Claire Beale on Advertising: Britain's got talent, but no winners

It wasn't a night for the Brits last Thursday. Not at all. The D&AD awards might be one of the most important dates in the British adland calendar but, when the pencils were handed out at the Round House in Camden, north London, last week, home-grown winners were rarer than the green shoots of economic recovery. Big disappointment.

A yellow D&AD pencil is one of the shiniest awards you can win as an advertising creative. And if you're really, really good you might come home with an elusive black pencil. And then you can really kick back for a few pampered years; gongs don't come much better than a black.

So, every year British agencies put on their cleanest T-shirts and line up in hope of a D&AD handout. But the pot for the Brits has been getting smaller and smaller. Of the 54 pencils presented this year, British agencies got four. That's three fewer than the Americans, and two of theirs were big black ones.

Bartle Bogle Hegarty won in the online category for its "Break The Cycle" work for Barnardo's; Mother won in the writing for advertising category for its "Orange Goldspots" cinema campaign; DDB scooped two yellows, one in press, one in posters, for its Wallace and Gromit ads for Harvey Nichols Bristol. For London's advertising fraternity it was a bloodbath. So where has it all gone wrong? Not so long ago the D&AD awards used to be a British show. There were hardly any entries from overseas competitors, so of course we used to hoover up all the booty. Then D&AD went on a global mission to drum up interest (and money) from agencies around the world. Suddenly we have to share our toys, and some of the other kids are bigger than us. Boo.

The judging panels are also international these days, and it's fair to say that some particularly British ads do not translate well with foreign jurors. Just maybe, there's a bit of Eurovision style bias to the voting. Don't forget, too, that our advertising regulations here are extremely responsible and stringent, more so than most other countries, which makes it harder for us to create exciting, risk-taking advertising. And, erm, now I've run out of excuses because, rock bottom, British agencies just haven't produced the goods this year. Blame all of the above, or blame the depression of the recession, but don't deny it; we didn't make the grade. For this year's grade-setter look no further than Droga5, the young Manhattan-based agency that pulled off a D&AD first: two black pencils for two different clients. For the New York Department of Education, Droga5 created the Million campaign, which reinvented the mobile phone as a motivational tool for school kids, offering free airtime, texts and downloads as rewards for improved attendance, homework and grades. No surprise, it worked.

And to help Barack Obama win the US presidency, Droga5 identified the need to drive support in the key state of Florida by securing the elderly Jewish vote. The "Great Schlep" campaign encouraged the grandchildren of these Jewish voters to schlep out to Florida to educate their grandparents about the Obama campaign, with a little help from the iconic comedian Sarah Silverman. Fantastically PR-able, interactive and viral, the Great Schlep was also a brilliantly creative solution.

So that's the sort of stuff the Brits were up against at D&AD last week. Big, bold, brave ideas with barely a 30-second television spot or press ad in sight. We were outshone, simple as that. As for all those British agencies shrugging their shoulders with the thought that the Cannes Advertising Festival is only a week away and there is still plenty of chance to stock up the trophy cabinet. But don't hold your breath.

Best in Show: Heinz ketchup (AMV BBDO)

*Show me a ketchup bottle and I'll show you someone shaking it, thumping it and poking it with a knife to get the savoury goo flowing. That's the idea behind the new campaign for Heinz ketchup from Abbott Mead Vickers BBDO. It's lovingly done – all slow motion and kick-back soundtrack.

We see diners shaking and thumping and poking an invisible bottle over their food. The thing is, their actions are so distinctive that we are in no doubt that the bottle we cannot see is definitely a bottle of Heinz tomato ketchup: a sweet and neat way to underline the iconic stature of the brand.


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