Was it one or two promotional years ago that I scanned the ballroom
of the Royal Lancaster Hotel and was astounded to have spotted Jennifer
Laing, tipping back the old methode champenoise like a good ’un?
That the chief executive of Saatchi & Saatchi should deign to slum it
with the ’plastic daffodil boys’ (that’s what they called us in the late
80s) had an almost surreal quality about it - as if the Queen had
stopped off at Spud-u-Like on her way to Balmoral. But then, Saatchis
had just announced its decision to drop the ’advertising’ from its name
in order to become a fully integrated agency. And to rub it in, it
walked off with a shelf-load of Institute of Sales Promotion golds.
HHCL & Partners was there too - and it looked horribly as if, at last,
the sales promotion industry’s blinkered complacency had finally
exceeded adland’s snobbery, and the ad agencies were going to beat us at
our own game.
Creatively, at least, we’d left them an open goal. (I remember a suit at
a famous promotional agency staring at me uncomprehendingly when I
suggested he should hire some more copywriters. ’How many copywriters
does it take to spell FREE?’ he wanted to know.)
But on the strength of this year’s ISP awards, the threat of an
advertising invasion seems to have evaporated. Saatchis managed a couple
of bronzes, HHCL a silver.
What’s more, the other much vaunted ’trend’ of recent years - the
emergence of a new wave of sophisticated below-the-line specialists -
seems to have faltered too.
IMP, for instance, down from six very noisy tables to three rather more
Claydon Heeley took just one gold, FCA! wasn’t there at all and
Triangle, which effortlessly dominated the recent SPCA awards, was
So who stole their glory? Well, the Grand Prix (for the Clorets Free
Curry promotion) went to ... Meteorite. ’Who?’ someone whispered
incredulously in my ear. ’You know,’ I chided, ’the consultancy founded
by Hugh Bishop, ex-Wunderman Cato Johnson and Marden Kane; six people
based in Putney.’
I only knew this because I’d already cornered Bishop by the lavs. ’It’s
no longer about big agencies with lots of clients,’ he said. ’It’s about
little ones with real, in-depth knowledge of the client’s business.’ I
wanted to know: ’Doesn’t this make you rather vulnerable?’ He replied:
’We should live by being vulnerable.’
That’s easy to say (I thought but didn’t say) when you’ve just won the
ISP Grand Prix. Bishop continued: ’We’re not consultants - we believe in
being totally inserted into the client’s business.’
Well, it’s a point of view. Personally, I can see the trees getting in
the way of the wood. Is there no value left in objective expertise and
Meteorite staffers have no titles. They all sit around one big desk.
They have no in-house creative resource. While I applaud its success, I
hope its methods don’t catch on. I’ll be out of a job.
The real dark horse of the night was Biggart Donald. It took four golds
and so many silvers and bronzes, they’ll have to pay excess baggage on
their flight back to Scotland. Ghill Donald and Willie Biggart are
ex-Bass men who set up in Glasgow eight years ago. ’We kept our light
under a bushel,’ says Biggart, ’until we were sure we had it all in
Their heartland is booze - they took golds for Bacardi and Ballantine’s
17 Year Old. But they also won an art direction award for their Reebok
Ryan Giggs Doppelganger promotion. Business is brisk - from regional
origins, they’re increasingly winning pan-UK accounts and, most
recently, European projects for Reebok. They’re opening a shop in London
later this year.
Look out, I’d say.
Another little giant-killer was Dialogue Marketing Partnership, which
took two golds for promotional merchandise (Save the McVitie’s Jaffa
Cakes from the Orangey Tangs) and loyalty (Action Man Power Points). Who
I only know because I was there when they split away from IMP to darkest
Surrey in 1992.
Not all the honours went to cheeky upstarts. The big agency gong winners
were the real old guard - the agencies that were mopping up ten years
ago - Promotional Campaigns, Clarke Hooper, Geoff Howe.
So a funny old evening, really. Success was polarised between the big,
old ’safe pairs of hands’ and a raft of small, aggressive newcomers. The
gold for innovation went to Dynamo for putting T-shirts in Coke tins -
an instant win for the vending machine which, while undeniably smart,
doesn’t have the ring of a quantum leap.
I judged the art direction category and was pleasantly surprised by the
better half of the entries. None of them would have made it past the
door of D&AD, but at least they looked professional and paid lip-service
to production values. Copy, as always, is a problem, but until schools
start teaching English again, we’re stuck with it.
Altogether the event had a certain air of weariness about it - not
helped by oversubscription and an awards presentation so interminable
even Rory Bremner struggled to keep up the momentum. Perhaps I’m getting