had an “off-year” last time round, in 4th place. But pole position is no fluke: it has taken the palm 7 times in the last decade.

Next, the best performing networks. This was less clear-cut than last year, when WPP-owned Y&R attained an easy ascendancy with 8 category winners sourced by 4 different shops. It managed to cling on to top position this year but with a lesser margin – 5 winners from 2 shops – and also faces a serious challenge from Wieden & Kennedy, which shares the top honours. Next ranking were IPG-owned McCann Erickson (4 winners in 4 offices), Omnicom-owned BBDO (which is clearly slipping, 4 winners in 3 offices) and WPP-owned Ogilvy (the same). DDB (Omnicom) came sixth.

Individually, Serviceplan Gruppe Munich, Fred & Farid Paris and W&K Amsterdam took the most golds (4 apiece); and Forsmann & Bodenfors, Gothenburg the most awards (18).

So much for the statistics, but what of the overall quality of the work? A bit of a curate’s egg this year. Film, which is generally regarded as the most prestigious of the 4 leading Epica d’Or awards, finally went to W&K Amsterdam’s ‘Open Your World’ campaign for Heineken. In effect, W&K was in a duel with itself for the top honours, since the other serious contender was its last year Cannes winner – ‘Write the Future’ for Nike. Neither exactly resonates as an imaginative choice – although what they lack in originality they certainly compensate for in verve and exceptional production values. Of the two, Heineken has to have been the right choice: Nike was sooo dated and yesterday’s choice.

But if film failed to sparkle, there was ample refreshment elsewhere. Print, a category in decline if ever there was one, gratifyingly produced a triple surprise. The winner, Leo Burnett’s Swiss office Spillmann/Felser/Leo Burnett Zurich, provided some crackling word-play for, of all things, a financial services client, Swiss Life. “Life Turns in a Sentence” plays verbally on life’s vicissitudes with a series of statements that change their meaning 180 degrees in mid-sentence.

Similarly inspiring was Rainey Kelly Campbell Roalfe/Y&R’s “Passport Stamps” work for Land Rover. It had a simple, appealing graphic quality which would have worked equally well in print although in fact it won the Outdoor Epica d’Or.

While we’re there, the fourth of the big prizes, for Interactive, was won by Jung von Matt Stockholm for its “MINI Getaway” campaign.

For more on the winners, click here.


Hans Riedel – the Porsche mastermind behind Jaguar’s bright Sparks ad plan

February 21, 2011

I cannot be alone in wondering what possessed Jaguar to pluck the majority (not all, note) of its $100m global advertising and marketing communications account out of Euro RSCG and place it in the hands of an untried joint-venture called Spark44, which will be head-quartered in Los Angeles.

If you don’t like the agency, fire it; don’t leave it clinging onto the business in nearly a third of your markets. If you do like the agency, but you’re unsure about the quality of its work, call a global review and take it from there. What’s happened here, by contrast, looks amateur and ill-judged: an accident waiting to happen at a time when Jaguar should be worrying about other things. Such as its dealers’ morale and the reliability of its new core product, the long-delayed XJ large saloon range.

Jaguar, which is part of Jaguar Land Rover and now owned by the family of Indian billionaire Ratan Tata, has been rather cryptic about the new marketing services JV – possibly because the news got out prematurely. So let’s try to fill in some of the gaps.

They say it’s not in-house but will be “100% dedicated to developing the Jaguar brand”. I take this to mean that 1) Jaguar is to be the majority shareholder in the enterprise and 2) that Spark44 will not be permitted to chase other clients.

In other words, the model is slightly different to Samsung’s relationship to Cheil (it can, but is so smothered it has never been able to diversify satisfactorily). And perish the thought we should so much as mention Kevin Morley Marketing – which for 3 unhappy years during the early nineties handled the £100m Rover brand. Even so, there are some unsettling parallels with KMM. As will be seen.

What little we definitely know about Spark44 comes from its website which, alas, has now been locked down with password protection (Nerves? Unreadiness? Both?). Before it disappeared from public view, a logo was to be discerned, in the form of a large spark-plug. The “44” part probably relates to the four partners ostensibly running the JV; and the fact that they will operate in Jaguar’s 4 main markets: the USA, Britain, Germany and China  – which, together, account for about 70% of the marque’s sales.

These four partners are: Alastair Duncan; Steve Woolford; Bruce Dundore; and Werner Krainz. Who? Well, good question. First, all of them have big agency backgrounds (McCann and BBDO figuring particularly prominently in their CVs), and specific experience on car accounts. Krainz (German, as the name suggests) and Dundore are creatives. London-based Duncan was until 2009 chief executive of McCann WorldGroup digital arm MRM Worldwide, and earlier helped to set up digital agency Zentropy. Finally, and most important, there is LA-based Woolford. Woolford, after a spell running a barber shop or two in LA, has been a group account director at BBDO (Mitusbishi being one of his clients); and also has a connection with McCann and Duncan, having – surprise, surprise – occupied senior positions at Zentropy and MRM.

But the really interesting thing about Woolford is his client-side experience: earlier in his career he worked for both Porsche and BMW. And it is this pedigree which has given him an entrée to the senior German car executives and consultants who now – effectively – run Jaguar worldwide.

Yes, the Indian Tata business dynasty may own Tata Motors – which bought Jaguar and Land Rover from Ford for £1.15bn in 2008 – but it is the Germans who run it. Last year, Tata put the respected former head of General Motors Europe and ex-BMW executive Carl-Peter Forster in overall charge of its global motor operations. Separately, but about the same time, it picked former BMW executive Ralph Speth as CEO of the Jaguar Land Rover division. Speth reports to Forster but – importantly for the future perhaps – the Speth appointment was made not by Forster but by Ravi Kant, vice chairman of Tata Motors.

Speth quickly set about refashioning JLR’s senior management in his own image. One of his most significant hirings is former senior Saab and Porsche executive Adrian Hallmark to the new position of Jaguar global brand director. Indirectly, Hallmark is a replacement – with much-reduced powers – for managing director Mike O’Driscoll, who leaves this year. Over the past 3 years, O’Driscoll – in charge of product and sales, as well as marketing – has been the key transition figure in the handover of Jaguar from Ford to Tata. Among other things, he was pivotal in cementing Euro’s relationship (which began during the Ford era in 2005) with the brand’s new owner.

There are a lot of names in this thickening plot, but let’s start tying it together with the introduction of yet another one. Speth has been surrounding himself with expensive consultants: in fact, Jaguar has been spending more on consultancy recently than it has on agency fees, according to one well-placed source. If so, that must be a tidy sum, since the Euro RSCG fee is commonly thought to be $10m per annum.

Prime among these consultants is one Dr Hans Riedel, who first made his appearance last summer, prior to the Hallmark appointment. It is Riedel (left) who is effectively calling the shots in marketing. Now about 62, he has worked full-time for only 3 employers in his life: Young & Rubicam; BMW, which he joined in 1980; and Porsche, from which, after 12 years, he retired in 2006. At Porsche he was Mr Sales and Marketing – the man who helped launch the sports-car maker’s third-leg strategy, the Cayenne 4×4 off-roader; and who oversaw an explosion of Porsche sales, which soared from 18,000 in 1994 to over 90,000 by the time he left. At BMW, he acquired extensive knowledge of the North American market helping, among other things, to reorganise BMW’s motorcycle operation there.

The point is this. Riedel quickly made his presence felt at Jaguar by cancelling an imminent global all-model ad campaign – to dealers’ consternation – and bringing in the relatively unknown Woolford as his right-hand man. Next thing we know, Woolford and his chums have carved out for themselves the lion’s share of Jaguar’s marketing communications budget.

In whose best interest is this marketing services JC being set up: Jaguar’s or the people running it? But, equally important: will it actually work?

First, a bit of background. Euro’s advertising strategy performed an early and vital service for the Jaguar brand. The “Gorgeous” campaign definitively pushed Jaguar upmarket, by detaching it from the Ford name and repositioning it as a luxury item. Its task was assisted by the scrapping of Jaguar’s entry model, the unsuccessful X, and the revitalisation of the rest of its range, the XF, XS and the XJ. Whatever quibbles there may be over the XJ’s reliability, all three ranges have been well received critically; and the 2010 JD Power ratings – which measure customer satisfaction – prove the point by ranking Jaguar the highest-scoring luxury marque in the US auto industry.

The “luxury item” strategy is remarkably similar to that which has prevailed at Porsche over the years, at a noticeably lower cost in marketing services expenditure. Riedel  – who must be regarded as the eminence grise behind Spark44 – was not a believer in bloated advertising budgets then; and the evidence is, he is not one now (particularly when it comes to the flim-flam of digital and social media).

Maybe he’s right to be so conservative: his track record speaks for itself. But there are also reasons for suspecting that Spark44 will not succeed in the objectives it seems to have set itself. Will it save Jaguar money? Initially maybe. Its problem is the brand’s global reach. Although it has sought to circumvent the issue of network overheads by leaving all the messy bits to Euro, Spark44 is still lumbered with a fundamental problem. It is servicing only one brand, and that brand must therefore, single-handedly, subsidise the cost of regional presence. There is a complexity of engagement  – and therefore expense – in that presence which may, so far, have eluded the drawing-board agency strategists. The Kevin Morley (left) experiment failed not simply because of the posturing, pugnacious personality of Rover’s former managing director-turned-adman, but because it was and remained a one-trick pony. It could find no substantial partner to spread the costs of a European network. Nor, in the last analysis, could it give advice that was in any sense robustly objective, tied as it was to a single paymaster. Morley quit before his 5-year term was up and, shortly afterwards, the business was sold to Lintas, later a part of Lowe.

Jaguar  might have been better advised to approach Havas with the idea of a 50/50 joint venture run out of Euro. After all, the infrastructure is halfway there already. Jaguar is handled by a specialist agency with a dedicated strategy unit, operating out of its two chief markets London and New York (not always in that order), in order to avoid account conflict with Peugeot. That way the Jaguar JC could have spread the risk while asserting greater control over marketing communications and the associated costs. What’s more, as a global strategy it would have been a good deal more coherent.

For all that, let’s not prejudge Spark44’s chances of success. We’ll know it’s working when, in about a year’s time, Speth turns his attention to Y&R’s global contract with the more successful Land Rover brand, and attempts to replicate the Spark44 model. Either that, or he may find himself without a job.


J&J, Hollywood and Toni & Guy – JWT hides its hat-trick win under a bushel

December 1, 2010

JWT has racked up a hat-trick of significant ad account wins on the sly recently – perhaps it’s time for that achievement to be more widely known.

One of them is the global Toni & Guy business. ‘Global’ might sound a tad hyperbolic, in view of T&G’s origins as a trendy London hair salon in the Swinging Sixties. But, hey, it’s a worldwide franchise now, big enough to sell its hair product business to Unilever for a cool $411m two years ago. Which is what we’re talking about here.

Then there’s the Kraft Euro haul. Kraft-owned Hollywood is France’s biggest chewing-gum brand. It’s a little-known fact that the French are the biggest consumers, per capita, of gum in the world – Americans excepted. Like the Coca-Cola habit, the French acquired it fairly recently, after rubbing shoulders with ‘visiting’ GIs during the Second World War.

Besides leading the chewing gum market in France, Hollywood is exported throughout Europe, to Africa, China, Madagascar, South America and Canada. Its factories are located in France and Denmark. Ironically, Kraft first acquired the Hollywood brand in 1961, but later sold it to Cadbury in 2000. It’s fair to say  the high-margin Trident gum business, to which Hollywood is aligned, was one of Cadbury’s principal attractions as a bid target. Interestingly, Kraft has just opened a new SwF14m research and development centre at Eysins near Geneva, dedicated to gum and ‘candy’. And maybe just in the nick of time, because trouble is brewing for the $23bn industry, in Europe at least. The anti-social gumminess of the discarded product is causing serious concern – serious enough for the Spanish government to decree that manufacturers change the formula. Unfortunately, the new unsticky stuff is no less controversial: it contains all sorts of chemical nasties such as co-polymer acetate – more commonly associated with glues and emulsion paints.

Last, and most enigmatically, JWT seems to have scooped a very large chunk of Johnson & Johnson’s Western Europe consumer business – worth up to £300m my sources tell me. Enigmatically, because earlier this year Omnicom roster agencies BBDO and DDB were making all the running with J&J business wins. If rumour is to be believed, the JWT windfall will be dire news for J&J’s other roster agency, Lowe – it now retains little more than the femcare creative business in London. Scarcely a consoling thought for Lowe London’s new management buy-in team from DLKW, which itself has just lost the core £25m Halifax account.


Epica Awards give boost to France – and WPP

November 29, 2010

This year’s Epica creative advertising awards – the 24th in the series – sprang some interesting surprises. France was the lead country – both in the number of winners and total awards – for the first time since 2004. WPP’s Y&R was deemed the most creative agency group – far outdistancing the usual competition from the Omnicom Group. And one of the top winners was an iPhone app.

As one of the 26 trade journal editors drawn from across Europe to judge these awards (exceptionally, the winners are not decided by a jury of creatives) I can testify that recovery is definitely on its way – entries were up 10% this year to over 3,000. But it’s a patchy recovery. The year that has seen France emerge from a creative wilderness is also the year in which one of its two principal advertising trade magazines, CB News – founded by the legendary Christian Blachas, has gone into administration. Elsewhere, the quality of print work (at least, in my opinion) has improved after a long decline; by contrast this was not a vintage year for the television and cinema commercial.

A sign of the times was the ‘Streetmuseum’ iPhone’s app – devised by Brothers & Sisters for the Museum of London– bagging one of the competition’s top four prizes, the Epica d’Or for interactivity. With a museum as client, it was always likely to be a low-budget affair, but what good use it made of that budget. The app artfully exploits sized-to-fit historic photographs as overlays on present-day Google street-map technology to give a vivid impression of London’s past whenever a visitor looked up a landmark on his iPhone. The app shot up to 19th most popular free download and, so the museum reckons, has trebled the number of its visitors.

In the hotly contested film section (TV and cinema commercials) the winner was the somewhat controversial ‘Dot’ created by Wieden & Kennedy London and Aardman Animations for Nokia N8, a smartphone. As a piece of low-budget film-making it’s masterly and involving. On brief too: Nokia has fallen behind in our perception of a desirable smartphone brand and this film, which uses CellScope technology on a bog-standard phone to achieve a remarkable piece of micro-animation, helps to redress the balance. It is one of a series that highlights Nokia’s technical competence in the smartphone arena. The (admittedly non-creative) question mark is: how much of a media budget was spent on disseminating the message? In other words, how many people have seen it?

Stacked up against ‘Dot’ in the final heat was Fred & Farid’s bizarrely amusing ‘Anytime, Anywhere’ TV and cinema ad for Orangina. A series of animals (from giraffes to bears and gay cougars – my own favourite is the iguana sketch) impersonate the actors in a range of cliched television ads, from floor-cleaner to car polish, breakfast cereal to energy drink and zit-buster. The common factor being Orangina starring as the product in every ad. Cut to bloke watching the ads on television, nuzzling up to a sheep (presumably his wife) on the sofa. Animated hommage to Disney, satire of the advertising industry? Who knows? It could only be French. Try it and see:

In the circumstances, there were other commercials that should have made it to the final cut. For example, Ogilvy’s Dove Manthem (you know the one: sing along to William Tell), which was the winner in the toiletries and healthcare category.

Just as odd was the exclusion of Adam & Eve’s ‘Always a Woman’ ad for John Lewis. It lost out at the category stage to Sapient Nitro’s ‘Sneaker Mastermind’ work for Footlocker. Not itself a great ad, but one not dogged by a plagiarism controversy.

Fred & Farid may have been pipped at the post by ‘Dot’ but they triumphed in the outdoor category with an Epica d’Or for their Wrangler Red work. The ‘animal’ theme (lots of that this year) is not new, but the photographic execution was considered outstanding.

More interesting was the final major category, the print Epica d’Or, where M&C Saatchi’s ‘The Last Place You Want to Go’ ad for Dixons narrowly beat BETC Euro RSCG’s Evian ‘Baby Inside’ work.  Evian has made the baby theme something of a trademark these past ten years, each year developing it in a new and interesting direction. This year the image was of adults with the bodies of babies superimposed on their white t-shirts: simple and effective.

But not as startlingly unusual as the Dixons ads, which appealed to the head as much as the heart. It’s good to see outstanding retail print work, full stop; but even better when it employs witty, old-fashioned long-copy which makes elegant fun of the retailer’s rivals. In the eternal struggle for mastery between copy and image, copy definitely won out this year.

So much for the work, but what of the winning countries and agencies? It was noticeable that while France was easily ahead in all winning categories – winners, silver, bronze and total awards – Britain managed to nail three of the four Epica d’Ors (film, interactive and print). It came third overall, but behind France (a long way behind) in the categories winners’ league. Sweden was number two overall, with Germany in fourth place. Far down the league table was the usually feistier Spain.

The top agency was Sweden’s Forsman & Bodenfors, Gothenburg, with 15 awards in total, four of them category winners. Serviceplan Gruppe, Munich & Hamburg – a previous winner – came second. The more important insight to emerge, however, was Y&R’s easy dominance as top network. It had 8 winners across four offices, compared with next-placed DDB’s 4 winners across the same number. Ogilvy came third with four across three. BBDO (like DDB, owned by Omnicom), often an overall winner, has drifted well down the table  (3 over 2).

Taken at face value, that’s something of a pat on the back for WPP creative supremo John O’Keeffe, whose avowed aim is to displace Omnicom as creative top dog. O’Keeffe has his eye on the Cannes Awards, but Epica winners have often proved a useful harbinger.


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