My pick of 2012: Audi’s ‘Ahab’, Wieden+Kennedy London and Ajaz Ahmed

These are my choices for ad/campaign of the year, agency of the year and person of the year.

Tomorrow (or maybe the next day) we’ll try to reach a consensus about the ultimate top dogs of 2012.

So to ads: BBH’s Three Little Pigs for the Guardian was undoubtedly the tour de force of the year…

As an expression of the Guardian’s ‘open journalism’ philosophy it’s nigh perfect and in, terms of craft, impeccable. But we hardly saw it on UK TV, which rather suggests that it was an ad masquerading as an internet film. But so far it’s racked up 1.4m hits on YouTube, good but rather less than they hoped, I’d surmise.

And does it answer the Guardian’s rather pressing problems? A brilliant 20 seconds saying ‘buy this, it’s good’ might have served the Guardian better.

Somehow it’s not the knockout blow it should have been.

So a bit of a poser.

The Samsung Galaxy S3 campaign in the US was brilliant, and made Apple’s ads look tired. Adam&Eve/DDB’s latest for John Lewis was a classic case of DDTB (don’t drop the ball) but good as well. Scandinavia, Norway especially, produced some weird and quite wonderful stuff, like this:

Don’t try this at home might be the message, but it’s certainly different.

Ogilvy Paris’s crowd-sourced epic wiping out Rouen for Tic Tac was concrete evidence that modish social media-influenced notions can translate into appealing films:

While Leo Burnett in London produced a charming old-fashioned thirty seconds for McDonald’s, a lost art these days as my colleague Stuart Smith remarked last week.

Burnett in the UK is very clever at associating McD’s with things we like (like postmen) and politely ignoring the food.

But the best ad I’ve seen in 2012 was this one, ‘Ahab’ for Audi in the US by Venables Bell. It does everything you want an ad to do: makes a clear proposition in a compelling and engaging manner, shows wit ( you feel as though you’re joining a rather desirable club by getting it) and, for an import brand, weaves German Audi into the American mainstream.

And it brings ‘Quattro,’ to life, four-wheel drive Quattro being a rather under-used asset at Audi these past two decades since the blingy old days of the 1980s (“fire up the Quattro, sergeant..”).

Wieden+Kennedy London

For me, the agency of the year has to be Wieden+Kennedy – somewhere (we’re trying to choose an agency rather than a network, although it’s hard).

In an era when adland is stalked by behemoths like WPP, Omnicom and Publicis Groupe you feel drawn to independents and W+K is the most successful of a small group that also includes Mother, Droga5, Venables Bell maybe and not many others, on a worldwide stage anyway.

And W+K has moved forward in the last couple of years, not struggling to win business away from the behemoths with a cut-price network as some do but actually being the agency that the big advertisers – Procter & Gamble, Levi’s, Nike (of course) and latterly Sony, Facebook, Mondelez and Tesco – desperately want on their roster. If you don’t have a W+K you’re missing something. That’s quite a sea change.

But which W+K? Well Portland powers ahead producing some fantastic stuff like Southern Comfort (for some reason bloody Google wants you to confirm your age to see a film of a middle-aged man walking along a beach):

And not-quite-so-good things like its debut for Facebook.

But the ambition is impressive and if I was a mega-client (God forbid) I’d want W+K too.

But not quite vintage for Portland then.

But W+K London is having a vintage year, very good to exceptional work for Cravendale, Honda, Lurpak, Nike and Coke’s Fuze tea. And not just on TV either, there has been some good press and poster work too.. This year the agency has really started to punch its weight, most notably by winning the massive Tesco account. Here’s Cravendale:

The last time a milk brand became famous was Unigate back in the 1980s, courtesy of the great Boase Massimi Pollitt. I’m not saying W+K London is that good yet but at least it’s trying. Mind you, I also saw the other day that Cravendale owner Arla Foods had rejigged its marketing department, which is usually bad news for adventurous campaigns.

The acid test for W+K London will come next year with Tesco, as it will for Portland with its Oreo assignment for the Super Bowl. But you suspect both will rise to the challenge

Other contenders? BBH, our winner last year (a more modest judging process) had a good year but not exceptional (by its stratospheric standards), Adam&Eve/DDB, Leo Burnett, AMV/BBDO, Karmarama and Grey (by far the best of the WPP bunch) all did well in the UK. As did Paul Simons’ choice 18 Feet & Rising.

In Australia the two Clemenger BBDO offices in Melbourne and Sydney were outstanding, Ogilvy Paris is a lively operation, as is BETC Paris and its new operation in London.

But it has to be W+K somewhere and London nudges it.

Ajaz Ahmed

This could have been Dan Wieden or even Joel Ewanick, the defenestrated General Motors CMO who we hacks, anxious for a good story, will miss even if his agencies won’t.

But in the world of digital agencies (why don’t they figure more in our creative calculations? Maybe Ajaz can tell us?) Ajaz Ahmed succeeded in selling his agency AKQA to WPP to $540m (not all his of course) and then expanding rapidly into new markets with Sir Martin’s money.

It’s a shame that AKQA couldn’t go it alone but digital agencies seem to need private equity money to get going and these guys always trade on their investments – in the case of AKQA to WPP, with LBi to Publicis Groupe.

So Ajaz played his cards well. Next year’s looking quite tough though for anyone dependent on big company purse strings

You May Also Like

About Stephen Foster

Stephen is a former editor of Marketing Week and London Evening Standard advertising columnist. He wrote City Republic for Brand Republic and is a partner in communications consultancy The Editorial Partnership.