The Contenders

Armed once more with a Honda engine, Wieden + Kennedy in London may again have an awards show favorite on its hands. Last year, “Grrr,” a feel-good spot about hate, won a special place in jurors’ hearts. Now, the two-minute epic “Impossible Dream” is one of the darlings among judges at several of this year’s shows, and has already taken top honors at the British Television Advertising Awards.

Set to the sweeping “Don Quixote” ballad of the same name, the ad tackles both the spirit of the company’s tagline, “The Power of Dreams,” and the breadth of its yield. Like the Man of La Mancha himself, Honda’s journeyman is gangly and middle-aged. But in place of a trusty steed, Honda’s cross-country trek, directed by Ivan Zacharias, highlights a variety of the company’s vehicles; each time the motorist drives out of one frame on one vehicle, he re-enters on an evolved Honda machine. Thus he rides from monkey bike to dirt bike, from four-wheeler to vintage roadster, from touring and racing motorcycles to a Formula One race car and, penultimately, a powerboat that charges over a waterfall. Finally, Honda’s hero rises from the mist in a hot-air balloon in a triumphant crescendo.

Wieden, however, finds itself amongst stiffer competition this year. Judges who last year raised their voices in nearly unanimous approval of “Grrr” are singing the praises of a wider variety of ads as integrated campaigns gain momentum. TV and film judges appear to be backing big-budget, cinema-flavored ads, some of which have already chalked up awards from the Art Directors Club.

“Even more than in past years, the winners are going to be European-style film productions that are long on innovative storytelling and expensive production and short on logical selling element,” says Mike Hughes, president and creative director of The Martin Agency and a judge at this year’s Andy Awards. Hughes credits more international judging panels for that shift. “It used to be dominated by Americans … there are many, many more judges from other countries involved, and their sensibilities are at work.”

Among Hughes’ favorites are the Stella Artois entries from Lowe London. One, “Ice Skating Priests,” takes an old-world, black-and-white silent film approach to a narrative in which traditionally vested priests skate on a frozen lake. One unlucky priest carrying a crate of Stella Artois falls through the ice. The frocked flock rushes to save him, until they realize the beer has popped up near some thin ice elsewhere.

Those types of ads, Hughes says, “have the judge’s tongues hanging out.”

Fallon London’s “Balls” spot for Sony Bravia is another such spot, collecting a gold ADC award for over-30 TV and two silvers for cinematography and over-30 cinema—all awarded to production company MJZ in London and director Nicolai Fuglsig. The ad touted the color quality of Sony’s Bravia LCD TV by showering a hilly San Francisco street with thousands of colorful balls and filming—in slow motion—the bright kinetic fallout as they bounce against buildings, cars and mailboxes.

“What’s so amazing is the unexpectedness of it,” says ADC judge Guy Seese, cd at Goodby, Silverstein & Partners. Seese, who is also a judge for the Clio Awards, praises the spot’s “little glimpses of humanity.” He adds, “You don’t even see the people the first time—the little boy peeking around the corner … the cute little dog impossibly stuck out on a ledge.”

Andy Awards chairman Mark Tutssel, deputy CCO at Leo Burnett Worldwide, also praised “Balls” as “a visual spectacular, incredibly visceral.” Earning Tutssel’s praise is also Guinness’ “noitulovE,” from AMV BBDO in London, a special-effects-laden meditation on the theme, “Good Things Come to Those Who Wait.” Says Tutssel, “They’ve chosen humor and the brilliance of [director] Danny Kleinman. His comic timing is impeccable, and his technical ability is second to none.”

The spot opens with three pub-goers enjoying the first sip of their fully-settled stouts. After a moment’s enjoyment, the spot moves backward through time to the beginning of their wait. The three mates walk backward out of the pub, around the corner and through a London that devolves from a contemporary city into a forest. The men also morph into cavemen, apes, flying squirrels and, ultimately, tiny, prehistoric amphibians, who will wait millions of years for that satisfying first sip. “It’s a simple, singular thought brilliantly executed,” says Andy Azula, cd at The Martin Agency and a One Show jury member.

Striking the judge’s funny bone is also Carlton Draught’s “Big Ad,” from George Patterson Young & Rubicam, Melbourne. The ad parodies big-budget beer ads and epic motion picture battles. In it, hundreds of gold- and red-robed actors charge at each other across a battle field while singing self-referential lyrics set to “O Fortuna” from Carmina Burana. “It’s a big ad,” the actors belt. “Very big ad. It’s a big ad we’re in!” An aerial view reveals that the actors are not charging at each other in a chaotic melee, but actually moving in unison to create the image of a giant red head whose mouth is opening wide to drink a golden pint of Carlton Draught.

The satire is well-deserved, says Taxi Toronto ecd Zak Mroueh, who this year is judging the One Show, Clio and D&AD awards. Mroueh says while these are the types of spots that are turning heads this year, he worries that sometimes, grand production budgets are buttressing unimpressive ideas. “In some cases, the execution saves it,” Mroueh says.

Great ideas rise more definitively to the top in the integrated category, which “has grown incredibly in the last few years,” he adds. This year, judges agreed, entries indicated a bandwagon effect, with some agencies trying their hand at integrated projects just for the sake of it. “There is an element of faddishness to it,” says Andy Awards juror Andy Berlin, CEO of Berlin Cameron United in New York. Only a great idea can support the various platforms of an integrated campaign, adds Azula. “If you have a great idea, the more you have of it the better it gets. If you have a bad idea, if you load it up with volume, it just gets worse,” he says.

Judges predict Crispin Porter + Bogusky’s “Counterfeit” Mini campaign will again rise to the top after taking home a Titanium Lion at Cannes last year. “They took the limitations they had and stepped past them,” says Seese. The campaign went beyond TV, print, interactive and outdoor to include an “educational” DVD from the Counter Counterfeit Commission detailing the perils of the fake Mini trade. The Miami shop also ran auto classified ads for muscle cars embellished with bonnet racing stripes, the hallmark of the fake Mini, and direct-marketing TV ads.

Perhaps sparking the most accolades in integrated, however, was Lynx’s Lynxjet effort, from Lowe Hunt in Australia. Lynx, sister brand to U.S. body spray Axe, invented a swinging, sexed-up laddie airline staffed by bosomy, pillow-fighting stewardesses and boasting a preferred customer’s program, dubbed “The Mile High Club.” Lynx dispatched actresses to roam real-life airport terminals lathering up interest in the brand. Most impressively, judges agreed, the client sprung for the construction of a faux aircraft for Lynxjet theme parties. The tag, “Get on. Get off,” reeks of sex, the essence of the Lynx brand promise. Says Mroueh, “It was such a big idea and very brave—to say, ‘We’re not even going to talk about the product, but it’s going to reflect on the brand.'”

Rising to the top of the category at the ADC Awards is a campaign from Dentsu’s Ground for Japanese search engine Ground plastered Tokyo commuter rails with ads resembling Web queries. The client then invited people to assemble at key points throughout the city to participate in a question of the week challenge using their mobile devices. Seven winners, as well as 500 others drawn at random, competed in an ultimate Goo challenge.

That the Goo campaign involved a heavy outdoor component is a sign of the momentum of such creative. “The best way to define integrated marketing is not so much what you do online, it’s what you do in the street,” says Steffan Postaer, CCO at Euro RSCG in Chicago and Obie Awards chairman. While last year’s Best of Show award, for Target, was essentially for “print ads stuck up on 30-feet,” says Obie jurist Paul Venables, this year’s entries further recognize the environment.

Says Postaer, “One of the categories was best outdoor furniture, where you build something and put it on the street or on the sidewalk. That’s indicative of where it’s going. Now people can touch and feel and interact, and yet it’s all on the sidewalk.”

Venables’ shop, Venables, Bell & Partners in San Francisco, offered up a Rear Window-inspired Court TV poster that superimposed a murder scene over a window of a building in New York City. Postaer lauded a piece by Leo Burnett FZ, United Arab Emirates, that touted XTrim Hair Salon by trimming an existing shrub into the shape of an Afro and outfitting it with a sandwich board featuring a face and the salon’s info. “People are no longer apologizing for getting down and dirty,” he says.

No longer apologetic nor disdained, the outdoor and integrated categories have yet to outshine the TV and film categories. Be it the colorful appeal of Sony’s “Balls” or the black-and-white throwback of Stella Artois’ “Dancing Priests,” TV spots remain the most heralded among juries. As Hughes says, those ads are where “advertising bumps into art.”