Agency of the Year

Crispin Porter + Bogusky takes the road less traveled.

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CP+B partners (clockwise from left) Jeff Hicks, president; Chuck Porter, chairman; Jeff Steinhour, director of account services; and Alex Bogusky, creative director.
The Creativity Agency of the Year should never be a surprise. Since it's that time of the year, wherever we have gone recently we have been involved with endless discussions about who it could and should be. This year there was a discernible unanimity of opinion.

Crispin Porter + Bogusky has been described variously and flatteringly as "the only agency doing consistently innovative and outstanding work" to "the hottest thing around." Well, we don't know about the only agency, with Fallon, Goodby, Wieden and others making such strides this year, but we do know that the agency is sizzling just now. The great creative work was built on a foundation of outstanding new-business wins that enabled the agency to develop to the first rank of national players. Mini, Molson Canadian and Ikea (and, perhaps, Sirius Radio) would be coveted by any agency in the country for the rare mix of income and creative opportunity they represent.

Crispin, of course, was our Agency of the Year only two years ago, but with this level of new business and new creative output it is almost unrecognizably different from the agency it was then. "Truth" aside, there is virtually no sign at all that the agency is based in Florida, from its lack of regional accounts.

And, of course, now Crispin has burst beyond Florida, and has arrived in Los Angeles under the leadership of Sally Hogshead. That office, too, has contributed to Crispin's success. Most noticeably, through some innovative advertising for the Fine Living channel. But it is Miami that has really pulled off coup after coup this year, starting most obviously with the outstanding, iconoclastic and wonderfully integrated work for BMW's Mini, a brand it won at the start of the year. Mini is also Creativity's Campaign of the Year

Ikea: Do not pity the lamp.
Then there is Ikea -- a campaign that, like the furniture, you either love or hate. Having won the business in the spring, Crispin created a campaign built around the notion of "Unboring," and starring a lonely desk lamp, an ugly milk creamer and an eccentric Swede warning, "You are crazy!"

It is that rarest of things in American advertising: a campaign that dares to suggest a negative about the consumer. In this case, that we are far too attached to our superannuated household items. It continues with this theme onto the great fly-posting and other print executions.

Then, in November, Ikea changed tack with a couple of Wes Anderson-directed spots that featured families testing out domestic environments by arguing and engaging in other intense situations. The camera pans back in each case to reveal that these thoroughly convincing arguments are actually taking place in an Ikea store, with a friendly staffer on hand inquiring if everything is all right.

Molson Canadian really doesn't have the budget of so many of its larger rivals. So the advertising is forced to go into uncharted beer territory to get noticed. There was the irony-laden work that featured Molson as a virtual best friend, helping drinkers get beyond velvet ropes in nightclubs, to avoid a fight and even to get laid. Then there was "scoring beaver" and "chasing beaver" -- each as naughty as anything else in American commercials. In a nifty design twist, Crispin also encouraged drinkers to "Let your Molson do the talking," as the agency repackaged the beer itself with dual labels: one side featured the brewer's logo, the other a cheeky message ("I'm not wearing any underwear" was one of 84 icebreakers).

Ikea: Furniture for real life.
The famous "Truth" anti-smoking campaign from the Florida Department of Health also had a strong year, most notably with its Cannes Gold Lion-winning "Focus on the Positive" mini-musical, and the more in your face "Swahili" and "Presidential Visit."

The American Legacy Foundation's national anti-smoking campaign is equally as strong, with "Baby Invasion," among other films, bringing starkly to mind the consequences of smoking.

The worst thing that you could ever really say about Crispin's work is that it is "interesting." As a whole, in every medium, the work is markedly different. It doesn't tend to follow the more customary advertising conceits; instead it has a distinct attitude or tone that stamps personality over its clients' brands. There is no house style, but there is a discernible freshness to its marriage of clever strategy and witty execution.

And it works too. Results for "Truth" and the Mini launch are nothing less than outstanding. The work is creative, yes, but there is no preciousness about the place. It knows why it exists, and clients seem to like it. It is noticeable how passionate the agency's account executives are about getting the best possible work through. It's the often overlooked key to so many great agencies' success. Crispin is an agency that is on a roll, and has created a genuine, tangible buzz about itself. The management and staff are upbeat, and the fact of the agency's location is no longer relevant -- at least as a negative. The principals' passion for their clients' business was always crucial to Crispin Porter's early success, and it is no less the case now with larger, national clients.

Fine Living: Get out and live!
Elsewhere, the two runners-up in our Agency of the Year contest this year were felt to be extremely strong in some areas, but not to have had the all-around outstanding year Crispin did.

It was an outstanding year on the seminal Nike account that really forced Wieden & Kennedy into contention. This really was one of the best of years on that starry, storied account from "Move" to "Wild Horses," "Before" to "Pull Up." Then there is of course, the simply exceptional Presto TV campaign, which was dazzling and intriguing in equal measure.

But, as with previous years, there is now an apparent dominance of both the Wieden finances and body of work by one client, Nike. Let's point out again, that there is nothing intrinsically wrong with this, and the agency does more great work on that one client than most other agencies do in total. However, there is a big difference between this outstanding and remarkably consistent output and the rest of the agency's portfolio. It remains to be seen whether, in particular, will present the great creative opportunity that it could be.

Deutsch's outstanding new-business performance inevitably cast a fresh spotlight on its creative work. While Snapple, Mitchum and DirecTV represented a good body of work, it was felt not to be as innovative as Crispin or Wieden. Throw into the mix the new Burger King campaign and, of course, Mitsubishi, and you really have a debate about the work. When Donny Deutsch trashes creative awards shows, as he did at this year's ANA conference, cynics quip, "Well, he would say that, wouldn't he?" And, it is remarkable how much griping there is about the agency's output among other creatives. Sometimes, passionately so. One can't help feeling that with Deutsch the debate is personalized: do you like Donny or not? However, publicly, the debate is crystallized around Mitsubishi. Is it advertising by numbers, or a major campaign that has captured some element of -- with apologies for using the term -- the zeitgeist? Is it just a dressed up series of pop videos? And, if so, so what?

Truth: Focus on the positive.
Whether you like it or not, it is unquestionably one of the more popular and talked about campaigns around -- helped, it must be said, by some heavyweight media buying into destination television programs. Together with the delightfully simple and wry Snapple campaign and the entertaining, if variable, Mitchum and Direct TV, Deutsch has an unashamedly populist style. This is winning it many new client admirers. It doesn't need the creative community's approval.

It should also be pointed out that Goodby, Silverstein ended the year with a real flourish on Saturn, eBay and Michelob Light. Having recently hired new talent like Jamie Barrett, Harry Cocciolo and Fred & Farid, the agency will absolutely be a place to watch next year. Of the large agencies, Leo Burnett too might be interesting if it can build on the Army and Altoids. Of the smaller agencies, the fast-growing Bartle Bogle Hegarty started to show what it is really capable of with Levi's, and more particularly the category-busting Axe launch.

Kudos to any agency that is consistently getting good work out in this thoroughly depressing and conservative environment, but it was Crispin Porter + Bogusky's year.

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