B2B Creative Works Special: Featuring Forsman & Bodenfors, BBDO New York, OgilvyOne, Grey London and more

While often overshadowed by consumer campaigns, B2B creativity is no less worth shouting about. Which is what we do here. Creative leadership from the US and the UK give us their take on some of past year’s best B2B work.

Ogilvy & Mather New York: IBM Watson - Cognitive Business

A supercomputer that can analyse the depth and complexity of Bob Dylan’s lyrics. No, it’s not science fiction. It’s IBM Watson.

With the launch of its 'Cognitive Business' brand platform, IBM is humanises its technology and makes it both relevant and even fun.

It’s not just about how fast Watson thinks, or how much information it can make sense of. It’s about how Watson empowers customers to 'outthink' their biggest challenges – everything from cyber-attacks to university attrition rates, from weather to cancer.

In terms of execution, I love the spirit of the language and, again, the humanity of the content. Years ago, it was Apple telling people to 'think different' like Dylan. Now the musical icon is outthinking with IBM. The times, they are a changing.

Michael Ruby, Stein IAS, VP executive creative director, Americas

Google: Google Partners Elevator

My favourite B2B campaign over the last six months actually landed on my desk rather than my inbox. Not surprisingly, it was from technology super-giant, Google, well known for its well-oiled partner engagement programmes consisting of multi-channel communication pieces.

Its latest initiative, promoting the Google Partners Elevator, was different enough to really get noticed – with a rocket to build and a 3D printed sculpture of Hunterlodge’s coordinates – proving that engaging B2B mailings with personalised and innovative content still have a place in today’s digital world.

Peter Murphy, creative director, Hunterlodge Advertising

Forsman & Bodenfors: Volvo Trucks - Sophie

There are lots of ways to say that Volvo Trucks are tough in an ad, but it’s far more difficult to actually show it in an unexpectedly disruptive way.

This video makes a very clear point in that Volvo Trucks can stand up to just about anything: water, fire, crashing through small houses, you name it.

All told, the idea is simple, fun and effective. Plus, it’s not that often you can work pyrotechnics into a B2B ad. I wonder who had more fun: Sophie, the four-year-old, or the people on the shoot?

Doug Kamp, executive creative director, gyro Chicago/Denver

With predecessor ‘Epic Split’ the core message was the precision driving attributes of Volvo Trucks. With ‘Sophie’ the goal was to demonstrate the sturdiness and mobility of the Volvo FMX.

A sound strategy, but done so in the most compelling, unexpected, delightful way. ’Sophie’ documents a young British schoolgirl who operates a Volvo FMX through an obstacle course via remote control. Surviving the head-on demolition of a house and nearly flipping the truck over an embankment, Sophie clearly enjoys herself and successfully maneuvers the course.

A schoolgirl selling the Volvo FMX Truck? On strategy, on message, on point, but done in a most courageous and unexpected way that delights the consumer base.

Matt Bijarchi, founder and chief executive officer, Blend

Goodby Silverstein & Partners: Adobe Marketing Cloud - The Launch

In recent years, there’s been a loud cry from creatives in the UK to do more emotional, human B2B advertising. I know because I’ve been one of them. Well I’ve got some bad news for my fellow Brit creatives. Our American cousins have stolen the high ground.

GE’s recent advertising has been a great example of how business brands can reach beyond their core audience to show how they affect everyone’s lives. But my favourite recent example has been Adobe’s Launch ad for their Marketing Cloud offering. Another great one in the series from Goodby, Silverstein & Partners, it builds on Click Baby Click and Woo Woo?, using comedy to poke fun at some oh-so-familiar marketing pain points.

Chris Butterworth, creative director, Omobono

Do you know what your marketing is doing? It would be hard to find an industry that offers up more ripe material for lampooning than the world of marketing. But, let’s not hold that against GS&P. This campaign nails the paralysing fear, doubt, and confusion that engulf those women and men who invest massive amounts of company money in hopes of moving the proverbial needle. And, when it comes to understanding and using the tsunami of current data, who couldn’t use a little help?

Which arrives, in this effort, in the form of Adobe Marketing Cloud. Smart, acerbic work that cuts through all the bland “greater efficiency” promises that dominate the category.

David Smith, executive creative director, Bernstein-Rein

BBDO New York: GE - What's the matter with Owen?

GE has done an amazing job of transforming itself into what it terms a ‘digital industrial’ company. Or 'big iron and big data' under one roof. Key to its success is the very clever use of integrated content and use of social media, where it has created a very human, and often playful persona.

Its recent recruitment campaign titled 'What's the Matter With Owen?’ is designed to help reposition themselves and tackle head-on perceptions of them as purely an industrial company.

The ads feature a young man called Owen who has just got a job at GE. Problem is none of his friends and family get why this is good news. The awkwardly comic films run across network and cable programming, but importantly also on social media, where Owen himself pops up to talk about his first days on the job.

Sean Kinmont, founding partner, 23red

Most B2B advertising is focused on driving sales. But there’s a talent war looming—particularly for STEM candidates—that B2B can address for corporations. That’s why GE’s 'What’s the Matter with Owen?' campaign is a stand-out for me.

Traditional brick-and-mortars are in an unenviable position against startups and tech giants in attracting STEM talent. But GE’s ads position the company for a digital future. They inspire candidates with the promise of working on world-changing projects while their peers make passing fads. And the ads bring to life GE’s culture and vision. This is the spirit of brilliant business-to-employee advertising. Others would be wise to catch on.

Tessa Tinney, founding partner, Monaco Lange

FCB Brasil: Hewlett-Packard - Print for Help

Hewlett-Packard’s 'Print for Help' campaign in partnership with Maes Da Se, a charity that helps the families of people who have gone missing, represents everything you need for truly great brand communication.

HP has found a purpose born from, but bigger than its product. It has also found a cause built around a simple truth to help take that purpose into the world.

The resulting campaign is the sort of work that I stay in the industry in the hope to create.

Is it B2B? With CSR now the defining agenda of all top businesses and brands, and a product demonstration so engaging, yes, I think it is.

Tim Jones, creative director, RPM

Ciscopress: Cisco - Nextgen Internet

It’s rare that you get a big tech company that makes you laugh, let alone one that connects with the more human side of things.

In this video though Cisco has managed to combine cute kids, creative ideas, and its own take on connecting the world to the internet to produce an entertaining and light-hearted look at the future of the connected world.

By having a group of five to 11 year-olds presenting their internet of things (IoT) inventions to its chief executive officer, Phil Smith, they have managed to get across this concept in a very simple and common sense manner.

It’s a genuinely entertaining look at the future of tech innovation and it’s also nice to see a chief executive happy to take part in a potentially embarrassing situation (good job Ivy) and handling it so well - they do say never to work with kids.

Jada Balster, marketing director EMEA, Workfront

General Electric: Thriving in Harmony with Nature

An interesting aspect of GE’s marketing work is how aware they are of the B2C side of B2B.

B2B marketing doesn’t happen in a vacuum, it reaches wider audiences just as B2B work has implications on public life and the environment. This is particularly true of marketing in a networked world.

This particular animation uses a human tone looking at some of GE’s climate science innovation. It can be appreciated by diverse audiences. You can imagine it shared in the board room just as much as posted on an individual's Facebook wall.

I believe we’ll see more examples like this in 2016 – best practice B2B marketing is simply, well, good marketing. Makes sense, right?

Uri Baruchin, head of strategy, The Partners

OgilvyOne: BT Sport - Pub Signs

My favourite recent B2B campaign was the OgilvyOne UK and BT Sport work targeting publicans.

The hand-painted football-inspired 'Pub Signs' looked stunning and engaging, allowing the deeper message to be delivered about BT Sports’ Champions League exclusivity.

It also benefits from something we’ve seen a few other great B2B campaigns benefit from – 'overheard' earned media amplification. You don’t have to be a landlord to see this, like it and pass it on, but that action creates a secondary buzz that publicans would have seen beyond the initial communication itself, reinforcing the message.

Also, a doff of the cap due to whoever punned “The Lahm and Flag” as that is pure class.

Rik Moore, head of creative strategy, Havas Media

Publicis Chemistry: Royal Mail - Mailmen

In agency land we get to see a lot of fine B2B work, in many cases we’re the creators of it. But, interestingly, we’re very rarely the recipients of it , which is why the Mailmen campaign by Royal Mail Market Reach caught my eye.

The campaign sets out to prove the value of physical interaction in driving digital engagement, and does so with great success. By using familiar, yet unexpected ambassadors, a slice of self-deprecation, you’re intrigued just enough to find out more.

The comms journey is excellent with compelling evidence aplenty to continue the conversation from paper to screen, all helping to remind you that, done the right way, perhaps this channel isn’t the past after all.

Matt Conner, managing partner at MRM Meteorite

American Express: Small Business Saturday

Small Business Saturday is making a big difference. Not just for American Express and every small biz that’s on board – but also for our society. It’s an idea that’s created real value, value that goes way beyond a B2B campaign.

For me, the difference is when the lady in my local furniture shop knows all about the kooky lamp I love – and she cares. In our world of supersize, superstores and supermalls, I love the idea of backing her.

To quote Edward de Bono, ‘Companies that solely focus on competition will ultimately die. Those that focus on value creation will thrive.’ American Express has certainly seen that coming.

I say let’s back our small businesses every Saturday. Without them, we’d be a poorer, less creative nation.

Nicola Roberts, creative director, Lida

BBDO New York: GE - Ideas are Scary

GE Ideas are Scary says, “we are you and we know the value of an idea.” It’s about people, life and work, not the products GE sells. GE demonstrates citizenship, and creates kinship with viewers with a human touch that crosses platforms.

In addition to being seen by millions of people on TV, the spot has taken on a second life online, with more than half a million YouTube shares and countless social media mentions.

Nancy Crume, principal/strategy at Commerce House

OgilvyOne Business: Dispatches from Wimbledon

Dispatches from Wimbledon from Benita on Vimeo.

As B2B marketers, our job is often to transform complex technical concepts into highly relevant, deeply engaging and immediately relatable creative ideas. The Dispatches from Wimbledon campaign cleverly combined multiple social platforms with fun, shareable content snippets, cleverly showcasing how IBM’s data analytics delivered real-time insight about the tennis.

For the target audience it was a short leap from the sporting context to the implicit business benefits. Nice creative, slick delivery, great campaign.

Pete James, B2B creative head, Bray Leino

The Martin Agency: Penske Truck Leasing - Moving Forward

My pick for a standout B2B campaign has to be the Penske spots from The Martin Agency. Instead of the requisite shots of shining sheet metal and a benefit-laden voice-over, the Penske spots treat us to glimpses of what the world looks like without reliable moving trucks. Each spot has a message that’s simple and relatable. The execution is crisp with high production values for B2B ads.

With universal access to the collective creative output of megabrand marketing, everyone’s expectations have increased. The best B2B communication efforts are the ones that forget they’re talking to a narrow audience of chief financial officers and procurement specialists and remember that these days, even in B2B, everything is B2C.

Sam Monica, creative director, Ansira

IBM: Outthink

IBM continues to hold a leading edge in B2B campaigns. While their Smarter Planet campaign was much lauded, admired, and influential— they've done a great job of keeping themselves ahead of the curve with Outthink.

IBM has a tough job to do, putting a human face on cognitive business. Big Data and Artificial Intelligence are a daunting sell... The highly engaging, eye-to-eye portraits draw you in and remind you of human possibility, and the hyper colour graphics and movement inspire wonder and creativity.

They've continued to leverage the personality of Watson. The digital campaign is cohesive and does a great job of connecting you to the online experience, where they guide you through with tangible stories making the platform much more real for their audience.

Sarah Williams, creative director, Beardwood & Co

Some of these picks orginally featured in the B2B Creative Works special in the 24 February issue of The Drum which is available now in The Drum Store.