REGIONAL MEDIA: THE CREATIVE TEST - The Creative Juice Awards launched this year to show the creative potential of regional press. One judge, Dominic Mills, reports on the day

For most media owners, the issue of advertising creativity is a tricky one. Of course, they'd like to be a medium which carries great ads. On the other hand, is it really their business to go around telling agencies and advertisers that they've got to be more creative? Even if they could agree on what creativity means - and that's by no means a given - it could mean upsetting long-standing relationships with big advertisers.

Yet, for the Newspaper Society, creativity is an issue. The reason why is straightforward; regional press wants to raise its share of the national display advertising cake. To succeed in this, David Hoath, the Newspaper Society's marketing director, says, it has to engage equally and simultaneously with four audiences: advertisers, planners, media buyers and creative agencies.

"We launched a huge consultation exercise across the industry in 2000. The feedback we got from creatives was that there were a lot of negative perceptions - it was messy, cluttered and not an environment for brands. There were issues about reproduction quality, although that was really more about perception since regional papers are often printed on the same presses as national titles."

Nevertheless, Hoath was convinced that creatives needed to be addressed.

The question was how. Inspiration came from Holland where the Dutch regional press were running a competition for young creatives. "It had a real buzz about it, and we thought that if we could attract British creatives to something similar we could begin to make them think about regional press more positively, he says.

And so the Creative Juice Awards were born. The awards combine a competition with the feel of a workshop at which top-level judges can dispense advice to young creatives.

"Feedback from the participating teams was terrific, Hoath says. "They felt they got a lot out of the interaction with the judges and, of course, they all liked the chance to put their work in front of luminaries such as Beattie."

As, er, advertising briefs go, this one had a lot of promise: use the regional press to launch a range of Gossard panties. As Trevor Beattie, the chairman of the judges and a man who knows a thing or two about Gossard and its product range, says: "There's one region that unites us all and that's the nether region. There's no finer coverage of that region than Gossard."

Of course it was neither a doddle nor a joke exercise. In early May, the 21 teams of young creatives had a mere six hours to produce roughs before judges including Beattie, Tony Davidson, the creative director of Wieden & Kennedy, Bruce Haines, the president of the IPA and chief executive of Leo Burnett, and Danny Brooke-Taylor, the creative director of TBWA/Manchester, stepped in to pick the best. Judges were available for interrogation and, on occasion, volunteering comment and guidance.

And there was a decent prize at stake. Two winning teams would move on to Amsterdam for a European contest in early June, with the winners of that landing an all-expenses trip to Cannes (that competition, this time for a Heineken brief, was won by a Belgian team).

Nonetheless, it was clearly a brief with considerable mileage. Contestants were asked to pick any region in the British Isles and demonstrate how their idea exploited the opportunities afforded by the regional press. And did they pick the regions. There were the inevitable Essex girl routines, but other teams chose Brighton (something to do with the large gay population), Wales (an idea based on shooting famous Welsh beauty spots to look like parts of the body), Oxford and even the Western Isles of Scotland.

As far as the strategic rationale for regional press went, that too was rife with possibilities. Underwear sales vary from region to region. On top of that, there are a multitude of regional cultures, all with differences and rivalries to play off.

Offering some media background, Hoath asked the contestants to bear in mind the reach of the regional press and its role in local communities.

Every week more than 42 million paid-for copies of regional press are circulated, and 30 million free. Some 84 per cent of the country reads a local or regional paper.

Work by the two winners, Beattie notes, certainly stood out. The Partners BDDH team of Mareke Carter and Kim Gill produced a thematic idea based on the notion that there is an inherent north-south divide that everyone feels wherever they're from: it could be across the country, regions or even towns. "We wanted an idea that worked nationally, but with a regional twist, they said.

"We then made an analogy of this with a woman's body, they said, "so that the pants were the south and everything above the north. We used humorous banter to play on these rivalries, pitting them against each other and tailored our executions with a personal touch."

One ad, to run in Brighton, asked: "Who needs to go up North? An ad for Hull carried: "The South never looked so good. And one for Durham noted: "Maybe southerners aren't so bad."

Saatchi & Saatchi's Jo Smetham and Dan Cole took a survey from The Sun that said Newcastle girls were promiscuous. "Newcastle girls have a fun-loving reputation. We thought if Gossard could get them to keep their knickers on they'd be laughing, they said.

Using the line "Feel so good even Geordie girls won't get them off", a variety of executions played up the theme of frustrated Geordie men.

"Teenage pregnancies down on Tyneside, one mock newspaper billboard ran; "You want easy, lads, go to Sunderland. One double-page spread execution carried an ad for the opening of a Gossard store with another ad for counselling for sexually frustrated men, sponsored by Gossard.

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