2019’s Breakthrough Acts
We all know who the A-list is in the ad industry. Many of the most dominant companies in the business have been there for decades, trudging along doing good work that surprises no one. But every so often an agency or company breaks into that A-list, cementing itself in people’s minds as a trustworthy name. We’ve been watching out for the companies making waves in 2019. LBB’s Alex Reeves has put together a list of the teams that broke through into a different league.
Uncommon Creative Studio
On paper, you could get away with calling Uncommon London’s hottest start-up agency. It’s only just over two years since the three ex-Grey founders set up shop in Clerkenwell. But it doesn’t feel right to call the creative shop a ‘start-up’ anymore. This year saw the agency step up its game to work with household names in the UK. And it did so with ferocious ambition. It kicked off 2019 with classy work for British broadcaster ITV that interrogated the very heart of drama, no less. Its work for the channel was also as varied in its tone and choice of media as the content it puts out. One surprising highlight was a product innovation nobody knew they wanted - a hairdryer shaped like Good Morning Britain presenter Piers Morgan’s face (insert whatever hot air joke you find appropriate here). Another moment with genuine reach was during Mental Health Awareness Week, when ITV paused some of its most iconic shows to remind people to get talking about their mental health. More ambitious work came for another British media brand, the Guardian, for which Uncommon made a butterfly “badass”, inspiring hope through some of the most popping outdoor work we’ve seen this year. The agency’s work for indie-brewery-turned-big-beer-business Brewdog was notable too, putting the heavy metal racket of Meshuggah to great audience-splitting use. Throw in their beautifully crafted WWF campaign, their first (pretty weird) work for Ecover and some relevant, punchy social content for Nike around the Women’s World Cup, and you’ll never want to call Uncommon a start-up again.
Since its founding in Tribeca, New York in 2015, Blacksmith has been building its name as a boutique VFX house capable of handling work that competes with the world’s biggest post-production factories. The team there have been working with world-class directors like Ringan Ledgwide and Aoife McArdle since the start, but this year they’ve dropped some certified stonkers. Big moments included seamlessly working Wile E. Coyote into a real world scenario and creating the Orca from Free Willy in CG in Noam Murro’s Super Bowl spectacular for Mercedes-Benz, VW’s beautiful ‘Hello Light’ directed by Daniel Wolfe and an epic, otherworldly love story for Irish department store Brown Thomas.
The Tombras Group
There aren’t many family businesses like The Tombras Group in advertising. The agency led by president Dooley Tombras was founded by his grandfather in 1946 and has remained independent ever since. Even more interestingly, the agency didn’t come from one of the USA’s great advertising hubs. It’s still the only national agency in Knoxville, Tennessee. And this year’s been a strong one. As Dooley told my colleague Addison Capper a few months back, “I think we've really hit our stride now. We moved into our new headquarters in February of last year. We built a new 60,000 square foot HQ in downtown Knoxville - which was home to my grandad’s first client back in the ‘40s - but we've actually outgrown it already… We wanted to build an office that would last around 15 years so we built it to hold 300 people, thinking that we wouldn't even use all of the space. Now we've already outgrown it and leased a floor in a building across the street. So we've had a ton of growth.” That’s an understatement. The work from Tombras has kept us amused, starting out with its campaign for MoonPie, which originally involved tweeting nine scripts for ads it'd run if it had the budget before one year later actually producing a select few of them, running right through to it’s ‘no bullshit’ work for Smooth Amber Whiskey. It’s all been paying off for them this year, apparently. Less than a month ago the agency announced it would be opening a New York outpost, having won three new clients - Nutrisystem, FreshDirect and Harry’s. No doubt we’ll be seeing innovative work with a Deep South-infused flavour for those brands in 2020.
Object & Animal
It’s only been a little over a year since Object & Animal opened its doors in London and LA, with a group of production and photography veterans from Academy, Mother, and Stink Films heading up a production company that aimed to build an ecosystem not an “egosystem”. With directors including Andrew Thomas Huang, Diana Kunst and FKA twigs on the roster, it’s easy to see how egos could get deservingly inflated, but they’re definitely not getting in the way of the unbridled talent on Object & Animal roster. The company has been behind some of the most stunning music videos ever since it set up its stall, as well as work with fashion brands and social causes that hits all the right notes to harmonise with the best of 2019 culture. In November the first of many awards began to roll in for the company, winning a total of seven UKMVAs, including best production company.
Boys + Girls
The team at LBB have been appreciating the Dublin ad scene for several years now. It’s been an encouraging story to cover - an industry flourishing as Dublin rises as one of Europe’s most noteworthy creative hubs, retaining talent like it never used to and attracting clients and people from abroad. Boys + Girls is an independent Dublin agency that’s been consistently delighting us with its work and the creativity of its staff. The agency’s clever creative work for Three, Skoda and Amnesty International helped them clean up at the ICAD awards in June just before the team jetted off to give the agency’s fist talk at Cannes Lions, where they were joined on stage by broadcaster Edith Bowman to discuss their innovative moves in the music video artform with their client Three Ireland. This year their work for Energia, Skoda, and Three has continued to demonstrate what a strong independent agency looks like both within Ireland and on an international stage.
WPP’s decision in late 2018 to merge Y&R and VML networks globally into a new ‘brand experience agency’ put the super-network on everyone’s ‘ones to watch’ list for 2019. Well we’ve been watching and what they’re building is fascinating. Weaving VML’s digital experience savvy into the rich advertising pedigree of Y&R has been tough to navigate, but invigorating for many in the network, as we’ve heard from leadership in London, Italy and Paris. The promise of the new network really hit home in Cannes, where VMLY&R Poland’s work with Gazeta.pl, a leading Polish newspaper, on the intriguing ‘Last Ever Issue’, took home the Glass Grand Prix and a Titanium Lion. Meanwhile the network showed how well suited to 2019’s culture and media landscapes it is with ‘Keeping Fortnite Fresh’ for Wendy’s, which earned the Social & Influencer Grand Prix among many other prizes. It was also commended in the 2019 Immortal Awards. I’m happy to accept a future of advertising that looks like this. After a year of recalibration and some already inspiring work, VMLY&R will stay on our watch list for 2020.
DAVID co-founders Anselmo Ramos and Gaston Bigio made the bold move to start something wholly new in 2018. As Anselmo told my colleague Addison Capper at the outset, GUT in Miami and Buenos Aires was all about freedom. He said of DAVID, “at the end of the day it wasn’t my agency, it’s a WPP company. And after everything that Gaston and I learned at DAVID, we felt that we were finally ready to jump.” And from the jump the agency’s work was exciting. An emotional spot for Tim Hortons told the story of Toronto Raptors superfan Nav Bhatia and another for the brand saw musician Shawn Mendes celebrating his Canadian roots. The new agency’s work Popeyes in August got heaps of attention. Wading into media storm #POPEYESGATE, in which a small restaurant was caught reselling Popeyes chicken to its customers, GUT had the weird but wonderful idea of leaning into the furore and allowing the Long Beach restaurant, Sweet Dixie Kitchen, to launch the new Popeyes chicken sandwich. It’s early days, but there’s promise here in spades.
In the LBB editorial process of sweeping the globe in search of the most exciting creative work out there, names of certain agencies and companies pop up more frequently than others. We kept hearing about Publicis Romania this year. Under Jorg Riommi’s creative leadership, the agency has been turning heads. Whether that’s pushing against period shaming in country that calls a period being ‘on stop’ or combining creativity, media, data and e-commerce to boost Renault’s electric cars in Bucharest, Europe’s second most polluted city, the work has been consistently eyebrow-raising. Then there was the gargantuan two-year task of relaunching Burger King in Romania, a whopping creative journey that relied in no small part on luck.
This time last year, Copenhagen creative agency &Co. was posting on its social media in Danish. Now we no longer have to rely on shoddy automatic translation to read about its work in English. Having first grabbed my attention in 2018 with an arresting film for VELUX windows, the agency has turned out some unexpected creative goods this year. Working with New Land director Daniel Kragh-Jacobsen (at the time repped by RSA), the agency turned a modest budget for footwear brand BIANCO into a moving ‘almost love story’ that has earned more than 4 million views on YouTube. Then the agency took on a huge task in the name of democracy, working with the European Parliament to “turn Europe into a feeling” in one of the bravest acts of political advertising we’ve seen recently. A campaign for travel search brand momondo showed the value of world travel through uniting 61 strangers. That film’s had over 5 million YouTube views. 2019 proved that this Danish shop can consistently turn out video work that moves people around the world. The awards shows agreed. &Co. has been celebrated at The Lovie Awards, Ciclope, Epica and the Shots Awards this year.
2019 saw a continuation of success for BBDO Pakistan, who had been riding high on the back of its 2018 ‘Bridal Uniform’ campaign for UN Women. Last year it received the creative plaudits, this year it won the Grand Effie at the Effies Pakistan, having reignited a discussion on the threat of child marriage in the National Assembly which could lead to a law change on the issue. Then there was the agency’s enchanting work for Berger Paints in collaboration with ImpactBBDO, which harnessed the power of truck art to help find missing children. Within the first week of the trucks being released, 313 calls have been received on the number from all parts of Pakistan. Other work, like redefining ‘Green Card’ for Pakistanis in the name of the WWF, adds to the picture of an ambitious agency full of world-leading, caring creativity.
A WPP agency based in Buenos Aires, London and Miami, SANTO has been impressing us all year by taking an offbeat approach to advertising for gigantic corporate client Coca-Cola. The artsy cool of ‘It’s Hater Season’ for Sprite was quietly inspiring, as sweet as the drink itself. The follow up featuring a male pole dancing champion had us transfixed. Then in October the haters were embraced even more warmly in a message targeting Generation Z. Then they went and rounded off the year with the global Coca-Cola Christmas ad. Not only is that kind of a biggie, it was also just as weird as their other work. SANTO really knows how to sell odd ideas to big clients and I love it.
2019 feels like the year that Amsterdam and Berlin production house HALAL really got turbocharged. Talented signings like Madja Amin, NDVD and Thessa Meijer promise exciting things off the back of Young Director Award wins. In fact, the company dominated that event in Cannes in June, picking up a total of four awards, including the coveted Producers Award and Special Jury Prize. Meanwhile the company continued to churn out visually stunning work with existing directors like studio From From’s quirky 25hours Hotels film, Caroline Koning’s intriguing spots for Wrangler and Jane Stockdale’s punchy Women’s World Cup tie-in for ING Bank (a Dutch brand with one impressive advertising heritage). But that’s just the advertising side, all of which is supported a diverse focus and multiple units, including a photography department and a documentary department, allowing the company’s directors to feel truly supported.
Canadian agency FCB/SIX are one of the first surprising success stories of the Immortal Awards. Only three years old as an agency, they’ve earned themselves two Commendations in as many years. 2018’s ‘Destination Pride’ for PFLAG used date beautifully to communicate a message about LGBTQ+ rights when travelling. This year’s triumph came in the form of ‘Go Back to Africa’ for travel company Black & Abroad, building a communication and technology platform that transformed the meaning of the derogatory phrase. The campaign wasn’t just celebrated by the Immortal Awards, it also took home 2019’s Creative Data Grand Prix in Cannes.