THE PICK OF THE PENCILS: Nick Bell, the president-elect of D&AD, comments on the winning campaigns at this year's D&AD Awards

Nick Bell, the president-elect of D&AD, comments on the winning campaigns at this year's D&AD Awards and reviews some of the best work of the past 12 months.

So now we all know the winners. A year of hard work by all the staff at D&AD culminated, first, in another well-hosted week of judging in Brighton and, last night, in a mammoth awards ceremony attended by more than 2,000 people.

Back in March, 240 judges considered 21,500 entries in 161 sub-categories, nominated 143 pieces of work and, in awarding 53 Pencils, awarded more work than has previously been awarded in D&AD's 41-year history.

As the hangovers clear this morning, however, will you, like me, form the opinion that this was not a vintage year?

I have been asked to review the advertising winners and, in doing so, to look for any themes or trends.

My first observation is a dip in form by the US. Particularly over the past five years, the States have produced excellent silver-award-winning work. But of the seven silver awards in the high-profile TV and cinema category this year, I believe the best work is British.

To their already impressive collection of awards, the creators of the NSPCC's "cartoon", Microsoft Xbox's "Champagne" and the John Smith's campaign have now added the most coveted of them all.

But what of the four US winners? Is this year's Fox Sports campaign in the same league as "hockey" (1998), "extreme sports" (2001), "NBA" (2001) or "made in October" (2002)? Does Nike's "angry chicken" bear comparison with 2000's "driving range"? Is Sprint's PCS campaign even worth a nomination?

In the crafts category, few will have major issues. Audi's "bull" and "influence" (Bartle Bogle Hegarty), the BBC's "street music" (Fallon) and, again, "cartoon" with three Pencils are all beautifully crafted commercials and the standard of craft must be high when a piece of work as sumptuously photographed and directed as Stella Artois' "Devil's Island" doesn't receive a nomination.

Nevertheless, the overall excellence in craft skills reinforces something I've been feeling for a while. I just wonder, in the current absence of any truly groundbreaking advertising, if the craftsmen aren't leaving us writers behind.

I may not be alone in this perhaps contentious hunch. Recently, Tony Davidson bemoaned in Private View the "addyness" of so much current work and reminded us of the need to be remarkable and original.

Over a farewell lunch before I left Leo Burnett, the best client I have ever worked with, John Hawkes at McDonald's, while acknowledging the client community's significant contribution to the problem, also expressed disappointment at the general lack of truly original advertising thinking.

And just the other evening, I was privileged to receive a call from Dan Wieden, the president of this year's Cannes Advertising Festival, who struck the same theme and also expressed his desire that his juries award genuinely fresh thinking.

In further support of this query, perhaps, are the other advertising winners or, in some cases, the lack of them.

Last year's silver award for radio went to Budweiser's "real men of genius" campaign from DDB Chicago. Good as it is, the fact that this year's silver award for radio went to Budweiser's "real men of genius" campaign suggests nothing better or even as good was produced in the past 12 months.

Of course, a lot of the winners are of a high standard. In TV and cinema graphics, the BBC's "rush hour" is an extremely well-crafted film. I very much like the NSPCC poster work. And the two Pencils awarded to Campbell Doyle Dye for its cleverly designed and illustrated Merrydown Cider campaign surely won't be the last for that agency.

But, for the first time since 1995, there was no gold awarded, and in ambient media and integrated creativity, surely two categories wide open for innovative approaches to advertising, not a single silver.

I would have preferred to have written a more positive review of this year's winners and I realise I may be inviting less than polite requests to get down from my high horse (or, more accurately right now, my Qualcast Suffolk Punch). But if I have appeared harsh, particularly on the US TV winners, then please consider how they compare with Levi's "swimmer" (1992), Dunlop's "unexpected" (1994), Alka Seltzer "lifeboat" (1997), Smirnoff "Smarienberg" (1998) and Sony "double life" (1999). Not one of these commercials was considered good enough for a TV or cinema advertising Pencil.

Are we really moving things on?

AND THE WINNERS ARE ... Nick Bell reviews his choice of the 2003 D&AD Awards

John Smith's campaign - TBWA/London

Most people's campaign of the year was rewarded with two Pencils. Given that the economical and restrained quality of direction was consistent across all five executions, it seems strange that 'babies' was singled out for the direction silver.

Microsoft Xbox 'Champagne' - Bartle Bogle Hegarty

So it's contentious. So it was banned. But not before it scored a bulls-eye with its target audience, I dare say. Spot on and always a sure bet for a Pencil or two.

NSPCC poster campaign - Saatchi & Saatchi

A classical, intelligent poster campaign. Thought-provoking writing is supported by an emotion-provoking 'children's book' illustrative style. Full stop.

Merrydown Cider press and poster campaign - Campbell Doyle Dye

Most of us have seen this visual idea before but what a good 'spot' to use it for Merrydown. Personally, I prefer the campaign in press where you can actually turn the publication upside down, but will we remember the client's name? I suspect so.

NSPCC 'cartoon' - Saatchi & Saatchi

I thought the NSPCC's 'can't look' three years ago was brilliant, yet it didn't win a single silver. Perhaps again what makes a four-Pencil difference is the high level of technical achievement this idea depended on. Frank Budgen delivered in spades.

BBC 'rush hour' - Abbott Mead Vickers BBDO

With respect, a goodish idea made so much more by its execution. One of only two commercials this year's BTAA jury didn't ask to be fast-forwarded on repeat viewings (The other was 'Michael Jackson's face' for five). Considering the quality of production, no wonder Nike's chicken is angry.