At the turn of every year, City pundits probe the health of our business by asking Sir Martin Sorrell what he thinks - never me, funnily enough.
And, fair play, the Sage of Canary Wharf rarely disappoints. His "bath- shaped recession" is a minor modern classic, although whether we're still under water, emerging into soft towels or about to bang our head on the taps I can't tell you. What I can offer instead is a new, layman's guide to the whole "how are we doing?" thing. Ask yourself this: is the new Honda (1) ad as good as the old ones?
Yes? Then the standard flutters proudly in the breeze above our citadel and we can spend 2006 trying to live up to something. No? The barbarians will soon be pouring through the gate to push us back under Martin's soapy water.
A synopsis of the new epic does not bode well. A balding bloke with facial hair not seen since mid-70s editions of Match of the Day trundles about in a variety of conveyances while miming to an old Andy Williams number.
Can this be the stuff of legend? Well, yes, actually. I think it's brilliant. I've heard mutterings that this is no "cog" or "grrr", but don't listen to them. In one significant way, the new ad is better than any that came before. Until now, the equation of advertising + brand + product = buy-in has been incomplete. It has been too easy to say: love the ads, but you wouldn't catch me in one of their dull cars. And the endline, "the power of dreams", has always been the least convincing element; it felt imposed and could have signed off any number of dreary corporate campaigns. But we turned a blind eye because the advertising was so remarkable.
Well, now the equation is complete. The new campaign (print and online, not just TV) tells you what these dreams have been and shows you how engineering genius fashioned them into unique products. It turns "the power of dreams" from a piece of commercial puff into a mighty wind that blows away the impossible. And it does it with a confidence that exists only when client, agency and production company have real faith in what they are trying to achieve.
Alongside this triumph, in cruel juxtaposition, we find another car brand standing naked, thin and shivering. Admittedly it is a mailshot, not a multimillion-pound campaign, but it is for Mercedes (6). It's basically a brochure as scratchcard which supposedly demonstrates the abilities of the M-Class as you scratch away pot-holes and vicious bends. If I had 40-odd grand in my pocket and this came through the door, I'd be out test-driving an X5 before it hit the bottom of my wastepaper basket.
The rest of the bunch are hardly shamed by being also-rans this week.
In a Honda-less review, the well-executed Protean cubic monster for Sony PSP (2) and Beck's (4) justified self-congratulation in its 20th year of sponsoring artists would excite more favourable comment.
The AOL (3) effort to drive you to its website full of unmissable insights into the habits of the nation stalls slightly by revealing that boys think about girls and girls think about shopping quite a lot.
But Beechams (5) deserves points for a cold-remedy campaign that features not a sneezing commuter but old wives' tales from around the world about how to stop the sniffles. I have to confess though, it is most memorable for the genuine pathos behind the eyes of the actress who once dreamed of playing Hedda Gabler at the National but is featured here as a Mongolian peasant flapping away a yak fart.
I leave you with a New Year resolution. Not for me, obviously, but for all those creative directors who refuse to write Private View. Go on, write one. You might get a Honda.
TV CHIEF - Dawn Airey, managing director, Sky Networks
The best advertising always makes me a little envious. How infuriating that all those talented creatives and copywriters are carefully crafting 30-second spots for cashed-up clients rather than making 30-minute programmes for Sky One. Of course, the reason becomes immediately apparent the moment they let slip how fabulously well-paid they are.
The Sony PSP (2) spot is a case in point. It's not just a great ad, it's a terrific piece of visual entertainment - instantly grabbing your attention and refusing to let go. The personification of the PSP in the form of an animated character is a clever device that perfectly illustrates the portability of the console and the immersive experience of using it. High-energy stuff and as thrilling as the best TV drama.
The next two pieces - by competing car companies - present an interesting contrast. You'd think that a high-end brand with tradition and class oozing from its pores would trump a mid-range manufacturer with no appreciable heritage. Not so.
The Honda (1) spot, the latest in its "the power of dreams" series, and supported by an effective direct marketing piece, asks you to reassess the brand by reminding one of its legacy and understated sense of style.
It certainly struck an instant chord with me; at age 16, my father bought me a yellow SS 50 moped that made all the boys at school green with envy.
The final shot of the powerboat careering over the waterfall and rising as a balloon is breathtaking and beautiful in equal measure.
I should also declare my attachment to Mercedes (6); I drive a CLK- class.
But in contrast to the Honda campaign, the most noticeable thing about the mailpack for the new Mercedes 4x4 (sorry, "off-roader") is its lack of confidence. It contains a lavish booklet filled with beautiful photography; unfortunately it gives only sparing detail about the vehicle itself. It is also severely let down by pedestrian copywriting, a naff metal Merc stuck to the front cover and dinky scratchcard effects (eg. to make windy roads straight). The biggest faux pas of all: this mailshot for a car costing a not inconsiderable £35,000 is sent via second-class post!
The Beck's (4) posters also play on its brand heritage, in particular its use of distinctive limited-edition beer labels created by well-known artists such as Damien Hirst over the course of the past 20 years. It is brilliantly executed to the extent that the posters as well as the bottles are now collectable pieces of art.
Having worked with David Elstein, I am a great admirer of pulsating human brains. The problem with the AOL (3) banners is that while they claim to be satirising the statistical blather beloved of media planners, they look just like the real thing. The campaign appears to undermine the core message that the new website is packed full of accurate data to help media managers to do their jobs better.
The ads also illustrate the gulf between quick and easy campaigns aimed at trade audiences and AOL's marvellous creative executions targeting consumers.
Finally, I warm to anything that raises a laugh so I am immediately well-disposed towards the Beechams (5) campaign, which takes old wives' tales from around the world and turns them into wonderful vignettes that illustrate the absurdity of those beliefs. Mind you, while attaching leeches to an ailing body may not cure the common cold, they can, in the form of ITV2, ITV3 and ITV4, certainly help an ailing terrestrial network keep its ad rates buoyant.
1. HONDA Project: Impossible dreams Client: Matt Coombe, marketing communications manager, Honda Brief: Produce a brand ad that illustrates Honda's unique spirit Agency: Wieden & Kennedy Writers/art directors: Tony Davidson, Kim Papworth, Sean Thompson, Chris Groom Director: Ivan Zacharias Production company: Stink Exposure: National TV, radio, online 2. SONY PSP Project: A day in the life Client: Alan Duncan, director of marketing UK, Sony Computer Entertainment Brief: Create excitement around the PSP Agency: TBWA\London Writers/art directors: Tony McTear, Chris Bovill, John Allison Director: Alex Rutterford Production company: RSA Films Exposure: TV 3. AOL Project: AOLMediaspace Client: Jo Simmonds, UK marketing manager, AOL Brief: Communicate the breadth of information on Mediaspace Agency: Lean Mean Fighting Machine Writer: Sam Ball Art directors: Mark Beacock, Dave Bedwood Exposure: UK internet 4. BECK'S Project: 20 years of Beck's art Client: Beck's Brief: Celebrate Beck's 20 years of promoting contemporary art Agency: Leo Burnett Writers: Nick Pringle, Clark Edwards Art directors: Nick Pringle, Clark Edwards Photographer: Dave Gill Typographer: Lance Crozier Exposure: Print and posters 5. BEECHAMS Project: Beechams Client: Lucy Chown, senior brand manager, GlaxoSmithKline Brief: Position Beechams as the commonsense cold remedy Agency: Grey London Writer: Jonathon Marlow Art director: Jimmy Blom Director: The Pelorian Brothers Production companies: Rokkit, Reginald Pike Exposure: TV, press, posters, online 6. MERCEDES Project: M-Class launch Client: Paul Hanson, head of marketing communications, DaimlerChrysler UK Brief: Launch the M-Class Agency: Claydon Heeley Jones Mason Writer: Dave Woods Art director: Simon Haslehurst Photographer: George Logan Exposure: Mailing to 50,000 new and existing Mercedes customers