And the MAA UK Agency of the Year is…adam&eveDDB

It’s that time again – time to pick our Agency of the Year. There’s one for the UK and our team of unmatched experts from NYC will provide one from the US. The rest of the world will have to wait for another year, alas, as we line up a third team of unmatched experts. Although a couple will be mentioned in despatches.

So to the UK. 2014 has been a good year for ads and agencies: the likes of John Lewis from adam&eveDDB and Sainsbury’s from AMV/BBDO have appeared on the front pages as well as the business pages, reminding clients across the land that advertising can change their businesses and the public’s perceptions. One reason for this, of course, is the online phenomenon whereby a famous ad can reach millions of people – for free!

On this score, there have definitely been signs that some of the better UK agencies are finally coming to terms with long format ads, which work better online of course. The old punchy thirty seconds may be becoming as rare as long copy press ads, but you can’t win them all.

So who’s excelled in the UK this year? Quite a few agencies actually; let’s start with Mother. Mother has produced two of the very best ads of the year: for IKEA and Boots. Back in the summer we compared Mother’s ‘Beds’ ad for IKEA with Fallon’s famous ‘Bouncing Balls’ for Sony and were accused in some quarters of overdoing it. Don’t think we did.

Fantastic stuff and the professionals’ choice of Ad of the Year, according to our panel of experts choosing the best ads of 2014.

Then there’s the Boots Christmas ad.

It’s easy to go ‘Bah Humbug’ about Christmas (and we do) but this is what it should be about. Impeccable.

Agency of the Year is also about new business success, of course, although creative excellence must be a major element.

UK pitches have been a slug-fest between those two Omnicom giants AMV/BBDO and adam&eveDDB. AMV/BBDO’s biggest win was £46m Dixons, although sooner or later it will face a shoot-out with CHI & Partners, Carphone Warehouse’s agency, for the merged Dixons Carphone. And over the year AMV produced a stream of classy offerings for clients ranging from BT to Pepsi Max. You hardly ever see a bummer from AMV, from one year to the next. That’s why it’s been sitting on top of the UK agency pile for decades. Something to remember in the year that founder David Abbott, the ultimate stickler for high standards, died.

What would Abbott have made of AMV’s ‘Christmas is for Sharing’ Great War epic for Sainsbury’s? He would have taken a lot of convincing that this wasn’t a step too far, that’s for sure. But I think he’d have liked the result.

We said it was the UK Ad of the Year for its ambition. That too still seems a defensible judgement. Certainly an ad (“an ad not a documentary” as one of the comments on YouTube has it) from an agency at the top of its game.

2014 was dominated by the big battalions on the UK but before we move on to the third member of this troika it’s worth noting that some of the (fairly) newbies also made an impact. Difficult to select particular examples but 18 Feet & Rising made a charming and grown-up debut for House of Fraser, to add to its excellent Nationwide work, while Sky agency Brothers and Sisters made a promising start for Betfred (certainly in comparison to the betting competition).

But you can’t keep a good penguin down. Walking along Oxford Street at the weekend (how brave is that?) you could not but be impressed by the throngs of people outside John Lewis chattering excitedly about the windows full of Monty The Penguin. As Neil Dawson remarked in his best ads of 2014, the John Lewis Christmas campaign has become the Morecambe and Wise Christmas Special de nos jours.

It does just about everything you could hope for in an ad, testimony to judgement and craft (and heart). But to be a big agency these days, and adam&eveDDB is getting bigger by the day with new business wins including McCain, Haig Club (didn’t like that one) and Virgin Atlantic, you need a bit of department store too. The agency’s long-running Foster’s ‘Good Call’ campaign won the IPA Effectiveness Awards Grand Prix with what appeared to be a pretty staggering return on advertising investment.

That gong was added to a record-breaking haul from Cannes (a hatful of Grand Prix for Harvey Nichols’ ‘I’m Sorry I spent It On Myself’) and most of the other awards shows too.

So despite stiff competition in a strong year there can be only one UK Agency of the Year and, following in the distinguished footsteps of BBH last year and our first winner Wieden+Kennedy, it’s adam&eveDDB.

CEO James Murphy says (this was after the smelling salts had been administered): “It’s been an amazing year in terms of work, wins and awards – it’s a great honour to have the powers at MAA recognize those efforts. They’re not any easy bunch to impress.”

Quite so. Congratulations to everyone.

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About Stephen Foster

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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.