Close-Up: Live issue - Poster Awards prove that invention is not dead

Passion and a willingness to shatter conventions impressed the judges at the Campaign Poster Awards, Noel Bussey writes.

A picture of one of England's most talented young footballers painted up like the St George's Cross and a set of executions using line after line of coloured justified text against a plain white background scooped the top two prizes at the Campaign Poster Advertising Awards 2006.

The two campaigns, Wieden & Kennedy's "St Wayne" (Best Individual Poster) and "big meeting", "split up" and "hungover" by Fallon (Best Campaign), are about as different as they could be, but both impressed the judges with their daring, inventiveness, passion and power.

Despite the fact that "St Wayne" was only shown in three publications and on one poster site - which, admittedly, was a huge execution hanging from the side of a building next to the M4, just outside London - it was big news, and Wayne Rooney's painted face and chest adorned most of the tabloid front pages after the picture appeared.

Stuart Harkness, one of three art directors on the project, says: "The amount of heat and media space we got was phenomenal. It really tapped into the feeling of the time.

"It was the passion that Rooney personifies in his playing that we wanted to capture. Posters should always offer a truth or an insight, and this offers simple raw passion."

Matthew Batstone, the group marketing and strategy director of The Economist Group, and a judge at this year's awards, says: "It's an incredibly powerful single image. It's so immediate, you see it and you get it. Its passion is fantastic."

However, not everyone enjoyed the ad as much as the judges.

Not only did members of the public complain to the Advertising Standards Authority, but Stephen Pound, the Labour MP for Ealing North, condemned the image as "truly horrible". Reverend Rod Thomas of Reform, the Church of England's evangelical group, said it was blasphemous because of its likeness to the crucifixion image.

"We never intended it to be offensive," Harkness says. "It's the way he celebrates; there was never a thought about crucifixion."

The original idea for "St Wayne" came from Harkness and Chris Groom - the self-titled "rent-an-art director" on account of the large number of copywriters he's partnered throughout his career.

Guy Featherstone became involved when Groom went off to get married and go on his honeymoon before the start of the shoot. "Not even for Wayne Rooney would the wife have let me cut that one short," Groom says.

"We had to do a pre-light test the day before to make sure we could get Wayne through with as little hassle as possible. We got to model the paint and strike the pose," says an excited Harkness, who came away from the shoot with the scrubbing brush used to clean the paint from the footballer's body.

Groom says: "I think he's going to wait and sell it on eBay. It might have been worth a lot more though, as it took a long time to clean him. We were concerned at one point that the paint might not come off."

The provocative and powerful Rooney image contrasts to the Fallon work, which appealed to the judges for the inventiveness of the idea and its ability to break the conventions of poster advertising.

However, as expected with a piece of work which ignores established thinking on how a poster should look and read, the judges either loved it or loathed it.

Ben Priest, the executive creative director at Rainey Kelly Campbell Roalfe/Y&R, says: "The Tate work really polarised opinion on the jury. Either people were very 'anti' or very 'pro'. It was generally thought of as a great idea, but not so strong in execution. A number of people also expressed concern that it wouldn't work as a 48-sheet."

Richard Flintham, the campaign's art director, and Juan Cabral, its copywriter, say they understood this when they first came up with the written guided-tour concept, which started life as a set of leaflets before becoming six-sheet posters on the Tube.

"As a 48-sheet it wouldn't have worked, but in the format it's in, it does. We worked hard on the wording. We think the copy was enticing enough to work. It seems the judges made that decision, too."

W&K's and Fallon's work aside, the overall conclusion of the judges was that 2006 was not a vintage year for posters. In fact, both Batstone and Nick Gill, the creative director at Bartle Bogle Hegarty, used the exact phrase when they were asked to sum up the entries.

Batstone argues that there will always be a place for good posters, but says: "There needs to be more effort put into training creatives when they first get into the industry. Clients can make it difficult for agencies, because a lot of the time they want to convey five or six messages, when a terrific poster gets one message across in an explosive way."

Gill adds: "Posters are so hard to do because there is no hiding place. It's advertising in its purest form because it is the distillation of an idea."

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