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The Directory Big Won Rankings 2014: The editor’s notes

Patrick Collister introduces this year's results from The Directory Big Won rankings, rooting out some of the themes he has witnessed in compiling the most awarded creative advertising and communications agencies over the course of 2014.

The Sigmoid curve is the story of empires, of love affairs, of agencies. Essentially, it is a mathematical construct of how organisations learn, grow and decline.

And that includes agencies.

Just as an agency is beginning to do really well, that is the exact moment it needs to reinvent itself. Of course, reinvention means a period of uncertainty and confusion and strong leadership is required if the agency is then to emerge on a new cycle of learning and growth. If it doesn’t, it will almost certainly go into decline. And the trouble with decline is it is extraordinarily difficult to reverse it.

Fallers and risers

Looking back over the last eight years, since The Won Report, which focused only on Direct Marketing, morphed into the Directory Big Won Rankings, it is plain to see those agencies that are adapting to change as well as those that haven’t.

Agencies which were on top of their game in 2007 butwhich barely register in 2014 include:

Shackleton in Spain

Scholz & Friends and Ogilvy Frankfurt in Germany

Duval Guillaume in Belgium

TBWA Hunt Lascaris in South Africa

and Crispin Porter + Bogusky in the USA.

Perhaps all these agencies are in the turbulent phase of reinvention and will reappear in the upper echelons of the rankings next year or in 2016. CP+B in particular appears to have lost its mojo when it lost Bogusky. Duval Guillaume has too much of a history of innovation to be quiet for long. And Shackleton must surely be suffering because the entire Spanish economy is suffering as well.

Agencies which have disappeared from the rankings altogether in 2014 include some surprising names:

Goodby Silverstein

BMF Sydney

Fallon London

Nordpol + Hamburg

FarFar Stockholm.

On the other hand, there have been some consistently strong performers over the last decade, notably the BBDO ‘Big 5’:

BBDO New York

Almap BBDO Sao Paulo

Colenso BBDO Auckland

AMV BBDO London and

Clemenger BBDO Melbourne.

Also:

Forsman & Bodenfors

Ogilvy & Mather Paris

Jung von Matt Germany

Whybin\TBWA Sydney.

Always making a good showing are:

Wieden + Kennedy Portland

Wieden + Kennedy New York

Wieden + Kennedy London

Wieden + Kennedy Amsterdam

In 2014, every W+K agency (including those in Brazil and Japan) won awards. A 100 per cent record.

Other agencies which have consistently produced great work over the years include BBH London, Leo Burnett Beirut and Leo Burnett Sydney.

The demise of Direct

What seems to be happening is that specialist agencies are struggling. Especially in Direct where Proximity London and CP Proximity Spain have faded in recent years. The one exception to the rule seems to be OgilvyOne London, which has reinvented itself around digital technology.

Increasingly, direct Direct, which is transactional advertising targeted at people with names and addresses and which is measured by the number of sales made, is finding it hard to compete in awards shows with indirect Direct, or brand-building work where measurables are the number of clicks, likes and so forth.

That said, agencies that understand Digital (and Mobile) like Forsman & Bodenfors and Pereira O’Dell are doing well. But looking at the Digital rankings, it is interesting to see how a number of ‘traditional’ agencies are now prospering with new media. Abbott Mead Vickers BBDO is the No.1 Digital agency in the UK, for example, outperforming all the digital specialists such as AKQA and R/GA.

Returning to the Sigmoid curve, then, adam&eve DDB find themselves right at its apex. Things could not be going better for the agency and the cartload of awards in their reception area is proof of it.

The agency has had a magnificent year. But principally with traditional media, TV and print campaigns. It was the No.1 agency in the UK for Press and for Outdoor.

But then look at BBDO New York. The agency still won awards in TV (for Guinness, Budweiser and GE) and in Press and Print (Foot Locker, Village Voice) but also ended up in the No.1 spot for Direct in the world with digitally-led campaigns for Lowe’s, Mountain Dew, AT&T and Visa.

In 2015, will we see adam&eve DDB making waves in Mobile? That would be reinvention, for sure.

One hit wonders

Every year, there are agencies whose ranking is dependant on just one massively successful campaign. For instance, Lemz Amsterdam relied on the (frankly, brilliant) ‘Sweetie’ for every one of their 179 points.

‘The Scarecrow’ provided Creative Artists Agency with 168 of their 184 points and ‘GAYTMS’ for ANZ was behind all but 22 of Whybin\TBWA Sydney’s 167 points, though, to be fair, this is an agency which has had a habit of producing genuinely innovative work.

Y&R Beijing’s high position is almost entirely due to its campaign of press and posters for Penguin Audio Books. Without it, they would have ranked 60th.

And without ‘Autocomplete Truth’ Memac Ogilvy Dubai would have come in at No.65.

This year, Dentsu’s No.1 position was not entirely down to ‘Sound of Senna’ but it certainly boosted the agency’s ranking substantially. Without it, Dentsu Tokyo would have ranked 19th rather than 1st.

In the UK, it would be unfair on adam&eve DDB London to suppose they did well just from ‘Sorry I Spent It On Myself’ for Harvey Nichols. The agency also won a string of awards for Marmite, Volkswagen, the Harvey Nichols Sale and ‘The Bear and Hare’ for John Lewis.

But BBDO New York won the most awards for the most number of different clients picking up 90 awards over the year with 39 totally different pieces of work for 19 different clients.

What that suggests is that BBDO’s base level of creative work is remarkably high. So when they have spikes, the heights will be incrementally higher than their competitors.

What sort of work won?

The rise and rise of Branded Content was marked by Dentsu’s ‘Sound of Senna’ idea for Honda, which won 49 separate awards including 8 Grands Prix and 12 Golds.

‘The Scarecrow’, which is a three and a half minute-long invitation to play a game, got 13 million views on YouTube and 10 Golds at major awards shows.

And Volvo’s ‘Live Test Series’, a string of good old-fashioned product demo’s, was also one of the big winners of the year with Van Damme’s ‘Epic Split’ doing well in itself.

Tech-led innovations led to some major awards – principally for Lemz. ‘Sweetie’ for Terre des Hommes was a tour de force.

Print finally began to get digital with FCB Sao Paulo’s ‘Protection’ ad for Nivea, which, bizarrely, failed to even get shortlisted at Cannes in Press despite being one of the most significant press ads of the last 25 years.

Similarly shunned at Cannes in June, ‘Remote Control Tourist’ by Clemenger BBDO Melbourne began picking up major awards in the autumn in order to get its position as No.10 top campaign in the world.

Tech for tech’s sake did not do well at awards shows. There has to be an idea behind it as well. For that reason, Asif Khan’s ‘Megafaces’ 3D-selfie machine for Megafon at the Sochi Olympics may have won an Innovation Lion at Cannes and a Gold at The Golden Drum Awards but won little else.

Perhaps it wasn’t entered in other shows?

There is no doubt that the price of success is high. To top the Directory Big Won Rankings, an agency will expect to spend at least £25,000 ($38,000USD) and probably a great deal more.

‘Sound of Senna’ was entered in sixteen different categories at Cannes alone – at a cost of $1,250 in the Titanium and Integrated categories and $690 in Film, Branded Content etc.

The World of Creativity

In 2013, a group of German agencies agreed to hold back from awards shows and spend the money instead on training young talent. Perhaps some of this prudence spilled over into 2014, where Germany (No.1 country in 2008, No.2 in 2009, No.2 in 2010) has slumped to its lowest ever ranking at No.7.

In the meantime, the UK has moved up from No.3 in 2013 and 2012 to No.2 in 2014, behind the USA.

Creativity, however, knows no borders. Peru and Ecuador had major winners but other successes in 2014 include ‘Not a Bug Splat’ from BBDO Pakistan, ranking No.30 in the All Media list.

International awards were also won by agencies in Cambodia, Guatemala, Kenya, Mozambique, Uganda and Zimbabwe.

Ten years ago, there was little of note coming out of China. In 2014 it was No.11 in the world for creativity and is almost certain to continue rising through the tables over the next year or two.

Perhaps we can expect to see a similar flourishing of advertising creativity in Korea, Pakistan and Vietnam in the near future.

Directory, which publishes case studies of innovations in communications each quarter, has been taking work from a wider group of agencies in an increasing number of countries. May this trend continue in 2015.

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