How Adweek’s International Agency of the Year Translates Empathy Into Award-Winning Advertising

Paris' Rosapark brings the feels for audiences and clients alike

(L. to r. ) Jean-Patrick Chiquiar, co-founder; Sacha Lacroix and Delphine Drutel, managing directors; Gilles Fichteberg and Jean-François Sacco, co-founders and CCOs Hantelle Dosser

A woman walks home with her hands full of grocery bags, when suddenly something goes terribly wrong.

Somehow “The Worst Song in the World” has found its way onto her playlist and she is powerless to stop it. An earworm that actually earns the nightmarish image conjured by that phrase, the song progresses through a series of genre clichés until she’s finally able to rip off her headphones.

For the founders of Paris agency Rosapark, Adweek’s International Agency of the Year, the spot—for grocery chain Monoprix, promoting a service allowing customers to shop in-store and have groceries delivered—was a highlight of 2018, and they’ve got a Cannes silver Lion to prove it.

To showcase the benefits of French retailer Monoprix's service allowing customers to shop in store and have groceries delivered, Rosapark showed one woman, tormented by "The Worst Song in the World" somehow appearing on her playlist while walking home, unable to skip the track due to two hands full of grocery bags.

“We know how to have great emotional connections with clients,” Rosapark CCO Gilles Fichteberg says. The agency tries to connect with clients “as if we were part of their brand,” rooting insights in a deep understanding of their business. “We are trying to solve everything with them.”

This empathetic approach is also vividly on display in the ad “Ugly in the ’90s,” which humorously points out that it’s as unfair to judge Czech automaker Škoda by its unfavorable 1990s-era reputation as it would be to judge you based on how you looked in that decade.

The spot goes through a series of painful style choices to drive its point home with the line, “We weren’t the only ugly ones in the ’90s,” managing to deliver its message in a way that is not only entertaining but also sharable—no small accomplishment for a car ad.

It was “a brave move” for the client to approve the concept, says Rosapark CCO Jean-François Sacco, since it addressed Škoda’s image problem so directly and in such an offbeat fashion.

Rosapark addressed VW-owned Czech auto brand Škoda's spotty reputation in decades past by reminding viewers, in an ad showcasing the worst of the ’90s fashions, that they weren't the only ones who were ugly in that decade.

But not all of Rosapark’s ads center on humor. When high-speed train operator Thalys tasked the agency with helping reverse a decline in tourism in Brussels in the wake of the 2016 terrorist attacks, Rosapark took a decidedly human approach. The resulting campaign focused on the warmth and friendliness of the city’s inhabitants, utilizing 3-D-printing technology to transform them into “Human Monuments“—and earned a silver Lion.

ING Direct wanted to promote its free telephone hold times—its competitors charge customers while on hold—so Rosapark launched a “Pay to Wait” social campaign that reversed the practice, paying customers for waiting.

Rosapark was formed by Fichteberg, Sacco and managing director Jean-Patrick Chiquiar in 2012, with 15 to 20 employees and Monoprix and Thalys as launch clients. Since then, the agency has added roughly 20 staffers a year, growing from the 100-employee mark its founders considered a “tipping point” to around 120 during 2018, with organic growth of 15 percent every year, according to Chiquiar. For 2018, the agency brought in €14.5 million in income, won three Cannes Lions for its three largest clients and added Axa, Europcar, Happn, ING, Parrot, Pierre et Vacances, Škoda and SNCF as new accounts.

Fichteberg explains that Rosapark has grown to the point where it’s now competing against France’s biggest agencies, like BETC and Publicis, for large clients. “Clients want us to be on the pitch,” he says, a switch that began around three to four years ago.

At first, clients often warmed up to the agency’s approach gradually, he explains, initially asking Rosapark to work only on digital and social before slowly expanding their relationship or inviting them to pitch for larger portions of the account.

“They let us enter by the window,” he says, and Rosapark takes that opportunity to show them “that you can do things faster, you can do things smarter.”

Looking forward, Fichteberg says, the agency wants to reimagine how it connects brands with storytelling as advertising increasingly competes with other forms of entertainment online, rather than relying on a captive audience.

Tasked with reversing a decline in Brussels tourism for French-Belgian high-speed train operator Thalys, following the 2016 terrorism attack, Rosapark crafted "Human Monuments" dedicated to one of the city's greatest assets: its residents.

“We have to anticipate, more and more, client problems before they come to us,” says Sacco. “If you are not a partner, clients will leave for consultancies.”

“Advertising is about ideas, concepts, storytelling and emotion,” adds Fichteberg. “In the century of big data, agencies treasure ideas.”

Consultancies can acquire all the data they want, he says, “but if you don’t know how to connect it with emotional storytelling, audiences will simply ignore the message.”

On the other hand, “when you do great advertising, people love it.”

Check out the rest of our 2018 Agency of the Year coverage here:

This story first appeared in the December 3, 2018, issue of Adweek magazine. Click here to subscribe.

@ErikDOster Erik Oster is an agencies reporter for Adweek.