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Advertising Agency of the Year 2020: Adam & Eve/DDB

In yet another year dampened by Brexit uncertainty and industry upheaval, Adam & Eve/DDB managed to keep the heat on by claiming a fire-breathing, record sixth Campaign Agency of the Year title.

Advertising Agency of the Year 2020: Adam & Eve/DDB

If the breadth of Adam & Eve/DDB’s clients allows it to showcase its best work, it’s the agency’s creativity that allows it to rise to the challenge and shine. Winner of Agency of the Year for an unprecedented sixth time since its creation in 2012 – and the most recent Agency of the Decade – it has been responsible for some of the UK’s best-loved ads, in particular its John Lewis Christmas campaigns. 

The most recent of the latter, "Excitable Edgar", was not only cute and sentimental, but also reigned over all other Christmas ads; it garnered more than 36 million views, trended in 121 locations and was the year’s most searched for Christmas ad, according to Google Trends.

Achieving such success consistently for the John Lewis brand is impressive; ads that might have descended into the formulaic, nostalgic and predictable are instead (mostly) imbued with an imaginative, playful, childish delight, and manage to command eager anticipation from an audience otherwise showing, at best, fatigue, and, at worst, downright contempt for advertising in general. 

James Murphy and David Golding, two of the agency’s founders, who departed the shop in 2019, are largely credited with the success of the John Lewis ads over the past 10 years, thanks to their relationship with the retailer’s erstwhile customer director, Craig Inglis. So, industry watchers will look with interest at upcoming work as the agency begins the next decade in the capable hands of joint chief executives Tammy Einav and Mat Goff. 

But it’s not all about the "never knowingly undersold" retailer. Adam & Eve/DDB has created other celebrated work by hypnotising people into loving Marmite, inspiring children to take the fight to vegetables for Veg Power, turning Jeff Bridges into a physical bridge for Amstel, encouraging people to keep talking for CALM, and persuading people to read Enid Blyton’s Famous Five books again for GWR. The last of these has generated a ROMI of 428% since its launch in 2017, and in 2019 the agency moved the work on by distributing a Famous Five book to all customers across the GWR network. 

Having proved itself for one train operator client, in November the agency won Avanti, a new brand from West Coast Partnership, which took over the West Coast mainline franchise from Virgin Trains. The multimedia campaign is expected to launch soon with a £5m media spend. 

CALM 'Call for help'

The agency also emerged victorious from three of the biggest pitches of the year. First up, it won the £58m Virgin Media account in March, following a pitch against Havas and Wonderhood Studios. By October it had delivered the first two chapters of a new brand platform, Unlimiting, via two integrated campaigns that boosted sales of Virgin’s top-tier bundle. Then it beat Lucky Generals, Droga5 and Mother to the £9m advertising account for Lucozade, and lastly, it scooped the global PlayStation account following a six-month pitch process. It has since produced seven blockbuster ads for PlayStation, with four already live in 2019. Thirty days after the launch of its first campaign "The fall", for the brand’s on-demand service, "Now", subscribers to it had increased by 50%. 

However, Adam & Eve/DDB is not only winning new business. It was also the second-most-awarded UK agency at Cannes, British Arrows Agency of the Year, APG Agency of the Year, Joint Effie Agency of the Year… the list goes on. 

It was applauded by Campaign Agency of the Year judges not only for its "impressive awards haul" but also its creative effectiveness, client relationships, revenue growth, new business and company performance. One Agency of the Year judge said of Adam & Eve/DDB’s performance: "Still right up there, ahead of the pack on many fronts, including a number of creative highlights and strong case studies for Marmite, GWR and Amstel, to name a few."

In terms of expertise, the agency bolstered its offering with some major appointments, which included Tom Roach, as head of effectiveness, and Imali Hettiarachi, as planning director, both of whom moved from Bartle Bogle Hegarty. It also welcomed Bonnie Doman and Anna Whitaker, a creative team who joined through the Creative Equals Returnship programme, whereby parents who have left the workplace are offered a pathway back into the industry. They were joined by creative team Ed Usher and Xander Hart, previously of BBC Creative. 

Runners-up

Abbott Mead Vickers BBDO

New leadership and direction shaped the start of the decade for Abbott Mead Vickers BBDO, where the goal of chief executive Sarah Douglas and chief creative officer Alex Grieve was to refocus it on the power of creativity as a weapon of competitive advantage for clients. In its most-awarded year, it continued to produce winning work and drive business growth for clients that included Bodyform, Guinness and Asda.

In turn, it rewarded the creativity of Nadja Lossgott and Nicholas Hulley, who became the fifth generation of executive creative directors at the agency, after creating the multi-award-winning "Blood normal" campaign for Bodyform/Libresse, and "Sapeurs" for Guinness. As one Agency of the Year judge said: "A reinvigorated, resurgent and stronger than ever AMV, with creativity placed back at its heart. Very impressive, purpose-driven creative." Indeed, in the past year it won five out of six pitches and become the highest-ranking business in its sector across Europe in the Financial Times’ "Diversity leaders" report.

Lucky Generals

This was the year that Lucky Generals decided it could break the US. The opening of its New York office attracted billings of  about $85m in its first nine months, with wins including five brands from AB InBev, plus ongoing work from Celebrity Cruises, cloud communications provider Vonage and wedding website The Knot. Back in the UK, Lucky Generals held on to its existing clients and won further UK-led projects from Amazon, AB InBev and Taylors, while also scooping Zoopla and producing standout work for the TimeTo campaign.

The agency outperformed market growth of 4%, increasing its income by 63% and profits by 59%. It also swelled its ranks by 33% (bucking the industry decline of 5%) and kept staff churn to 7% (versus an industry average of 31%). One Agency of the Year judge said: "They have a point of view and aren’t afraid to express it. It feels like an agency that is intelligent, thoughtful, brave and principled. Makes you want to work there." 

McCann UK

As one Agency of the Year judge commented: "The results speak for themselves." Indeed, 2019 was the fourth consecutive year that McCann UK delivered double-digit growth, boosting McCann Worldgroup UK to number-one agency network by revenue by more than 50%. It has created award-winning work that delivered brand purpose for Microsoft, Aldi, L’Oréal Paris, Vauxhall, Alzheimer’s Society UK and the Wimbledon tennis championships and won awards for creativity and effectiveness, across the Cannes Lions, Effies, IPA and Warc.

With a talented UK team spanning Manchester, Leeds, central England and London, it also demonstrated its commitment to diversity by appointing Sufia Parkar as regional director, diversity and engagement for Europe and the UK.

Mother London

Having held the crown of Agency of the Year last year, Mother is undeniably creatively successful, and is now beginning to show evidence of consistent effectiveness, long-term client partnerships and a more grown-up and formalised approach to sustaining the Mother culture that sets it apart.

This brings revenue and new-business growth and, most importantly, staff development and retention. As one judge commented: "It certainly feels like Mother have been through the growing pains and are now consistently at the top of their game." Judges also applauded Mother for its impressive work with KFC, Ikea and Elvie. 

The & Partnership

In 2019 a proud achievement for The & Partnership was beating Interpublic and Publicis to win the Centrica account, the largest holding company pitch of the year in the UK, worth £100m in billings globally. This has contributed to a year of double-digit growth, along with other wins such as NatWest, Kerry Foods, an appointment to Samsung’s UK roster and organic growth from RBS Innovation Brands, Sainsbury’s Tu and Argos.

The agency is spreading its wings with a launch in Manchester, initially to serve long-standing client TalkTalk as well as expanding its UK network. "An agency clearly on the up," as one Agency of the Year judge put it.

Uncommon Creative Studio

It started 26 months ago with three people, three borrowed desks and no clients. In that time, Uncommon has grown to 55 people, working with more than 26 brands, bringing in more than £9m in turnover and holding a stake in the Halo coffee business. Its reputation has also grown, as it produces disruptive work for brands such as Brewdog and its non-alcoholic beer brand, Punk AF.

It produced a slick debut campaign for ITV in early 2019, starring well-known characters from the channel and raising the bar for the agency’s creativity. One Agency of the Year judge said: "Great to see a new agency taking on the big boys and delivering brilliance." 

VCCP

In a year littered with mergers, profit warnings and new management teams, VCCP has held its nerve, growing to become the biggest independent agency in the UK, claiming an 88% pitch-win ratio and 25 new clients in 2019. Having achieved growth of 6%, it sees this strong performance as "the next bear trap to skilfully manoeuvre around". While a lot of agencies make deals at this stage of their development – potentially costing them the creative bravery and effectiveness that got them there in the first place – VCCP is determined to remain a challenger agency.

In 2019 it introduced 30 million new customers to the Cadbury’s brand worldwide and created a consistent story for easyJet, resulting in the brand overtaking British Airways to become the number-one airline that consumers would most consider travelling with, according to Kantar Brand Tracker. It has also created campaigns for Domino’s, Paddy Power and O2.