A Vintage Year?

September 24, 2012 / Signed/Unsigned

By Alex Reeves

Ad people tell us what they think the 2012 APA Collection says about the state of their industry.

Photograph by Julian Hanford


The APA Show is known as one of the biggest parties in Adland. And when you’re surrounded by food, drink, a grand venue and hundreds of cocktail-drenched revellers, it can be easy to forget what it’s all about – celebrating the best work the advertising industry has offered up in the past year.

Cramming dozens of commercials into a solid hour’s viewing, the APA Collection also offers a unique opportunity to think about how advertising is faring as a whole, to gauge what people have been up to and reflect on which direction things are heading.

Once their hangovers had cleared, we asked a range of people who were at the Natural History Museum for the big screening to comment on what the 2012 APA Collection says to them about the health of the advertising industry.

Rattling Stick director Andy McLeod thinks the overall standard was good. “It did seem pretty strong this year,” he admits. “I felt there were some pretty nice spots around in the last year or so. And yes I did actually watch it all. I was sitting next to the dinosaur’s bottom.”

Looking back over the years of the Collection, Jon Chads, Business Development Director at The Mill says “it feels like it’s kind of on the up. As a broad selection it feels really positive, going forward, when maybe we’ve had a dearth a couple of years ago.”

But Jane Dilworth, Executive Producer at WORK, wasn’t quite blown away by the Collection. “I’m not sure it was that vastly different from last year,” she says. However, she admits “there were definitely some stand out moments. Many of the scripts were using familiar, domestic scenarios with reality-based storylines. There was far less conceptual work, with ideas that took you out of the ordinary, which made The Guardian ad [Three Little Pigs] stick out, using the bizarre to tell the story.”

Orlando Wood, Executive Producer of Biscuit Filmworks agrees that Ringan Ledwidge’s film for The Guardian was one of the best-directed ads on the list. He also loved The French Connection, I Am The Suit – another of the more conceptual films in the Collection. “It defies explanation, it's wonderful, it's beautiful, it's irreverent and fun,” he says.

James Bradley, Managing Partner of 750 MPH, continues this muted optimism. “Although there was not a super-nova seismic shift in quality this year the work was generally very good,” he says.

Charlie Crompton, Executive Producer at Rogue Films agrees that the Collection was largely good news. “I think if you took those ads as a cross-section of UK work, it was impressive by any standards,” he says. But he tempers this with a realistic opinion. “Having said that, the ads we saw were in the minority – I’d imagine around ten per cent of the total entered.

“When you looked at those films, they all had great ideas. The really good idea sticks out a mile and with a talented director on board, can become a great ad.  What I hope it demonstrated to clients was that it pays to be brave and if an idea sounds good, it probably is.”

One particular aspect of the Collection that was clear was the number of laughs this year’s ads got – something that relies on great writing to work and is usually very hard to crack.

Jon notices there was “more comedy than I’ve seen in a while up there, but I think that’s great because it works very well for the night.”

The number of gags certainly lifted the mood of the evening, but not only was there quantity; people generally thought those laughs were well earned. Remembering the eternal curse of the cringe-worthy comedy ad, Charlie says it was “good to see comedy writing that is actually really funny. Weetabix, Snickers, Walls Sausage Rolls, Harvey Nicks, Axe, and Fosters – all properly top-end writing and impeccably realised by the directors. For those of us who watch most of our ads with our thumbs pressed hard down on the x30 button, ads like this remind me that they can be actually enjoyable to watch in old fashioned real time.”

A brace of the Tim Godsall directed Axe commercials made it onto the list and these provoked some of the biggest chuckles of the night. Andy was one of the many tickled by these. “I really like the Axe campaign with the heroic boyfriends,” he says. “Although weirdly I kind of prefer the short version I’d seen on television of the theatre one, ‘what’s this, a tear?’ being a memorable line.”

The top comedy pick from Moxie Pictures’ Manager Director Dawn Laren was Google Analytics’ online checkout film, directed by Misha Manson Smith. She says it was “very clever and very funny.” Another great bit of observational humour was Harvey Nichols’ Walk of Shame commercial, directed by James Rouse. “It resonates with all women for sure,” she says.

They made us laugh, but this year’s commercials also made (some of) us cry. “It feels like there’s a genuine tilt towards more emotional advertising,” says Jon. “There’s definitely a warm and fuzzy feel about everything.”

Dougal Wilson’s The Long Wait for John Lewis led the pack in this respect. “It brings a tear to my eye every time I see it,” says Dawn.

Jane agrees, appreciating how much skill it takes to get those tears flowing. “The family ads are great,” she says, “heart-warming with nice performances and perfect execution.”

Charlie picks out another commercial that tugs at the heartstrings – Volkswagen Polo’s Dad spot. He puts it down to Thirtytwo’s masterful direction, noting that such a bold attempt to be sentimental “could have been dreadful, but for anyone with kids you had to say it couldn’t have been done better.”

As ever, charity films played on our emotions too, but this year’s Collection seemed to feature more than ever. Jon notices an increase in these spots for good, as does Charlie, who says “NSPCC, The $#*! Kids Say, Greenpeace, Homeless Polar Bear and Cancer Research, Couples were all as good as they get and all made for about five pence and a huge amount of favours and goodwill from everyone involved.

“It’s worth bearing in mind that some of the best ideas are like that because the client hasn't messed around with the agency's vision and are presumably very grateful that they've been made at all.  Good ideas, lovingly cared for all the way through the process = great films = a happy client.”

So on balance, the best ads of the year are encouraging and there are lessons to be learned for all sides of the process. OK, we’re by no means in the midst of a golden age of commercials, but we’ve seen some exceptional writing paired with great direction here and if this is allowed to grow then next year’s Collection could be the best yet. If the word on the streets of Adland can be trusted (a vain hope, perhaps) then things are looking up.


The following is the list of commercials that were selected for the 2012 APA Collection:

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