AGENCY 2003: Creative Agency of the Year - Best of the rest

It's hardly been a vintage year for advertising agencies, as many clients continue to operate on trimmed budgets and actively look for alternatives to mass-media campaigns. But that's not to say that major brands pursued their quests for 'big ideas' with any less vigour.

During the second half of 2003, McCain Foods and Abbey both hired TBWA\London - a close contender for Marketing's Creative Agency of the Year - for major re-positioning projects.

It's a little too early to judge the effectiveness of the 'Chin up' and 'Turning banking on its head' approaches, but elsewhere chairman Trevor Beattie and his team continue to serve up the very best in British advertising, successfully evolving campaigns for PlayStation 2 ('Fun anyone?') John Smith's ('No nonsense', starring Peter Kay) and the distinctive FCUK poster work.

Thanks to TBWA's 'disruptive' approach, PlayStation continues to outsell games consoles with much bigger marketing budgets; Scottish Courage attributes the sale of 12 million extra pints to the Peter Kay campaign; and FCUK's share price has risen seven-fold since TBWA began advertising on its behalf.

Clemmow Hornby Inge figurehead Johnny Hornby also prides himself on developing big ideas for brands. The agency's 'Read a bestseller every day' campaign for The Daily Telegraph has proven a hit with owner Hollinger and the strapline now appears consistently on the paper's masthead.

BMRB tracking shows that 66% of people agreed that the ads made the Telegraph 'seem more modern to them', and Charles Moore, editor until his recent departure, says: "(The positioning) is tested every day by people buying it, and it's tested by people reacting to it. And one way I know it's a good one is how much it annoys our competitors."

CHI is now striving to emulate this success with its fresh 'Doing the right thing' positioning campaign for British Gas (TV ads starring Ricky Tomlinson), having picked up the £30m advertising brief in May.

A brand desperate to find a big idea is Coca-Cola. Despite its successful repositioning of Fanta and Diet Coke, Coca-Cola GB is still struggling to reconnect its core Coke brand with Britain's youth. This is why it hired CHI's rival 'boutique', Mother, earlier this year.

It was the significant win for last year's Creative Agency of the Year, in what has clearly been 12 months of consolidation. That said, Mother turned in its sixth successive year of double-digit revenue and profit growth. It has also continued to deliver effective advertising.

Jerry Toher, managing director of Egg UK, attributed his brand's highest-ever monthly sales, in May, to the agency's 'Sock' campaign. "Collaborative, challenging, surprising and sometimes scary, the results speak for themselves," Taylor says of his agency.

Mother's work for Orange - including the much-maligned 'Hard nosed businessman' and 'Learn' campaigns - proved more controversial. But UK marketing director Jeremy Dale remains impressed, claiming that the business campaign was "twice as effective" as any other that Orange had run, and that 'Learn' boosted active WAP users by 40%.

In terms of proven effectiveness, Delaney Lund Knox Warren's 'Howard' campaign for Halifax still has few equals. A survey commissioned by the Financial Services Forum this year named Halifax as the 'most effective bank at marketing'. The bank, whose share of the current account-switching market has leapt from 6% to 25% since the beginning of the 'staff as stars' campaign, is the clear number one brand for mortgages and savings in the UK.

Enjoying another impressive year, DLKW continued to pull in work from the government, while building the confidence of Vauxhall, adding the £12m Astra account to the Corsa, Agila and Meriva models.

From a new business point of view, Grey London joined CHI as the agency most likely to appear on clients' pitch lists.

At the time of writing, Garry Lace's new-look Grey had won about £87m of new business, including the £10m Air Miles brief and the £32m AOL account.

Lace and his team have begun to dismantle the agency's 'Grey by name, grey by nature' reputation. The challenge for the next 12 months will be to deliver con-sistently creative and effective advertising.

The surprise for many, however, was that J Walter Thompson has joined Grey, CHI, BBH and DLKW in the higher echelons of the new business table, suggesting that the former 'university of advertising' is also succeeding in its repositioning.

JWT added the £33m B&Q account, the £25 Golden Wonder business and £10m of work for AXA to long-standing clients such as Shell and Nestle, for which it also ran highly effective campaigns in 2003.

But JWT's 2003 will ultimately be coloured by whether it retains the nine-year-old Boots account, worth more than £40m. The pitch was ongoing at the time of writing.

No round-up of 2003 would be complete without mentioning WCRS's TV commercials for The Number.

The ads, featuring hirsute 70s-style runners with 118 on their vests, ensured that the brand emerged as market leader from the murky morass of the new directory enquiries operators.

The commercials topped Marketing's Adwatch table five times in six months, and the theme was successfully developed through the line with stunts, merchandise and online presence.

"The bar is the highest it has ever been in terms of agency capabilities, and 2004 is going to prove even more competitive," says Martin Jones, head of advertising at the AAR. "The agencies that win through are those that see advertising as a service business, where creativity is the product, not the other way around. More than ever, this is a people business."

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