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Year in Review: Tony Bradbourne, Special Group

Every year, StopPress asks players in the local industry for their reflections on the year that was. Here’s what Tony Bradbourne, Founder, CEO/CCO at Special Group, had to say.

1. Favourite local campaign

I love ASB & WiTH Collective’s ‘Borrow the All Blacks’ campaign. Here’s a bank walking the walk and actually helping hundreds of Kiwi small businesses, but in a really fun and breakthrough way. Client and agency deserve all the accolades coming their way.

DDB’s ‘Return of the Mac’ made me smile, and buy a Big Mac. 

Motion Sickness’ ‘Keep it real online’ spot tackled the issue of pornography so well.

From Special I love the campaign we did for Every Kiwi Vote Counts during the election to get Kiwis overseas to ‘meddle’ in their own election. Great to bring some humour and edge to what can otherwise be a kinda boring category. And of course the ‘Do something NEW New Zealand’ campaign for Tourism New Zealand. It’s amazing to see such a huge number of Kiwis trying something new and helping out our incredible tourism and hospitality operators.

2. Favourite international campaign

In the ‘we made it here but it’s running over there’ section I can’t go past the new brand platform we’ve created with Optus Australia – ‘It starts with yes’.

The launch spot features a mix of kids, Hot Wheels, and the B-52s. What’s not to like.

And there’s plenty more in the pipeline.

It’s also hard to go past Special Group USA’s very first piece of work, for foundation client Uber Eats in which Mark Hamill (Luke Skywalker) and Sir Patrick Stewart (Captain John-Luc Picard) go head to head to try and settle an age old debate, which is better, Star Wars or Star Trek?

It’s been shared over 135 million times so far, and the next instalment featuring Olympic Gymnastic Simone Biles and Jonathan Van Ness from Queer Eye is just as entertaining:

This global platform developed out of the Special Australia office is now running in the USA, Brazil, Mexico, Australia, America, Canada, Japan and Taiwan and is a really good example of a brand platform that keeps getting better with each iteration. It’s now become the benchmark for food delivery services marketing globally.

3. Least favourite campaign

The election advertising. Personally I always think an election campaign or a campaign for a major referendum are opportunities for marketing to stand up and shine. Explaining who you should trust with your vote, or arguing the case ‘for’ or ‘against’ the legalisation of cannabis or euthanasia are all really big, very important decisions for a nation and present brilliant marketing opportunities. So why is the work so clichéd, un-crafted and forgettable?

A real missed opportunity.

4. Pick three words to describe 2020

Classy, Bougie, Ratchet.

(If you’re under 30 or have teenage girls (as in my case) then you’ll know what I mean).

5. Most memorable moment from lockdown?

Winning the Optus pitch from New Zealand on day two of the first lockdown. Pretty epic as it was a global creative pitch that included some brilliant agencies, so we were honoured to be asked to pitch and even more humbled to be appointed. 

6. First thing you did in Level 1?

We delivered a celebratory ‘POP’ pack to every Special team member’s doorstep so we could ‘pop’ our bubbles together in style. It included champagne, some well-needed hairdressing vouchers and a custom-designed Spotify playlist.

Then it was out for some Ramen with my wife.

7. First place you’ll travel to when borders open?

We opened Special Group USA in Los Angeles during lockdown so I’d love to get up there and see our amazing CCO William and the growing team in real life. Now just three months old they are just swinging into production on their first Super Bowl commercial.

8. Heroes of 2020

I’m forever grateful for everyone at Special for going above and beyond in 2020, and working like crazy to make sure all of our clients were in the best possible place throughout the year.

And of course Jacinda, for showing the world how to handle a global pandemic.

9. Villains of 2020

Any business that took the government wage subsidy, then made their staff take a pay cut, then delivered their 20% to an offshore foreign holding company – before paying back their staff or the taxpayer.

Sure, there’s no law against it, but there is what is right and what is wrong.

I know there are a lot of people who would prefer to sweep it under the carpet and say ‘we were doing what we could to save jobs’ or ‘our holding companies wouldn’t allow it’. But if you are a Head of Marketing or CEO reading this, you do have a choice to work with companies that do the right thing. 

10. What have you learnt about the world this year?

That kindness goes a long way; that there are massive benefits to working more from home; that having a tight-knit team means you don’t always have to be sat next to each other in an office; that patience is a virtue; that geography isn’t a barrier in business; that ultra-fast broadband is an essential service; that five kids eat more than an Olympic swim team.

11. What personality trait got you in the most trouble this year? 

What others politely refer to as ‘stubbornness’. 

12. What achievement are you most proud of this year?

Winning ‘New Zealand Agency of the Year’ at both Campaign Asia and B&T Agency of the Year Awards was a great way to finish a year where everyone had given so much. These are really tough to win – they cover everything from creative work, business performance, staff development, innovation and industry involvement – and you present your case to a panel of the region’s top CMOs and CEOs. To scoop all of the major awards, win ‘Australian Agency of the Year’ as well as ‘Strategist of the Year’, ‘Account Person of the Year’ and ‘Agency Head of the Year’ was pretty extraordinary.

There are some brilliant and very established agencies in New Zealand and Australia so it meant a lot that an independent 13-year-old agency came out on top in 2020.

13. Silver lining of 2020? 

I’m incredibly proud of seeing Special come through the pressures and stresses of Covid-19. Seeing how everyone supported and looked after each other was incredible. We work really hard to make Special the best creative company to work for in the country and whilst 2020 was a lot of hard work, we came out stronger than when we went in.

Also getting to spend more time with my wife and kids. There were large parts of lockdown that were damn fun.

14. Best brands of 2020

The Warehouse – for paying back their $68 million wage subsidy.

Uber Eats – for taking a digital food ordering app and injecting it with such personality and fun.

Tourism New Zealand for handling one of the biggest changes you could throw at an organisation – refocusing on domestic tourism and stimulating over $7 billion worth of tourism spend across New Zealand. Nothing short of incredible.

Hats off also to Education New Zealand for dealing with the very same daunting business challenge.

And of course Optus – for their determination to be Australia’s most-loved everyday brand and their inspirational CEO, CMO and the whole brilliant marketing team.

15. Lamest trend of 2020 

Any commercial that includes ‘We’re all in this together’ but then doesn’t follow through. Lip service does nothing to deliver real help. 

16. Best innovation

Covid-19 vaccines.

17. What died in 2020?

The myth that flexible workplaces or working from home doesn’t work.

18. Guilty Netflix obsession?

So many… Disney+ for ‘The Mandalorian’, Netflix for ‘The Last Dance’, ‘We are the Champions’ and especially ‘The Queen’s Gambit’ – female lead, no violence, extremely stylish, and it’s about chess. Would it be popular? 62 million households watched it in its first month. Sales of chess sets went up by 87% and sales of books about chess leaped 603%.

I love everything this success says about backing an idea that’s different.

19. Twitter or Instagram?

Whilst I don’t tweet or gram myself, I’m more of a fan of Instagram.

A picture tells a thousand words (especially if the words come with a warning saying this post has potentially misleading information).

20. What’s the biggest mistake advertisers will make in 2021?

Changing tack on their brand strategy. Now is the time to stay consistent and be brave. 

Year in Review is brought to you by Discovery New Zealand.

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