After every Olympic Games, New Zealand's obsession with medal tables and country rankings becomes apparent as we do a few sums, take comfort in our per capita performance and repeatedly utter the phrase 'punching above our weight'. But in the advertising world, if results from the Cannes Lions are anything to go by, New Zealand doesn't even need to rely on per capita results, because the 25 Lions won by Kiwi agencies, which was up from 23 in 2009, meant we were again near the top of the pile in terms of total awards won.
Aside from the release of the special results, official rankings by agency or country from Cannes Lions organisers were unavailable, but Campaign Brief tallied the numbers (the Cannes points system is: Titanium Grand Prix: 12 points; all other Grand Prix: 10 points; titanium Lion: 10 points; Gold Lion/PR Lion: 7 points; Silver Lion: 5 points; Bronze Lion: 3 points; Shortlist: 1 point) and found that New Zealand was placed 9th equal with South Africa.
The US took top honours again, Sweden came in fifth and Australia was 6th. But, importantly for those of us who love nothing more than clutching at straws to ensure self-worth, New Zealand was second in the per capita challenge, just behind Sweden.
Of course, the big news was that Special Group took home the Grand Prix in the Direct category for Orcon's 'Together Incredible' campaign, as well as another Gold Lion in the Direct Category and two Bronze Lions in Promo & Activation. And Special Group creative director Tony Bradbourne says this haul meant it was ranked as the 8th best independent agency in the world (this was a new Cannes award in 2010 to honour the indie agency that had amassed the most points across all the entry sections).
Bradbourne says the success of 'Orcon + Iggy', a campaign that brought in 20,000 new customers to the telco, also meant that Special Group was ranked as the world's third equal best Direct agency. And in terms of total points, it was New Zealand's best performing agency ("If we're talking poker, we had the higher hand," he says).
Not surprisingly, Bradbourne is pretty stoked with this massive achievement ((although he did offer up what could be a good contender for understatement of the year: "Yeah, it's good."), especially as the agency is only two years old.
The Special Groupies have already expressed a desire to do international work from New Zealand and he says this Grand Prix has certainly helped to grease the wheels in this regard. He says the win, as well as the ensuing media coverage (he's already been interviewed by CNN and there was a glowing report in Campaign magazine telling UK agencies that it was the kind of thing they needed to be doing), is a great marketing tool to start conversations and foster new global alliances, whether that's to set up new international offices or get in front of big global companies.
"When you've got international publications [like Campaign] saying you're leading the way, it's very good for that. And winning awards is really great when you're so young, because it gives you a profile."
One slight note of disappointment was that no-one from Special Group was there to pick up the award as the gang had too many important meetings in New Zealand at the time of the Cannes celebrations. Thankfully, Bradbourne's good friend Mark D'Arcy, president and chief creative officer of the Time Warner Global Media Group and senior vice president of Time Warner, was on hand to collect it (and also deal with the throng of journos). And Curious Film's Darryl Ward, who was involved in the production, was also present and happy to bask in the glory.
In what could be a first (possibly even a world first), Bradbourne received a letter from Labour MP Ross Robertson last week, and instead of lambasting the advertising industry for making New Zealanders drunk, fat or poor, he actually wanted the House to be aware of Special Group's momentous achievements in Cannes.
James Hurman, Colenso BBDO's planning director, says the agency's 10 Lions were instrumental in helping BBDO to the network of the year honours. He is unsure where Colenso placed in terms of overall agency rankings, but he thinks this performance would have placed it in the world's top 20.
But he does know about the BBDO rankings, and the Auckland branch was fourth behind Abbott Mead Vickers in London with 16 Lions, ALMAP in Sao Paulo with 15 (interestingly, according to this guy, the Brazilian government pays for half the country's Cannes entries and kids in Brazil believe that the only two ways to get rich by the age of 30 is either football or advertising) and BBDO NY with 12.
"What's cool about it is that these other offices are absolute monsters. Abbott Mead Vickers does 20 times what we do in total billings. BBDO New York has 1500 people working there. And we've only got 68 people," Hurman says.
Two of Colenso's gold Lions came in the Film Craft section for the NZ Book Council spot, and while there has been a tiny bit of contention as to whether the agency should be able to claim the honours, it is allowed under Cannes rules and Hurman believes other awards ceremonies generally give a co-credit to the agency and, in this case, the animators and sound designers.
DDB NZ also did well, picking up a total of five Lions for NZ Coastguard's 'Live Rescue' and Sky TV's Arts Channel radio campaign, and Bradbourne has a few theories on the reasons behind New Zealand's typically impressive results.
He thinks there's a very high concentration of extremely good creative talent and there is also quite a mature advertising marketplace here. He also thinks the lack of big budgets helps drive creativity, because to get cut-through you can't just rely on the weight of media, you need to be smart and interesting.
He doesn't believe the New Zealand scene is propped up by expat creative directors like Toby Talbot, Nick Worthington and Andy Blood. With the likes of himself, Colenso's Steve Cochrane and DraftFCB's James Mok, he says Kiwi creatives do stack up with the best internationally and he believes the reason the expats are so prevalent is that New Zealand is an attractive migration destination because there is more freedom for creative ideas to flourish.