It’s rare that advertising is loved in equal measure by the public,
the sales director of the client company and a creative community
riddled with inverted snobbery. However, two campaigns from our
Advertiser of the Year, Volkswagen, achieved all this in 1997. In fact,
they stood head and shoulders above all others and not to have awarded
one of them would only have punished VW and BMP DDB for their own
However, once we’d agreed that the winner would come from either the
Passat ’obsession’ launch or the ’affordability’ campaign, it was very
difficult to decide between them.
The Passat work, in which Volkswagen boffins are shown behind the scenes
developing what will become the new car, was consistently excellent
across all its television executions.
The ’deteilmeisters and design kapitans’ obsessing about the clunking
sound of doors and spectacle cases, studying the shape of bald heads and
avocados and ignoring their lingerie-clad partners to talk about the
car’s body were among the images of the year. It was fresh, funny and
memorable - and, there is now a long waiting list for Passats.
But the ’affordability’ campaign is our favourite of the year. This is
advertising that demands a second look - appropriately the theme of some
of the ads themselves. It just edges the Passat campaign because of the
degree of difficulty involved and the work’s excellence across different
Affordability and price are regarded by many creative teams as the
briefs from hell, but BMP has made a virtue of them - remember the
dealer ads from a couple of years back with the toy cars? It helps that
VW has a value heritage, but that heritage, in turn, makes it harder to
get ads noticed.
The VW ’affordability’ campaign achieved this in spades, by being
quieter, more believable and more understated than anything else -
particularly on the box. Consumers stupefied by the dazzling filmic
techniques of ad after ad destined for a young director’s showreel and
instant oblivion were jolted out of their torpor in the belief they
might have missed something.
’Dentist’, ’hiccup’, ’chair’ (where the woman comes over queasy in the
street) and ’guard’ all demand that rare thing of television commercial
viewers: concentration. We want to know what we may have missed; what’s
going on. Once the campaign was established, ads like ’tennis’ and
’lamp-post’ play on our recognition of the joke.
It was impeccable stuff in all media. The cross-track posters were the
best of the year in that underexploited medium: ’For your safety: please
stand back from the edge of the platform. Polo L pounds 7990.’
The press ad, with a tiny message amid reams of white space, was equally
good: ’We are witholding a Volkswagen ’surprisingly ordinary prices’ ad
until we receive confirmation that a Volkswagen Polo L does indeed cost
There was too much quality work to list here. And, yes, the sales
director is just as happy as the marketing department. VW’s share over
the past three years has increased 41 per cent, with volume sales up 61
per cent in the same period. Forecasts are even better.
In fact, the biggest problem is an increasingly bleak supply story -
which the company will have to do something about if campaigns like the
Passat’s, built on obsession with detail, are not to backfire.
Volkswagen’s advertising so dominated our thinking this year that the
runners-up were a long way back. In fact, on reflection, perhaps the
Frank Lowe view, that genuine lasting campaigns are thin on the ground
right now, is correct. The question is does it matter? Are a series of
one-off ads a preferable alternative in the late 90s?
Of those we also thought excellent, Bartle Bogle Hegarty’s One-2-One
campaign really came through. Vic Reeves and Terry-Thomas, Derek and
Tanya, and Ian Wright and Martin Luther King, built on the success of
Kate and Elvis, John McCarthy and Yuri Gagarin, and banished memories of
those old Robert Lindsay and Beatrice Dalle turkeys.
It’s become a very competitive sector, where Orange (WCRS) also deserves
credit for consistent excellence. It’s interesting to note that the
growth of these two brands has forced the market leaders, Vodafone and
Cellnet, to rethink their work more than once.
First Direct with Bob Mortimer (did WCRS get a volume discount on Vic
and Bob?) also cut through the otherwise abysmal standard of its
It looks like the beginning of a very promising long-running
Add BMW, and WCRS is clearly capable of producing among the very best
We know what BBH can do, of course. This year Levi’s was mixed. We loved
’mermaids’ and the ’shrink to fit’ poster campaign, but not everything
else. The fascinating work was Lynx which, together with the Addiction
output, forms a body of work we’d never thought possible of Elida
The Jennifer Aniston ad was memorable, as was the commercial in which
the girl who wears her boyfriend’s Lynx is furious at the attention it
brings her. The new naughty Lynx print campaign is outstanding too. It’s
confident stuff born of strong thinking.
Ikea (St Luke’s) was another campaign which featured highly, as did
Batchelors Super Noodles (Mother). Virgin Atlantic (Rainey Kelly) was
outstanding in its category. Pork and beef for the Meat and Livestock
Commission (BMP) shone - despite the Government’s worst efforts.
Coca-Cola’s football work continues to be outstanding. But the year
belonged to Volkswagen.
Recent winners: Conservative Party (1996); Miller Pilsner (1995);
Wonderbra (1994); Boddingtons (1993); Tango (1992).