The pick of 2010, as selected by CR readers

Three CR readers discuss some of the finest (and possibly most notorious) advertising and design work to come out of 2010

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For our final Readers’ Panel of 2010 we asked three readers to nominate their favourite work from the year in design and advertising, or to suggest projects that they felt really stood out this year.

Brook Townsend, senior designer at J2*, suggested Wieden + Kennedy Portland’s TV and online campaign for Old Spice and VW’s site from DDB UK; Steven Johnson, creative director of social marketing agency The Hub, chose Alexander Commercials’ Embrace Life film for Sussex Safer Roads and the Penguin 75 anniversary book that explored the ‘good, bad and the ugly’ of the book publisher’s cover designs; while Paul Jenkins, a freelance graphic designer and recent LCC graduate, selected Mother’s Kitchen and Cats TV spots for Ikea and the Anti-Design Festival.

For Old Spice, actor Isaiah Mustafa appeared in some witty TV spots and hundreds of YouTube video ‘responses’ to Tweets mentioning the campaign. Brook, what is it about the project you think was so successful?

Beyond the humour and creative it’s the expansion through social media, the use of Twitter to respond to consumers ‘live’ on YouTube. A great marketing campaign needs more than great creative to be effective. This campaign has taken an ageing brand and completely repositioned it.

Iain Tait at W+K said that they’d tried to “blur the lines between things that people don’t expect to be able to be done in real time”. It must be quite hard to generate a sense of ‘how-did-they-do-that?’ within media people are now probably quite familiar with?

This sort of deep engagement has always been the golden egg but now we have the technology and the channels through which to execute it relatively easily. Interaction, dialogue and direct access to brands will become the norm. But the key thing is a ‘big idea’ that consumers want to engage with.

BT: Completely agree. The message is successful because of the idea, but the idea has to be one that can hold an audience and expand across all media, which this does very well.

SJ: Yes, sometimes the difficulty with new tactics is that everyone starts thinking tactically, rather than strategically; using channels because they can rather than because they make sense within the context of the campaign and the audience’s lives.

PJ: I’m a big fan of the work, but I wonder if there is really a connection between the product and the technology? Is the real time social media side as successful as the TV spots for selling the product?

BT: People are interacting with the product online but have been channelled through the TV ads. This just adds to the connection with the audience even without a direct reference to the product. The ‘man’ became a symbol of the product. for VW lets users compare how much they spend on things in their life, emphasising the ‘value’ of a VW. Talk us through this choice, Brook.

BT: I love the execution and the narration is brilliant. The story is well done, drawing the viewer in, but behind all this is a good piece of communication about the product and its price implications beyond the ‘for sale’ price.

SJ: Yes, it feels nice to be on the site. My only reservation was the depth of engagement required to get the product pay-off – the cost implications. Is the cost-of-life-accumulator-principle idea deep enough to get into people’s lives? Also, how are they are driving people to this site?

BT: What’s key is that this piece of communication won’t be for everyone. The Old Spice ads were delivered to a wide audience, whereas this is aiming to talk to price-conscious individuals.

If people take time to interact with the site, they’ll see the brand message.

It’s a good point: if they have a specific audience in mind that will engage with the cost concept to this depth, it comes together as a powerful piece. It still begs the question about how they reach this specific audience via the site in the first place though?

Yes, do they even advertise the site on their TV ads? I’m not sure about the animations and the visual puns: the TV spots are much more original. Online, is VW even the same brand?

Steve, you chose the Embrace This film made for Sussex Safer Roads where a car crash is re-enacted in a living room. The man’s life is saved by his partner and daughter who wrap their arms around him, seat belt fashion. Why select this?

SJ: Embrace Life moves away from the use of shock tactics and fear-based appeals and manages to achieve a level of emotional engagement, whilst staying ultimately positive. It also taps into simple but fundamental aspects of the human condition – emotions, family, childhood – to make a point that, I think, anyone could get.

BT: It’s quite an emotional journey for an ad and because it doesn’t use scare tactics it really gets you. The execution with the slow frame shots and subtle zooms are very well put together with the score. But the acting and direction make it – the facial expressions on the child, especially. It’s told brilliantly.

Most YouTube comments around it said, for once, how moved people were by it.

PJ: Whilst I’m not a fan of the seat belt spots that resort to shock, I do think this needed to be more realistic. It’s nicely shot but is the message obvious? Does wrapping it up in cotton wool make people feel ‘moved’, or make people think and act? I think it’s the former, but is that what’s needed?

OK, next up: the Penguin 75 book. This brought together some of the best recent Penguin covers, with commentary from the designers and authors involved; some of it is brutally honest as to why they love (or hate) the work. Is that the appeal?

SJ: As communicators we have to distil complex messages into words and symbols that can be comprehended quickly – book cover design is an extreme example of this. So it’s great that in the book Penguin is confident enough to take the lid off the can of worms that is the author, art director and designer collaboration.

BT: Penguin is one of those brands that people feel thay have ownership of and, therefore, this kind of interaction and ‘debate’ is a great way to further deepen people’s relationship with the brand, even if there are some views that look at items unfavourably.

They can afford to show people that some designs didn’t work, or were used but remain unloved by the author. It’s a nice take on the design history of a brand – albeit celebratory rather than critical?

BT: Indeed, I think this represents a conversation they’re having with the audience – and yes, a celebration of themselves – which is what brands are trying to achieve more and more. But it’s what I expect from them. Penguin lovers will adore this though, as Steve has testified, but to new customers I don’t think it will really engage them.

PJ: I wasn’t aware of the accompanying microsite beforehand but what if  people could leave comments to go along with the designer’s stories? That would be an effective example of old media working with the new – as we talked about Old Spice and new technology. And yes, Penguin isn’t just about the design community, their books and history should be able to be potentially enjoyed by everyone, in the same way that we’re all enjoying books in different forms.

On to Paul’s first choice: Mother’s Ikea spots. Again there’s some blurring of the lines here, with the Kitchens ad evolving from a music video for the song used in the spot (a cover version of Jona Lewie’s You’ll Always Find Me in the Kitchen at Parties). Even the Cats spot has a ‘making of’ and Facebook campaign. What did you like about them?

PJ: It’s good to see a brand that is close to British culture take a step towards a bit of truth, but turn it on its head. Ikea sells kitchens so people can have parties in them: brands need to take risks and base communication on ideas like that. The ad is cool, sophisticated, catchy and shareable. Ikea and music videos shouldn’t really go but Mother has found a great insight here. As for the cats – they’re all about the home and reflect their owners, potential Ikea customers. But a point that goes across both is that both use the format of the ‘showroom’ – so you’re automatically into a situation where you’re engaging with the products.

Who are the audiences they have in mind for these two campaigns though?

BT: I really like the Kitchens ad from a storytelling point of view: it communicates to a young audience, which is a change from their more family orientated image and, yes, mixing the ad with a music video is a clever touch that will make it more shareable with their audience. The link between the brand and youth culture is its success, but I wonder how effective it’ll be, as does it really show that audience the point of difference with Ikea?

SJ: Yes, I think it’s a killer insight and a great execution built around that. But it would be interesting to see if they have unpacked the idea in any other ways? Free party with every kitchen? In-store kitchen parties complete with band? Ambient kitchen installations?

Paul, you also selected for discussion the Anti-Design Festival, Neville Brody’s series of events that ran alongside the London Design Festival in October. What did you want to say about it?

PJ: I picked this because it was everything it wasn’t supposed to be and something that typifies ‘design circles’ at their worst. Brody is undoubtedly successful, but looking at his early career and his clients, who is he now to preach ‘anti-design’? The festival itself was hard to locate and ‘buzz on the door to enter’ is not the type of welcome you should expect from something ‘anti-establishment’. The ADF was anti-LDF, but it was still part of an event that, in my view, is a positive for London; a platform for brands, companies and individuals to set up exhibitions, workshops, lectures and express their creativity. The ADF should have looked more to the public and current happenings to put on a great event. For me, it was too close- knit and way too many elements lacked the ‘anti’ in anti-design.

SJ: Yes, I guess it depends on how you interpret the ‘anti-design’ concept, which in itself depends on your definition of design. I think anti-corporate stances in relation to design should be about democratising it, making it relevant in a wider social context. Design has huge power to affect positive social change, but has been pimped to corporate PLC to turn wants into needs and add value to stuff that is worthless, contributing to many of our most urgent social challenges. But as it stands, the ADF website, for example, feels elitist rather than democratic. It alienated me: too cryptic, impenetrable and irrelevant to anyone who is not a designer, and a particular sort of designer at that.

The main exhibition looks like a BA final art show trying to be controversial. What messages they do deliver are wrapped up in contradictions – I’m all for expression and pushing boundaries but this is just self-indulgent.This isn’t design or creativity: each has a message to deliver and this doesn’t.

SJ: Of course, the flip side of this beef relates to the constant battle that designers have in establishing the value of their work amongst clients, establishing design as a respected, essential element in developing business strategy and driving or manifesting innovation. So in this sense I’m not sure the ADF represented the design community very well.