Claire Beale On Advertising: Finally, British advertising can be proud

A question. Who makes the best adverts in the world?

Clever and rather obsessive readers who work in the advertising business, when faced with this question, will immediately begin reeling off the names of the hottest advertising agencies around the globe. But stop there. This is a question for all of us, not just ad nerds. We’ll come on to the (dangerously controversial) matter of which ad agency produces the best advertising in the world later. First, which company, which brand, makes the best ads?

Go on, have a guess. Sony, perhaps? They’re big and global and have spent millions making some very special campaigns over the past few years. Or what about Nike? It’s hard to go wrong when you’ve got the cream of the sporting world’s heroes peppering your campaigns. Or perhaps you’re a Guinness fan. Guinness is always good for a luxuriously expensive, beautifully crafted film to get ad watchers licking their chops.

The answer, though, is none of these. The results are just in and apparently it’s Volkswagen which makes the best advertising in the world. We know this because a new report tells us so. The Gunn Report is a bit of a bible in the ad industry. It ranks and rates almost anything that moves in the business. Within its pages you’ll find the best ad agencies in the world, the best production companies in the world, the most creative countries and on and on. And it’s all based on that most scientific of criteria: who’s won what creative awards.

Now I could forgive regular readers of this column for thinking that the advertising industry is obsessed with awards. It is. If I tell you that (even in the economic depths of 2009) significant wodges of money still rest on the number of times an ad campaign makes it up the red carpet, perhaps you’ll understand why.

Anyway, back to VW. According to Gunn, Volkswagen saw off competition from Nike, Axe/Lynx, Sony, Adidas and Burger King to be crowned the Most Awarded Advertiser in the World 2009 (yep, another award). We shouldn’t be surprised. For nine out of the past 11 years, VW has been the world’s most anointed advertiser.

Two reasons why it’s at number one again in 2009 are wonderful ads from its London advertising agency DDB. Do you remember the campaign for VW Golf called “Enjoy the Everyday”, a beautifully edited, super-slick montage of all the little sounds associated with driving? Well, that one scooped up plenty of trophies. And who could forget DDB London’s “dog” for the Polo, with its quivering, wimpy Jack Russell who becomes a tough guy once he’s safely inside the Polo, singing along to the Spencer Davis Group’s “I’m a Man”.

I wonder if there’s any connection between VW’s consistently superb (and, crucially, effective) advertising performance and the fact that it has enjoyed a relationship with the DDB network for well over 40 years now. Actually, I’m being crass. I don’t wonder at all. I know. You don’t get wonderful consistency, such an intimate mutual understanding and such a tangible sense of how the agency loves the brand without real commitment and trust. All those advertisers who chop and change their advertising agency, who slash their fees to the bone and squeeze their agency till the blood seeps and then wonder why their advertising investment is barely making a difference, they might learn something from the VW experience.

While I’m at it, I should also point out that time is not the only important factor here. VW chose well when it appointed DDB all those years ago: DDB London has just been named in the Gunn Report as the most awarded agency in the year for 2009, and not just for its VW work. Finally, something for British advertising to be proud of in 2009.

Best in Show: Plane Stupid (Mother)

An awful lot of people will find the ad I’m about to recommend uncomfortable viewing. Some, no doubt, will already have their fingers flying over their keyboard in the act of official complaint. Tough. The new cinema ad by Mother for the anti-aviation expansion group Plane Stupid might be gruesome viewing, but it’s important. We see beautiful but dead polar bears plummeting to the earth and landing with a realistically sickening thud to illustrate the sheer weight of greenhouse gases produced by the average European flight. For once, it’s nice to see a pressure group using advertising to make a loud, bold noise.