Agencies from Eastern Europe rarely return from Cannes with a cupboard full of silverware. TBWA\Warsaw, which last year picked up a Young Creatives gold Lion on the Cote d'Azur, is still the exception rather than the rule. Just five Lions went back to Eastern Europe this year, but, with just a handful of years in the business, ad markets across the region are being boosted by a new generation of talent.
"The level of creative work has changed in recent years," Natalia Smelova, the creative director at the ad agency Nebo in St Petersburg, says. "Creative people have become more experienced and big network clients are giving them the opportunity to work with Western specialists, so the visual part of Russian ads is getting more professional."
Lars Killi, the executive creative director at McCann Erickson Prague, believes that the ad industry, particularly in the Czech Republic, is now seeing the benefits of better, more accessible schooling and training. "It's all down to education," he says. "Creative teams used to be made up of artists. They had no marketing skills or knowledge of the business. Now, we have skilled, professional creatives, and they are going to take over the market."
While this new wave of talent is beginning to make its mark, the ad industry in Eastern Europe is still lagging behind Western Europe. "They are at the beginning of the curve, identifying ideas and developing them for TV, whereas the West is moving more towards other digital technologies," Pietro Leone, the chief executive of Grey Global Group for Central and Eastern Europe, Italy and Turkey, says. "When you look at the output of Eastern Europe, limitations in budget drives limitations in the quality of the execution, so even a good idea gets lost."
Budgets are not the only factor to cramp the style of an Eastern European campaign. "There isn't a history of brand imagery," William Eccleshare, the chairman and chief executive of BBDO Europe, says. "Ads tend to be more direct and less image-based than perhaps we would expect, simply because there is less familiarity. At the moment, there is still a recognition that consumer familiarity with brands and the language of brands is less pronounced, so you need a different style of campaign."
Cautious executives are also putting the brakes on creatives who pitch daring ideas. "It is becoming more complicated to create strong ideas and to sell them to clients," Smelova says. "There is a lack of good briefs with accurate or believable consumer insights. Marketing directors and brand managers have also been avoiding risky creative ideas in the past few years. To my mind, they think more about their own careers than about brand building, so they want to have 'safe options' in creative."
With such financial and creative restrictions in place, it remains to be seen if Eastern Europe's new generation of talent can give the more established ad markets a run for their money come awards time.
CZECH PARALYMPIC TEAM
Agency: MARK BBDO Prague, Czech Republic
"You are always looking for work with a sound international standard, and this ad to support the Czech Paralympic Team has it. It is very simple. It shows an ancient statue with missing limbs. That's it, but it's very striking because of that. You might want to convey 16 different messages, but people will only ever remember one. We always say that you have to be single-minded with ads, and I think this one is.
"The team behind the ad (Hajji Radouane Moussa and Jan Riedl) was working for BBDO at the time. I had to hire them after seeing this. When you see talent, you have to grab it.
"They are part of the first generation which has grown up in a professional environment. They have been to school and been given the same opportunities as everyone else in Europe. These guys are part of the new talent emerging. This ad proves that."
- Lars Killi, executive creative director, McCann Erickson Prague, Czech Republic.
BUDAPEST PUBLIC TRANSPORT
Agency: Well Budapest, Hungary
"The ad is for a new tram, the Combino, in Budapest. The tram is extremely long, and Well took a landscape picture of it. It wouldn't fit into a citilite, so they folded it in half. That's the first time that has been done here. The ad was spot-on. What can you say about the tram apart from that it's bloody long? You can't really advertise trams. Everyone knows they are there on the street, but this ad is just a charming reminder.
"A lot of outdoor advertising in Hungary is extremely busy and is used for promotions. People try to put a lot of information into outdoor ads, which is often useless. This ad doesn't do that, so it stands out. It's a plain photograph on a plain black-and-white background. That's a brave thing to do because you rarely see anything like this in Hungary."
- Andras Simon, creative director, BBDO Budapest, Hungary
Agency: McCann Erickson Bucharest, Romania
"The Maggi campaign is simple and tight. It's the kind of advertising that makes me heave a sigh of relief. In a category where the big logo rules, McCann Erickson has done a wonderful job creating an idea that has won awards the world over, from the Golden Drum in Portoroz, to the New York Festivals, to Epica.
"With a smart and simple strategy, built on a relevant insight, the work hits the core of how differently the world would spin if women spent less time in the kitchen. It is one of the few Maggi campaigns originated in Romania, if not the only one.
"The campaign moves on from the brand's traditional advertising, which centres on the iconic mother who does everything for her family. This execution is a 'wake-up call' to Romanian women to take time out and explore all that life has to offer.
"While the ads may target Cosmo women rather than the broad Maggi audience, they focus on the brand's core family values and the central role of women. Romanian society is changing, as are female consumers. The campaign reflects this social shift and strikes a chord."
- Claudiu Dobrita, creative director, Grey Bucharest, Romania
Agency: Partizan Moscow, Russia
Exposure: National TV, print
"This series of 'mafia-style' TV commercials and print ads were made by Partizan and were produced by Guerrilla Shots Productions for the Russian branch of the mobile phone company Tele2.
"I'm not sure these TV commercials are based on a strong creative idea, but I like the main characters - called Tony Bonelli, Sonny Pudding and Don - and the black humour in the stories. I also like the shooting style, which is based on films such as The Godfather and Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels.
"Originally, the agency created a series of stories where a young mafia guy, Tony Bonelli, hasn't phoned his Don because calls on his mobile phone were too expensive. In every story, Bonelli is punished for his mistake by his friends Sonny Pudding and Don. The campaign's headline - Call 'em all! - is perfect.
"In 2007, Tele2 and Partizan have been developing their mafia stories, and the new campaign sees Bonelli switch to Tele2. He is now a telephone maniac and is constantly calling friends. The agency and the production company started using the style of films such as Snatch and Revolver, which is more dynamic. The director was the American Siraj Jhaveri, who is well-known in Russia. Tony Mitchell was the director of photography."
- Natalia Smelova, creative director, Nebo (Taivas Group) St Petersburg, Russia
Agency: McCann Erickson Riga, Latvia
"Russian politicians are known for travelling abroad and getting wasted. Even the late former president Boris Yeltsin was notorious for partying hard. This ad uses that idea. A politician's plane lands at an airport while everyone waits for him to come out. He doesn't, however, because the vodka on board is so good.
"The ad industry rated this ad, and it won a lot of prizes at the Kiev, Moscow and Golden Hammer festivals.
"It is particularly impressive because it combines the essential ingredients needed for a good ad. It uses the right context and insight and then dramatises them. The execution is also good.
"The ad is not a masterpiece, but the idea is delivered as it should be. The directing doesn't stand out, but, like IT managers, if you don't see them, then it means everything is OK.
"It is one continuous shot without any cuts, which means the execution was simple. Simplicity always rules."
- Janis Grivins, creative director, Taivas Ogilvy Riga, Latvia
Agency: Kontuur Leo Burnett Tallinn, Estonia
"I like the unexpected element in this ad. When you first see it, you are not sure what it is all about. You see a bird flying into a hole. When you see it a second time, you already know that the hole is the exhaust pipe for a car. You don't have to see it a million times to remember it.
"It's simple enough to be understood internationally, yet it tells you the product's benefits very clearly. Estonians often like to see local flavour and language in ads, but this one is simple enough to be understood in different countries.
"This ad stood out on air because banks and mobile phone companies have a tendency to make lifestyle ads here. They are shot abroad with happy people and are very expensive, but you can't tell them apart. They are generally very fancy, but you can't see the point of them. In this ad, the idea is very effective and straightforward."
- Meelis Mikker, creative director, DDB Tallinn, Estonia.