Aurora Magazine

Promoting excellence in advertising

An industry confused

Published in Nov-Dec 2019

Patrick Collister, Editor, Directory magazine, on Directory's Top 20 Most-Awarded Campaigns of 2019

Nike (Rated #1)

Look no further than the single most awarded piece of work at Cannes Lions, ‘Dream Crazy’ for Nike from Wieden+Kennedy. At a time when marketers everywhere are wondering how to bring purpose to their brands, here is Nike being purposefully political, supporting Colin Kaepernick’s stand against racism in America. After initial outrage, Nike’s stock soared, increasing the value of the company by six billion dollars. Yet, six months later, it was Kaepernick himself who protested when Nike launched a limited-edition shoe emblazoned with the Betsy Ross flag. Designed in 1777, this early iteration of the stars and stripes is regarded by many as a symbol of slavery and oppression. So, here is a brand making us all proud to be in advertising and then revealing itself as a sham.

Still, in their awards submission, at least Wieden+Kennedy mentioned that sales increased by 31% in the immediate aftermath of the campaign launch. And here is a paradox. Not many agencies seem to care about selling stuff anymore.

Microsoft (Rated #10)

Take the 10th most awarded campaign of 2019 so far. McCann New York’s ‘Changing the Game’ for Microsoft. It was, apparently, the #1 most effective Super Bowl ad. How did they work that out? The submission says the ad achieved 1.1 billion impressions, led to a 77% increase in the conversation about inclusive gaming and a 58% increase in conversation about inclusive design. Did any of that translate into X-Boxes and controllers sold?

Who knows? In fact, of Directory’s Top 20 Most Awarded Campaigns, only three agencies admit to actually making any money for their clients. Leo Burnett Tel Aviv reported a 37% increase in sales of furniture to which Thisables add-ons could be attached. And DDB Chicago claim a 5.6% rise in Skittles consumption.

Skittles (Rated #4)

This campaign makes me feel particularly uncomfortable. The idea was to put on a live show on Broadway rather than make a commercial for Skittles for the Super Bowl and thus generate tons of PR. The story is of Michael C. Hall, a well-known actor, who gets cast to appear in a Skittles ad. He begins to wonder if he has sold out. The show-stopping song is Advertising Ruins Everything, which was also released as a music video. Now, the creative team in DDB may have thought this was super ironic and they had created a campaign that was charmingly self-effacing, except for one thing. Most people really do think advertising ruins everything. Eight hundred million people have installed ad blockers to their devices, they hate advertising that much. Again, here is a contradiction. This campaign looks to me very much like a smart, metropolitan elite writing advertising for itself. And awarding itself prizes for an idea that most consumers would find very, very confusing. After all, you don’t get accountants joking about how badly they can count. Or lawyers telling their clients how useless they are.

Essity (Rated #6)

This three-minute video, Viva la Vulva, by AMVBBDO for Essity has been beautifully art directed. And there is a large part of me that asks why? What is the point of obsessive art direction when most people now consume most of their media on a screen measuring two inches by three inches? Per Pederson, Global Creative Chairman, GREY, says the first rule of advertising today is not to make ads that look like ads. Anything polished looks fake; looks like an ad. And here is the paradox. At Cannes this year, the number of film/TV entries was up even though traditional TV viewing is dropping and (in the USA) the digital ad market in 2018 was $30 billion larger than TV. Is this an industry in denial, trying to convince itself that creativity is what happens when you put an art director together with a copywriter?

It certainly looks like an industry fooling itself that it is getting its own house in order.

Volvo (Rated #14)

Cannes may have introduced the Glass Lion to promote diversity and inclusivity in adland but the fact remains, the industry is still massively chauvinist. ‘The E.V.A. Project’ for Volvo by Forsman & Bodenfors in Sweden is a genius idea. For decades, only Volvo used female crash dummies. That is why (they suggest) there are more women injured in car accidents.

It’s because all other car manufacturers have been concentrating on saving men. Their campaign invites their competitors to use their data for free so motoring can be safer for all women everywhere. Seven male creatives, one woman. With Viva la Vulva, all 10 creatives credited are men. In the entire Glass Lions category, only nine percent of the people credited are women.

Volkswagen (Rated #14)

Maybe the biggest conundrum of them all (for me, anyway) is this idea from Holland.

It’s clever. VW placed beacons all around Holland so that when you drive, your kids in the back of the car can listen to a story that changes to reflect your exact location. In the ad for the app, a sweet little girl engages with the stories. Now, what is interesting is that VW would not have run this ad three years ago. That is when they were deeply embroiled in the emissions scandal. Right now, VW seems to be back making record profits.