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Adland reports from the Big Bus Challenge

Busses. They’re big, they’re red, they stick in your head. Adland reports from Exterion Media’s Big Bus Challenge in London. All aboard!

Most important fact you’re going to want to take away – they had tiny little sausages served with edible flowers on top. Advertising is truly full of wonders beyond reckoning. Will Campaign tell you that? Like fuck they will. No, wait... there’s more. The ice in the drinks was shaped like mini Transport for London logos. You think your last agency party had class? Son, you need to up the nibbles game.

On to the winners (of course, I jest – anyone eating an edible flower is a winner in life). In the category of National Advertising, 1st place and a suitcase full of marketing cash went to ‘Clarks In House Design Group’. Yes, you didn’t hear me wrong. Let’s get some perspective here - the entire UK advertising industry just got beat by an In House Design Group. That means we’re all going to have to hand in our notices or commit ritualistic seppuku. It was an outright winner, showcasing a design and idea so genius that the quality shone through. The copy read ‘It’s such a pain when things don’t quite fit’ – only the edges of the words had been chopped off, as if the designer had accidently used too big a typeface and then failed to correct the mistake.

I spoke with runners-up Proximity London who had narrowly missed out on the 1st place slot, because frankly who doesn’t love an underdog? Their ads for The Economist read: ‘What’s big, red and gets you places?’ and ‘Who’s really driving the bus?’ Tristan Sellen, the wordsmith behind that line told me “Hidden forces shape our world. To express this, we wanted a short succinct line that really nails the brand message.” Then he added, “Also you’ve got to get in there with a bus pun. Everyone loves a good bus pun!’ (It was an open bar. You know how these things get). Credit for this great work goes to Copywriter Fran Perillo, Art Director Tristan Sellen, and Creative Director John Treacy.

In the other category of Regional Advertising, the smaller suitcase of marketing cash goes to Partners Andrew Aldridge for their RNLI ad. The copy on this reads “From Albert Square To Albert Dock”, accompanied by the instantly recognisable aerial view of the Thames from Eastenders. This simple message was designed to make people aware of the work the RNLI does in patrolling not only the seas but the Thames. The long rectangular stretch of a bus canvas is a good match for this iconic feature of London, accompanied by the call to action to ‘Text Thames to donate’. Congratulations to Copywriter Scott Vaux-Nobes, Art Director James Fairburn, and –wait for it – Designer Guy Sexty. No really, there’s a Guy Sexty working in advertising. But the question remains, is he a Sexty Guy?

I wandered around with a beer and a notebook, generally ambushing people. Here are some of the conversations I had:

S3 Advertising
“Feels amazing , really good to be here today” said Amelia Davis-Pogson. We’re running our campaign which we submitted here, live right now up in Cardiff.” This was a handsome lion/human hybrid face, like Aslan from Narnia crossed with a guy from a metrosexual folk band. “Some agencies will take your money and produce mediocre work. We wanted to show we could be bolder and do something different.” Leanne Bishy added “If we’re going to tell clients to advertise and spend their money, then we need to put our money where our mouth is, and do the same.” I was reminded of the old style of David Ogilvy on self-promotion; he too said advertising agencies should be setting an example by advertising themselves. Why do so few do this properly? And no, I don’t mean that attempt at a viral video which got seen by a few thousand people within the industry. These aren’t true self promotion. If we’re going to promote ourselves properly then it means being seen outside the Publicis, WPP, Interpublic and Omnicom world. They’re certainly made of hardy stuff over in Cardiff. Plus they have Torchwood too, let’s keep that in mind.

Bray Leino
“We’re a Bristol based agency with offices in Devon, so it’s a big deal getting our work out and exhibited alongside these larger agencies” said Sarah Mullen, Copywriter. Her ad for Bath Spa University which took her into the final selection read ‘Getting you from B to A. Different Thinking.’ I asked her how she felt to make it into the final. “It’s great getting that recognition and getting our name out there for our clients”. Then she added, “Can you put in something about how much we love our clients and how proud we are for them?” Bath Spa University, Bray Leino loves you very much.

Exterion Media:
“We’re really pleased with how the event went and the high quality of entries. Congratulations to the winners – we can’t wait to see the campaigns making their way down the high street soon” said Simon Harrington, Marketing Director.

In short, another great Big Bus Challenge with intelligent and interesting entries across the board. I can only see this event growing in popularity for a few simple reasons. Firstly, as long as you work with a client (from a yogurt for a homeless charity), you can submit a meaningful entry with no exorbitant fees. Secondly, the winning ads get a budget to be produced and shown around the country, rather than just another hollow and shiny bauble (Cannes cough cough). And thirdly, tiny sausages with edible flowers.

But in all seriousness I met a few fresh-faced creative teams straight out of Uni who were already on the shortlist and competing shoulder-to-shoulder with big, tough London agencies. Where else can that happen? I heard the usual refrain from various people that “everything is going digital” and “digital is where it all is...” etc. But events like these show that there’s still vibrant life in the analogue business of actual printed ads that you read with your eyes. Exterion Media want you to know that ads like these are “truly the best way to influence mind-sets and shopping behaviours of consumers while they work, shop and play.”

Perhaps they can be, but only when they aim for more. A bus ad must utilise the space with sophistication, aware of its limitations and yet able to challenge them. In this way, Clark’s Design Team came out streets ahead.

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Dabitch's picture

The Big Bus challenge is always fun. Something to be said for the awards that concentrate on one media. And the London buses are special.