Agency A-List Finalists: Almap BBDO, Sid Lee and DDB New Zealand

Ad Age Names Runners-up to 2009 International Agency of the Year, Argentina's Santo

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NEW YORK (Adage.com) -- Taking a look around the world at the agencies that did truly innovative work last year to transform their clients' businesses while growing their own, Advertising Age selected three agencies -- Almap BBDO in Sao Paulo, Brazil; Sid Lee in Montreal; and DDB New Zealand -- as runners-up to the 2009 International Agency of the Year, Argentina's Santo.

ALMAP BBDO

Few agencies are as consistently brilliant year after year as Marcello Serpa's Sao Paulo shop, Almap BBDO, whether the job is to make a global brand like Volkwagen a local favorite, or take a local brand like Havaianas global. For the latter, the shop created happy ads in eye-popping colors that capture Brazil's fun, sunny lifestyle in a flip-flop the Brazilians -- and increasingly the rest of the world -- will pay a premium for.

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With its first global campaign, Havaianas sold 78 million pairs of flip-flops worldwide in the first half of 2009, and 13% of sales now come from outside Brazil. Brand awareness reached 50% in Australia and 25% in the U.S. and Europe.

Back in Brazil, a clever brand extension last year called Havaianas Fit added a simple strap that turned the ubiquitous flip-flop into a dressier rubber sandal that can step into even fancy restaurants. Almap BBDO's launch spot, in which a Fit-shod girl and her grandmother giggle about sex at lunch in an elegant restaurant, was pulled for being offensive to some, and immediately replaced with a spot in which grandma advises viewers to check out the original ad online. In three days, more than 260,000 people did.

Agency A-List 2009
Our annual look at the 10 best agencies in the business--and those that might make the list next year. Plus, Creativity's top shop.

Another client, local beauty products marketer O Boticario, was being clobbered by Dove's powerful Real Beauty platform and local rival Natura's "natural beauty" positioning. Listening intently to focus groups, Almap decided women were getting sick of these sensible approaches and deep-down wanted to look fabulous and be the center of attention. So ads, including a multipage print campaign showing vast numbers of beauty accessories like mirrors and combs being discarded, asked, "Wouldn't it be great to live in a world without vanity ... where beauty is not that important?" The ads' answer? "No, it wouldn't." Sales for O Boticario products, including brazen red lipstick, rose 24% in the first half of 2009.

For Volkwagen, Almap did ads for years about the Fox compact car's spaciousness. After running out of tangible benefits, the agency came up with the idea of a car the size of your imagination. Embracing imagination, Almap created the metaphor of the dog-fish, a truly wacky pet that hops in the back of the car after amphibious play at the beach. The dog-fish boosted Fox's share from 1% to 1.8% of Brazil's car market, and was a hit at award shows. Almap refuses to do pitches, but won VW's Audi brand and a big local insurance company without a review, growing 2009 billings by more than 5%.

SID LEE

Founded as a design company in 1993, Montreal-based Sid Lee now includes Sid Lee Architecture, one of several new business units Sid Lee's core "commercial creativity" company spawned in 2009 that capitalizes on its expanding list of in-house talents, says Canada's Marketing magazine, one of Ad Age's international partners. Marketing named Sid Lee its Agency of the Year.

The company's partners similarly opened a production company, Jimmy Lee, when they found they were instructing third-party production houses on their particular style of web design. They also created a news service that monitors brands in social media and, if that wasn't diversified enough, acquired a minority stake in a "nutri-cosmetic" company, according to Marketing.

Sid Lee puts on art shows and pitches retail design accounts as often as brand campaigns. But it also goes head-to-head against Canada's biggest and best ad agencies, and is lauded by them for its impressive international reputation and groundbreaking business model -- using a diverse cross-section of creative talents to drive sales, solve business problems and produce eye-catching creative advertising.

Sid Lee executives are so confident in their business model that they exported it to Europe, opening offices in Amsterdam and Paris in the last year. Already 20% of Sid Lee's revenue come from projects in Europe.

Read the full story here.

DDB NEW ZEALAND

DDB's New Zealand shop is a master at mobilizing Kiwis to participate enthusiastically in ad efforts aimed at them, from shaving their heads to become cranial billboards to guessing when a giant strawberry will explode.

For Air New Zealand, people flocked to a casting call for volunteers willing to have their heads shaved and sport a henna tattoo for two weeks that read "The end of the domestic check-in queue is coming." DDB figured that anyone standing in line tends to look at the back of people's heads, creating the perfect cranial billboard for announcing the airline's new check-in service with no waiting in line.

When Mars' Starburst became more popular than DDB client Pascall Fruit Burst, the agency took a minimal budget and created an online event around a single billboard.

The billboard featured a giant strawberry that was slowly inflated over a month next to an enormous sharp pin. Visitors to the website where a camera monitored the strawberry growing closer to the pin in real time guessed when the explosion would occur. More than 11,000 people visited the site, 6,000 made guesses, and purchase intent for Fruit Burst tripled.

Another effort boosted sales by 60% for Cadbury Moro, which had supposedly fallen to be only New Zealand's fourth-favorite chocolate bar. The underdog-boosting campaign celebrated Fourthness, or everything that is fourth. People entered their own suggestions, with pictures and videos, for made-up categories like fourth-hottest person, at New Zealand's fourth-best website, moro.co.nz. And Moro would turn up, for instance, at a charity fun run and give a very used car to the runner who came in fourth.

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