You Call It Nontraditional Advertising, but I Call It Art

A Look at Some of the Mind-Blowing Work From the London International Awards

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At the graffiti-tagged subway entrance, the beggar sits forlorn, hungry, hopeless.

Same way he's been sitting since the time of the Plague.

In an absolutely stunning campaign for the German Foundation for Monument Protection, Ogilvy Frankfurt placed life-size replicas of medieval statues around the city, right where you'd usually expect to find a homeless guy. Except instead of little signs saying, "Need money for food," the gnarled looking statues have signs propped in front of them that say, "My cathedral needs help."

Somehow, in my all art-history classes (OK, class), I'd never noticed how entirely human these statues are. I'm not even sure I noticed that when I finally saw the statues for real, since cathedrals are so chockablock with angels -- and demons. But a single sculpture of a single person sitting on a city sidewalk -- that's something else.

You can see the hollows of their cheeks, the boniness of their fingers. These aren't lawn-ornament saints. They're the work of unnamed masters, clutching their cloaks to keep warm or kneeling in desperate prayer. Pause and the past isn't past anymore; it's right there, stomach rumbling. Hey, my medieval buddy. What can I do for you?

This campaign -- powerful, poetic -- is just one of the dozens of mind-blowing finalists in the "nontraditional" category of the London International Awards. The winners were announced today, with the grand prize in this category going to BBDO, New York, for its "Cables" campaign for BBC World. On the whitewashed sides of city buildings, the agency commissioned huge line drawings of news events -- a protest, a food drop -- with the lines meandering into the building's actual windows. See? They're actually coaxial cables, bringing news.

But a campaign I found even more dramatic was by the agency Mortier Brigade in Brussels, baldly titled "Black boy wanting water."

For its clients who hold the annual Music for Life fundraiser, the agency was asked to bring home the fact that every 15 seconds, a child dies somewhere for lack of drinkable water. How could it make middle-class Europeans focus on a staple they take for granted in their own lives? Here's how:

The host of a morning TV show is perched on her couch, cute and composed, ready to talk about whatever they talk about on Belgian morning shows (waffles?), when suddenly -- whoosh! A young black boy runs onto the set, grabs the glass of water that is sitting on the host's table, and gulps it down in no time flat. He dashes off again as the woman looks around, completely flummoxed.

That same week, the boy dashes through another show -- it looks like the Flemish equivalent of "Firing Line" -- drinking the Flemish equivalent of Bill Buckley's water. He dashes onto the set of some "Late Show" clone and does the same thing. Over and over he brings home the message: You guys have so much clean water, you don't even notice it. But where I come from, we're dying of thirst!

The campaign ended up raising 3.3 million euros in just six days.

Elsewhere on the continent, the agency Scholz & Friends in Berlin came up with an equally startling idea for another good cause. It took half-spheres the size of car tires and fitted them over the wheels of a Volkswagen. The spheres were white like eyeballs with off-center pupils. When the car drove, the wheels looked like eyes rolling around drunkenly. Really funny, really arresting -- and a really good way to remind folks (volks?): Don't drink and drive.

Which is how I'll end this column. Don't drink and drive. Go make some great art that also happens to be advertising.
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