Here are the usual caveats. You gotta play to win; our deck is necessarily stacked against agencies that don't enter all these shows (or none of them). This explains the absence of, for instance, Brazilian powerhouse DM9/DDB, which decided to skip Cannes this year in the wake of two previous Agency of the Year awards there (hard to top). Also, we realize we have a pro-American bias, since most non-U.S. agencies do not enter shows on these shores.
Even so, this was a particularly outstanding year for the United States, with seven of the ten top spots on the global list going to domestic agencies (up from six placements last year). Arnold, Mullen, and Ogilvy Interactive dropped off, outdone by the Martin Agency, DDB/Chicago, and both Fallon offices. Here's a measure of what a banner year Fallon had: neither the Minneapolis nor the New York offices had made last year's list. And combined, the two branches are arguably the most awesome creative power in advertising today, with a point total that puts them well ahead of Wieden & Kennedy - or anyone else, for that matter.
1. Wieden & Kennedy
Wieden & Kennedy expanded its tried-and-true formula - Nike + Miller = Gold - to include Stamps.com and Alta Vista this year, thus easily reaching first place. Though none of Wieden's spots include Jerry Lewis, they enjoyed a welcome reception in Cannes, where they won five Gold and two Silver Lions. The Stamps.com campaign with a characteristically deadpan Bob Newhart is a chip off the ol' Miller High Life block. The fresh Nike spots, on the other hand, demonstrate the breadth of Wieden's impressive creative resources. "Morning After" features a runner navigating urban chaos on the first day of the new millennium, calmly noting the zoo animals that broke free and the missile soaring overhead, but refusing to be distracted by such trifles. And, in the acclaimed "Beautiful," the camera pans lovingly athletes' battle scars while Joe Cocker croons his signature song. Beautiful, indeed.
It's safe to say that DDB/Chicago has made its mark on humanity this year. The ubiquitous Bud commercials successfully identified a universal experience - hanging around, doing nothing - and capitalized on it with a compelling execution. Though the "watching the game" theme is not new to beer advertising, the spots have an inclusive energy and a surprisingly evolved wit for the genre. The agency also scored big with its series of "Great American Hero" radio songs, including tributes to the inventor of the foot-long hot dog, the designers of pro wrestling costumes, and others responsible for kitschy Americana. This is the first Zenith appearance for a U.S. branch of DDB.
3. The Martin Agency/Richmond
Moving up in the world, from the U.S. Zenith list to the Global list, The Martin Agency proved itself capable of both gravity and levity. Its print work for the Virginia Holocaust Museum won acclaim from the ADC, the Andys, Cannes and the One Show. With ads depicting "The story of 82190 as told by 25022" and "The day hell officially moved above ground," the agency created a moving but unsentimental campaign. Its campaign for CareerBuilder.com benefited from a dose of black humor, including the shot of a bus roof reading, "Don't jump."
4. Fallon/New York
Fallon/New York spanked its way to stardom this year, winning accolades for the MTV Jukka brothers campaign from almost every awards show. With its unusual logo placement and endearing Finnish would-be hipsters, the Jukka Brothers campaign left an impression with the judges, earning a Gold Lion and a Gold Clio. Fallon's New York branch also got kudos for the deep investigation into the hearts (sex) and minds (pizza) of today's American men with its spots for the Fox/Liberty Networks X Show. Under the creative direction of Jamie Barrett, the New York office has quickly established itself as a serious Madison Avenue presence.
5. Abbott Mead Vickers BBOD, London
The acclaimed London shop makes a Zenith entrance this year, gathering a range of creative honors at Cannes, the Clios and the One Show. Client Guinness served as its most inspiring muse, sparking stunningly cinematic work from directors Frank Budgen and Jonathan Glazer. In Budgen's "Bet on Black," time stops as a crowd of Cuban gamblers silently anticipates the takeoff of their snails, who are lined up and ready to race. A gun goes off, the mambo resumes and the gastropods are off, sliming along faster than horses at the Kentucky Derby. In Glazer's artsy "Surfer" spot, some sexy stallions ride foamy crests with champion longboarder Rusty and his crew. In both, the snails and equines seem oddly natural in their incongruous scenarios, thanks to top-notch cinematography, editing, and direction.
6. Cliff Freeman & Partners, New York
Last year's Zenith-topper is back, dropping five notches but still packing a lot of creative ammo, albeit gerbil-free. This year the agency played another winning hand of well-executed zaniness, garnering Gold on campaigns for Fox Sports and Budget Rent-a-Car. In one spot from the latter, a roundtable of fictional Budget marketing stiffies brainstorm over promos for their customers, including one to get them to their cars lickety-split. The result? Wacky calamities galore, including electrocution by powerline of a flying man in a jet propulsion pack. Another Gold Lion-winning spot, for Church's Fried Chicken, features a clever gramps who wrangles himself out of a skeevy family dinner by arriving at the table half-dazed and fully naked.
The headquarters of the Fallon juggernaut was beat out by its branch in the Big Apple, but the Midwesterners still found a place on the list. Unlike most entries on the Zenith list, Fallon/ Minneapolis was not carried by one or two clients, ... la Bud or the Virginia Holocaust Museum. The big spot for Fallon this year was EDS' "Cat Herders," a Super Bowl fave (though of course no one remembered the client), which took a Silver at Cannes. Who knew that the sight of cats prancing across the plain would be so funny? In addition, Fallon's much-maligned United Airlines print work won a Silver Lion as well, so maybe the French know something we don't. Add a Gold Lion for their Sports Illustrated print campaign and One Show Silver for Time print and Nordstromshoes.com in the Multimedia category, and Fallon rolls a lucky 7.
8. TBWA Hunt Lascaris, Johannesburg
Thanks to Land Rover and Bic pens, this South African outpost went wild at Cannes with four Silver Lions, as well as two Silvers and a Gold at the ADC. Add a One Show Silver for Land Rover and a Gold for a Dunlop "James Dean" print ad, and TBWA Hunt Lascaris can write its own creative ticket with the Bic Infinity, whose literally loopy campaign has trophy magnet written all over it. Print ads featuring the Infinity loop were carried over onto a clever multi-part TV_execution featuring the hypnotic image of a hand drawing the ever-fattening design. This is the second year in a row that a foreign agency of TBWA has made it on the list to the conspicuous exclusion of their highly-regarded colleagues in L.A. (last year it was TBWA GGT Simons Palmer's turn).
9. Bartle Bogle Hegarty/London
Bartle Bogle Hegarty debuts on the Zenith list with a variety of award-winning work, for Audi, Lynx male grooming products and Barnardo's children's charities. The Barnardo's campaign presents images of babies engaged in decidedly adult behavior - adult drug addict behavior, that is. The controversial campaign raised concerns about the potential danger to the infants in the ads, but the Cannes judges were impressed by the druggie babies, awarding the campaign a Gold. The hilarious Lynx spots provide a counterpoint to the grim Barnardo's work. To demonstrate the "Lynx effect," women clamor after Lynx-scented men, saying things like, "You look so sexy playing air guitar." Apparently everyone in BBH ads is on drugs.
10. Goodby Silverstein & Partners, San Francisco
That creative stalwart Goodby made the Zenith List surely comes as no surprise, though they just squeaked into the Top 10 ahead of Arnold's Volkswagen machine, thanks to the dot-com tour de force of E*Trade. Aided by Nike print and a host of Bud radio spots that won big at the Clios, the agency proved that it has not lost its edge. In the expertly-cast E*Trade "Trimount" commercial, a movie preview from the fictitious Trimount studios shows George Takei of Star Trek fame as a villain in an Anna Nicole Smith vehicle called Blow'd Up. An online investor watches the commercial in wonder and then turns to his laptop to sell all his Trimount shares. With this kind of ingenuity, it's no wonder the E*Trade campaign has Lions and Pencils out the wazoo.