Brand purpose dominates at the Epica Awards

Four of this year’s seven Grand Prix awards went to projects promoting inclusion and gender equality, with Microsoft, Ikea and Mercedes-Benz among the winners

Now in its 33rd year, the Epica Awards is the only design and advertising awards scheme judged solely by journalists. Judging took place in Amsterdam this week, with CR joining a team of jurors to select seven Grand Prix winners from over 3,000 entries. 

As always, the entries included some outstanding and surprising work from around the world – ranging from branded documentaries to provocative print campaigns, visual identities, PR and blockbuster spots.

The Film Grand Prix went to Mercedes-Benz for its epic ad about Bertha Benz – the wife and business partner of the brand’s founder Carl Benz. In 1888, Benz became the first person to take a long-distance drive when she travelled 100 kilometres in a fuel-powered carriage invented by her husband. The ad celebrates her determination and confidence in his invention and combines lavish production design with a powerful use of music and sound.

The film faced some strong competition from Libresse’s much-lauded Viva La Vulva and another Mercedes-Benz spot, In the Long Run (which picked up four gold awards), but was praised for its powerful message and compelling retelling of a fascinating tale from the brand’s past. 

The PR Grand Prix was awarded to a subversive campaign criticising the luxury goods tax imposed on sanitary products in Germany. Agency Scholz & Friends worked with tampon brand The Female Company to create an illustrated book filled with tampons, allowing the startup to circumvent the 19% tax rate that would usually be imposed on its products. (Books, in comparison, are classed as daily necessities, and taxed at just 7%.)

The campaign was a huge success – an initial print run of 10,000 copies sold out within a day, and the project was picked up by influencers and media companies around the world. The tax was finally abolished earlier this month following a parliamentary vote and tampons will be taxed at 7% as of January. 

McCann Tel Aviv picked up the Design Grand Prix for Ikea ThisAbles – a campaign that saw the brand create a series of hacks to make its products more accessible for people with disabilities.

The designs – which can be added to furniture from sofas to lamps – are now available in 127 countries and Ikea has also made 3D design files available online.

McCann New York’s Changing the Game campaign for Microsoft – which promoted the brand’s adaptive controller – picked up the Responsibility Grand Prix, a prize awarded to projects with social impact. A moving film released during the Super Bowl highlighted what the controller’s release meant to gamers who had previously had to make do with their own workarounds and hacks.

Ikea and Microsoft’s award wins mark a major step forward in product design, with mainstream brands finally beginning to cater to the millions of disabled people who have long been overlooked. It’s unusual to see Epica’s Responsibility Grand Prix given to a promotional campaign for a consumer product, but with its Super Bowl spot, Microsoft and McCann helped bring the issue of accessible products to a mainstream audience, and warmed hearts in the process.

In a year that has seen several media brands launching campaigns to highlight the value of print journalism, the Print Grand Prix was a timely winner. A joint campaign for Swedish convenience store chain Pressbyran and the Expressen newspaper, Without the Whole Picture aims to remind consumers of the importance of photojournalism, with ads that show some of the most famous news images ever taken, but with key elements removed and replaced with text explaining the importance of having photographers capturing events on the ground. The ads were created to mark World Press Freedom Day and to raise awareness of the threats that photojournalists face.

With so many brands and agencies now investing in purpose-driven campaigns, it’s unsurprising to see so many awards given to spots tackling social issues. But there were plenty of golds given to more light-hearted campaigns, from budget store REMA1000’s ad, which highlights the dangers of smart appliances to a fun musical spot for Icelandic ready meal brand Saarioinen, and Italian shoe label Bianco’s charming love story The Lift, which has racked up almost 4 million views on YouTube.

The Alternative Grand Prix – given to projects which fall outside of traditional mediums – was awarded to Wunderman Thompson Paris for an inventive low-budget stunt to promote Le Drugstore Parisien. The agency gathered up dozens of GPS-enabled electric scooters and parked them outside the store overnight in an attempt to draw passing shoppers, and offered discounts to people who parked their scooters in the same spot. The campaign resulted in a 50% increase in traffic as well as coverage in local media.

In a third win for Germany, national rail operator Deutsche Bahn picked up the Digital Grand Prix for No Need to Fly Around the World in Germany – a brilliant campaign that made clever use of image recognition and social media targeting to convince Germans to holiday at home. Ogilvy used Getty images and an AI algorithm to find places in Germany that resemble popular tourist destinations – from London Bridge to Arizona and Vancouver.

Images of the destinations and their German lookalikes were placed side by side in automated ads that displayed real-time ticket prices to each destination, showing travellers that they could find Insta-worthy sights without ever stepping on a plane (and save Euros in the process). It’s a brilliant idea – one that taps into the growing concern over the environmental impact of flying, as well as the rise of Instagram tourism – and resulted in a 24% increase in revenue for Deutsche Bahn.

See all of this year’s Epica Award winners – including bronze, silver and gold awards – at winners.epica-awards.com

GRAPHIC DESIGNER

London, EC3R

SENIOR DESIGNER

Guildford, Surrey