AGENCY OF THE YEAR: Goodby, Silverstein & Partners

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An esteemed colleague once said that the Creativity Agency of the Year shouldn't be a surprise. Well, Goodby, Silverstein & Partners claiming that title in 2003 is not exactly going to send shockwaves through the industry. That said, it was also by no means completely predictable. There were no sure things this year -- it was a rough time for advertising creativity and it showed in the print, TV and interactive/online work submitted. Agencies distinguished themselves by being able to push through creative, challenging, meaningful work across a wide client base. And by this measure, GSP's print and TV showing, its mastery of the big idea, perfectly executed, could not be denied. Goodby shone by those criteria, and provided the industry with a number of landmark pieces of advertising while rarely putting a foot wrong across the board.

Saturn puts the fun back into compact cars.
A look at the agency's reel first reveals an enviable but challenging client list, covering cars, telecoms, beer, financials, dotcoms and tech -- and some milk for good measure. GSP's work this year met the twin challenges of keeping the bar aloft on the major work introduced in 2002 and launching and all-eyes-on-it campaign in the difficult wireless telecoms sector. After GSP's high profile win and launch of Saturn last year, the agency followed up with more work that built on the people-focused, whimsical tone of "Sheet Metal." Selected as Creativity's Spot of the Year this time in 2002, "Sheet Metal" created an emblematic new look for Saturn and for auto advertising overall and won a Gold Lion at Cannes in the process. The 2003 installments of the campaign expanded the message with spots like "People Shopping," and "Beautiful" and picked up the pace for the recent "Clowns" spot for Ion, in which Ion drivers chase down a clown posse, literally putting the fun back in compact cars. GSP's other Gold Lion this year was awarded for "Birthday," from early 2003. The deliciously dark addition to the "Got Milk?" oeuvre features a Damien-like little boy who warns of impending doom, including the horror of non-milk-assisted cake consumption. Goodby was also awarded a pair of Bronze Lions for last year's HP spots, "Digital Crime Fighting" and "Deleted Images."

eBay salutes Broadway.
This year the agency built on the highly successful song and dance eBay campaign introduced in 2002. The latest and perhaps greatest spot in the campaign has a portly gentleman answering a co-worker's complaint about malls, emerging from an elevator breaking into an eBay-themed rendition of "On Broadway."

The agency lost its other dotcom client Etrade in July this year, and, more significantly, the shop also lost the SBC account, which Jeff Goodby called "a big blow to us." But Goodby made up for its losses with wins on Haagen Dazs, Diamond Walnuts, Pony, and, in one of the biggest account moves of the year, the big ticket branding effort for AT&T Wireless. It will be interesting to watch AT&T unfold, but the initial work promises good things. Without bells and whistles, the inaugural AT&T spots wisely reintroduce the esteemed Reach Out theme and use it to send an emotionally-driven message of quality. The first spot features a weary, airport-bound business traveler whose wireless communication with his daughter is made flesh as the girl appears, momentarily, to be sitting next to him. The spot is enough to set off warning bells in those of us not moved by cutesy kids or heavy handed sentiment, but the ad, and the others in the campaign walk the razor's edge expertly. Accompanying print work similarly juxtaposes far flung people who appear to be "reaching out" to each other via the overlapping placement of their photographed images.

AT&T Wireless helps patch up a fight.
As Jeff Goodby said in his yearly state of the agency report to us, "We still believe the reason we're in advertising is to make grand, powerful gestures that change people's minds." And across the board, not only on Saturn and new win AT&T, but on eBay, Discover, Milk, and most especially on HP, Goodby delivered that powerful gesture.

The agency harnessed the power of storytelling, sometimes with breathtakingly beautiful, rich production, sometimes profoundly not. The latter lo-fi effort for Budweiser took the shape of viral Internet shorts, called the Rejected Ads. The films, found on Bud's web site are rudimentary animatics of failed ad ideas, like the would-be spokesman wrestler El Generoso, who distracts opponents with club sandwiches and beer before pouncing.

The world in pictures.
On the other end of the stylistic spectrum, GSP's efforts for HP produced some of the most visually stunning advertising of the year, in print and TV. As a body of work, GSP creative tends to carry a spark of humanity, an emotional punch, one that's all the more powerful when you don't see it coming. One of the hallmarks of the Saturn campaign has been a subtle poignancy that filters through the surface comedy of its off kilter scenarios. Even the "Sporting Goods" spot for Discover Card manages to pluck a few heartstrings while inducing giggles at the misfortunes of the uncoordinated child bumbling through the ad. Emotion hums through the HP work and is the more obvious cornerstone of AT&T, where the emotional appeal is smart instead of smarmy, and of course, drop-dead gorgeous thanks in part to perfect execution. There too, Goodby has shown itself to be a leader in not only birthing but growing ideas, delivering their best into the right hands each time. Of course GSP's go-to director Noam Murro was in full effect this year for the agency, moving from strength to strength with spots like "Birthday," the newer Saturn spots "People Shopping" and "Beautiful," and "Do it eBay." But the agency also nailed some of its other great moments by pinpointing the right person to tell the story -- exploiting the detailed, skewed vision of young Christian Loubek for Discover, big production guy Sam Mendes for the new eBay spectacles, as well as knowing to tap Scott Hicks -- who had, stunningly but invisibly, lent grace to spots for PBS and Hummer this year -- on AT&T.In all, GSP just did it best, and most consistently this year.

A number of other shops acquitted themselves admirably in 2003, given the apparent difficulty of getting good ads made. Wieden + Kennedy shone again with Nike work that included the brilliant "Streaker" and the recent "Choke." The New York office produced one of the best campaigns of the year with "Without Sports" for ESPN and hilarious new additions to the ever lovable Miller High Life series. Another great sign was the agency's departure from the suds and sports realm with a nice early showing for Avon's Mark cosmetics and the shop continues pioneering in the branded content arena, with the two-hour MTV special "Battlegrounds" for Nike and a series of documentaries for Brand Jordan. Similarly, Crispin Porter + Bogusky, last year's AOY winner continued to foray outside of the norm with creative and effective media executions and online efforts, including several gonzo guerrilla tactics for Ikea. BBDO should be recognized for steadily improving work on the no-doubt difficult AOL and for its great work on FedEx. Fallon also had a strong showing with great work for Citi, Lee and Starbucks, and, of course, PBS.

But our first runner-up this year was TBWAChiatDay. The agency maintained the stellar standards of Apple with outstanding campaigns for iPod and iTunes. Both leveraged the cache of the previous work and Apple's overall design ethic and vibe. Riffing on the superb Switch campaign, the iTunes spots feature music enthusiasts singing along to the tunes only they can hear through their headphones. The superb iPod commercials are based around silhouetted figures against colorful backgrounds busting dance moves to infectious tunes by Jet and Black Eyed Peas, the device itself never shown in product shot detail but only seen as a blaze of white amid the dance action. The agency also came out strong with TV and print work for new client Nextel and gave us something truly unexpected -- great pet food work -- for Whiskas. In these spots, housecats are seen stalking big game on the open plain in hilarious sequences sure to go straight to the heart of cat fanciers. The agency also gets points for the delightfully jarring lo-fi spots for Playstation's Ratchet and Clank, like "Gravity Bomb" and the beautiful print work for A&E Biography. TBWA was also recognized for attempts to move outside of the spot framework with the Absolut Mulit film and product tie-ins with Sex and the City with the "Absolut Hunk" effort. Negatives were few, but they ended up being perhaps disproportionately important (adidas work, for instance, is merely beautiful -- we want it to blow us away). With New York based worldwide CD John Hunt less than a year into that gig and the current, strong line-up beefed up further by the reported hiring of BBDO's Gerry Graf as executive creative director based in New York, TBWA should be in the running again next year.

(This article appears in the December 2003 issue of Creativity.)

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