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DMA Awards 2020: Winners' Series Campaigns - Inside the Work that Won


The first of our three-part Winners’ Series took place on 25 November.

Stephen Maher, DMA Chair and CEO of MBA, introduced and led the live online celebration, which uncovered 10 Gold winners and one Grand Prix contender across our Campaign categories. After each unveiling, a panel of DMA Awards Judges went under the bonnet, debating and dissecting the boldest, most brilliant work in our industry.

The afternoon explored the trends that the winning campaigns reflect in our new world of data and marketing, plus what got these campaigns over the line to Gold, including the values of brand authenticity and social empathy; how to bridge creative thinking with hard data; the advantages of having constraints such as a tight budget; the difference between risk and bravery; and why Awards are, now more than ever, so important.

Maher began by saying that the Awards enshrine the essence of intelligent marketing, of responsible customer-first principles, of exceptional creativity, strategy, and results.

The first campaign on the Grand Prix Shortlist was announced from Wunderman Thompson and BT Sport. Read on for a recap of all our winners, and our interactive panel discussions that featured:

  • Charlotte Langley, Brand and Communications Director, Bloom and Wild
  • Nicky Bullard, Chief Creative Officer, MRM
  • Phil Ricketts, Wholesale Commercial Director, Royal Mail MarketReach
  • Firas Khnaisser, Head of Decisioning, Standard Life Aberdeen
  • Tony Miller, Marketing Director, WW (formerly Weight Watchers)

Round 1 Winners’ Announcement

Best Integrated Campaign

  • Gold: MullenLowe Group UK, Mediahub UK & National Health Service England
  • Silver: Klarna
  • Bronze: MRM London & No More

Best Launch Campaign

  • Gold: Essence, Recipe, DCM Studios & BT
  • Silver: M&C Saatchi & Invesco
  • Bronze: MRM London & Macmillan Cancer Support

Best Brand Building Campaign

  • Gold: Klarna
  • Silver: TMW Unlimited & Simple Skincare
  • Bronze: OLIVER, U-Studio & Rexona, Unilever

Round 1 Panel Discussion

Maher kicked off the first debate, pointing out that the drive for authenticity and honesty seems to be an underlying factor in a lot of the award-winning campaigns. Will this become more important in the future? he asked.

Miller said definitely, explaining that consumers are savvy and can see through brands trying to portray a certain persona. If something seems forced or fake, they’ll recognise that and move on to the next brand. Authenticity is key, he said, and it’s grounded in insight and data.

Langley agreed, saying that, in the past, advertising was about creating an environment that executives felt people ought to aspire to. Now, it’s about what people are responding to, things that reflect their lives and show brands understand them. When asked if this is an effect of the pandemic, she replied there was a general trend already, though the coronavirus has accelerated this kind of thinking.

Maher moved on to ask the group if they agreed that the concept of creative conflict works well. In other words, the idea of creating an internal struggle to turn something on its head or make a juxtaposition.

Bullard said that she loved the ‘We Are Nurses’ campaign, because it did exactly that. We always called our nurses angels and put them on a pedestal, and during the pandemic, this has become even more powerful, she said. The campaign communicated that, actually, it's not about being remarkable: we're all ordinary, we're just doing extraordinary things. It flipped the astonishing bit to show real people and nurses.

Then Maher invited a listener to ask a question: has the coronavirus had an impact on the number and quality of entries? Are we seeing more entries built around brand purpose and authenticity?

Bullard said that for her personally, 2020 is one of the strongest years for entries. As far as filling out entry forms, we bang on about it every year, she explained. Any other awards show is all about the case film, but not this show: it's about the detail. It’s about looking at that 50-word summary, which takes ages to reduce, and making it potent, capturing, and spelt correctly.

Maher said that we mustn't diminish the importance of the Bronze’s and the Silver's. Getting on the shortlist is incredible, getting a Bronze and Silver is amazing, and getting a Gold is extraordinary, he said. But what makes a Gold a Gold?

“The situation we don't want to find ourselves in is where we're trying to create the entry while doing the judging,” Khnaisser said, explaining that both the quality of the work and the quality of the entries are important. He explained that a Gold has to tick all the boxes, showing strength in creativity, strategy, and results. We need to be able to take it back to the industry as a case study to say, this is what good actually looks like.

Every year, you see a step up in the thought and detail that goes into the entries, Maher added. From a judging perspective, we raise the standards in terms of the application of strategy, creativity, and data. To win is a fantastic achievement, he said. The amount of creativity and work going on across the industry, despite the challenges of the pandemic, is a credit to everybody.

Round 2 Winners’ Announcement:

Best Customer Retention and Loyalty Programme

  • Gold: Table19 and Sainsbury’s
  • Silver: RAPP & Virgin Media
  • Bronze: Go Inspire Group & Pets at Home Group

Best Customer Acquisition Campaign

  • Gold: Wunderman Thompson & BT Sport
  • Silver: Klarna
  • Bronze: MRM London & Macmillan Cancer Support

Best Customer Journey

  • Gold: MullenLowe Group UK, Mediahub UK & National Health Service England

Round 2 Panel Discussion

Maher noted that, in the above submissions, the winners talked about having pressures on budgets and on having to maximise value out of the investment. Is that a blessing in disguise? he asked. Is there sometimes a liberty in a tight budget?

Khnaisser said that this is something seen across all entries: more targeted communication on the back of ‘there isn't that much spend’ and having to make it go further. He used the campaign from Wunderman Thompson and BT Sport as an example. “They were working, I think, at a third of the budget they had previously, had really high targets, and had to really deliver the goods – and they delivered it,” he said.

He continued to say that when he worked in the Middle East, he used to be shocked when people would tell him they're in some great campaigns coming out of Saudi Arabia, because many things are banned there. “But actually, having that kind of restriction allows creators to really bring everything they have to the table,” he explained. “And I think we've seen that this year.”

Maher agreed that's a very good point. “It's not all about big budget,” he said. “There's loads of brilliant examples.” He then moved on to ask, how important is culture effectiveness (great creative ideas, insights, and results), as opposed to driving the effectiveness of a campaign (the stars aligning to develop a great long-term client-agency relationship)?

Ricketts said that how teams come together to work on common goals is really important. “It's the ingredients that make the output,” he said. “It's the holy grail in terms of how we deliver the best communications to our customers and engage them in the best way.”

Equally, in the industry we talk a lot about when effectiveness doesn't work, such as excessive frequency of communications, Ricketts explained. “Consumers are losing trust in advertising messages,” he said. The environment we work in moves and a constant challenge organisations face is how to align, develop, support, and encourage this type of innovation and collaboration to get the best results from investments and communications.

When asked how to ensure the entire environment mends itself to reflect this, Miller said that it’s about real communication, having an open discussion and an agile atmosphere where you can respond to results and performance quickly. “It's about bringing agencies on board as a true partner,” he said. “It’s not ‘us’ and ‘them’: it's a true collaboration of forces between agencies and clients.” In terms of changing channels, Miller added, if one channel isn't performing over another, you need to be able to swap budgets around.

Maher moved on to the final subject of bravery: risk. He used the example of writing the football script for the season (Wunderman Thompson and BT Sport). It’s a big risk but a fundamental part of developing powerful creative work, he said.

Bullard replied that there's a difference between risk and bravery. The BT Sport piece was a very brave piece of work, she said, but even though their budgets are stripped back, through using all their assets – data partners, AI, PR – they de-risked it.

The NHS campaign was riskier, Bullard argued. To begin with, there are sensitivities around using real patients. From a production point of view, you don't know what you're getting into and, from a product point of view, you can't control it, she explained. “I think where they got to was so successful, and so absolutely right for the brief.”

Langley added that there's a point of de-risking if something is really right for your customers, and if it has your brand DNA all over it. The campaign from Wunderman Thompson and BT Sport was bold, but they knew exactly how their audience was going to respond, she explained. “That's what made it really clever for me: they absolutely knew what buttons to press with their audience, and that this was going to have a great pick up in an organic and therefore less budget costly way.”

The campaign from Table19 and Sainsbury’s was another example Langley used, saying it collided together a gaming approach with a quite mundane supermarket loyalty card and came up with something that was really effective. “Sometimes the creativity lies in the constraints,” she said.

Maher said that what struck him was the bravery to do a Christmas campaign before Christmas.

The discussion then transitioned into how the pandemic has accelerated long-term aims, such as Thoughtful Marketing. Has anything changed because of the pandemic alone? Maher asked.

“I've seen innovation really work hard,” Miller said. “When you're working with constricted budgets, you have to think outside the box.”

Usually, Judges would see more tear-jerky campaigns, Khnaisser added. “A lot of the messaging was quite optimistic this year, which is also really welcome,” he said. “The last thing we need is something that's going to weigh us down even more.”

“You can't keep us down,” Bullard agreed, adding that she felt very inspired coming out of the judging room this year. “The work was brilliant.”

Round 3 Winners' Announcement:

Best Performance Marketing

  • Gold: Crafted & Medecins Sans Frontieres UK
  • Silver: April Six and Scania
  • Bronze: RAPP & Virgin Media

Best Thoughtful Marketing Campaign

  • Gold: Gravity Road & Sainsbury’s
  • Silver: MRM London & No More
  • Bronze: Red Brick Road & Ambitious About Autism

Best B2B

  • Gold: True & ROCKWOOL
  • Silver: April Six and Scania
  • Bronze: MRM London & D&AD

Best B2C

  • Gold: RAPP & PayPal
  • Silver: MullenLowe Group UK, Mediahub UK & National Health Service England
  • Bronze: Klarna

Round 3 Panel Discussion

In the above work, Maher pointed out a clear sense of empathy and understanding around diversity and inclusion. In terms of winning and the success of these campaigns, how important is this? he asked.

Certainly, empathy has become more important this year, Langley said. Beyond this, brands and marketers have been forced to confront their roles and ask themselves how they can be useful and make this time bearable for customers.

When people's lives change drastically, some of the things that can stay constant are actually linked to brands, she explained. “This has made us all stop and think, actually, we can do things that people respond to and make a positive difference in their lives.”

In terms of diversity and inclusion, Langley pointed out that we've talked a lot about the pandemic, but this is also the year where the Black Lives Matter movement has really gained pace. “It has been really powerful in a year when people are taking stock anyway,” she said.

Sometimes people say, ‘brands are just posturing’ or ‘brands are just doing what they think they should,’ but it goes much deeper than this. “A lot of people listening,” Langley explained. “We have not only an opportunity, but a responsibility to try and bring forward voices that might not have been heard and do our bit in shifting the culture.”

Miller added that "empathy and authenticity go hand in hand. To truly resonate with audiences, a brand’s messaging has to be right for them,” he said.

Referring to the ‘Signsbury's’ campaign, which aimed to raise awareness about people who’re hard-of-hearing and help the public better communicate with them, Maher asked how difficult this is to do from a creative perspective.

This campaign was very clever, Bullard said, explaining that the brand contained it to one of their stores, meaning they could pilot it and, fingers crossed, will push it out and scale it up. As Sainsbury's is for people from every different walk of life, she said, it's about someone making a point to include a large audience who often feel excluded from society.

It wasn’t a token gesture; they took it upon themselves to make a real difference and went as far as training all their staff and doing the online tutorials, Bullard continued. She added that this makes a big difference during the pandemic, when people are masked up and you can't read their faces or lips.

Maher steered the conversation to the campaign from MullenLowe Group UK, Mediahub UK, and National Health Service England, which so far won awards in a few categories. Does this surprise anyone? he asked.

Langley said it wasn’t surprising at all, explaining that their above-the-line work had a compelling, authentic tone, but still had that presence to be in the out-of-home space. They also didn’t neglect the performance drive at the back end of this – their CRM. Through having tailored messaging and visuals for different segments of applicants, they really delivered on recruitment, she said.

Maher shifted the discussion to humour, saying that for good reasons, we’ve seen less this year, but it’s a massive ingredient to the success of many marketing campaigns. Is this year unusual or will humour become less important going forward? he asked.

We all need light relief in our lives at the best of times, and especially now, Miller said, but to make this successful, humour needs to align to the brand and its USP. That’s what the campaign from True and ROCKWOOL did so well, he explained. Humour isn’t something you can force at all or it will fall flat.

Maher brought up that a lot of these campaigns used AI effectively. Are we going to see different kinds of marketing technology advances in the future? he asked.

Every time there’s a blunder that goes out into the media about data being used in an inappropriate way, Khnaisser said, people are waking up to the fact we need to review these incidents and the data underlying them, because actually, data is people.

As people, we have our biases that are carried into data, he explained. He used the Black Lives Matter movement getting big tech companies to roll back on surveillance technology as example, saying this is very welcome, because that’s disadvantaging a lot of ethnic groups and pulling communities apart. “It’s very important to understand that the ethical responsibility lies on our shoulders,” he said.

There are some great examples this year of using personalisation in a very powerful way, Maher said. Is this something we’ll see more of? he asked.

Personalisation needs to be used in a careful and contextual way, Ricketts said. For customers, the question is about finding a middle ground between being ‘spooky’ and impersonal.

Though customers are very understanding that brands need to use data to deliver messages and content at the right time and add value for communications, he explained, as marketers we have to be responsible in how we use it and understand that, when we get it wrong, consumers quickly lose trust in our competence.

From a messaging perspective, Ricketts said receiving more relevant and personalised communications will only improve.

How can we bridge inspirational creative thinking with hard data? Maher asked.

Bullard said that, personally, if she receives something without a fantastic piece of data, she’ll push it away and say, what are you basing this on? Even the best human insight, she explained, has to be based on data from somewhere. If the foundation of your data isn’t right, Bullard continued, you're dead in the water from start.

Though data might not be the absolute heart of where your campaign ends up creatively, it has to form the basis. She added that being friends with your data team is important and highlighted the common misconception of ‘data geeks’ and ‘cool creatives.’ “There’s lots of ‘cool’ people in data and lots of ‘geeks’ in creative roles. To facilitate data and creative coming together, we all need to work together, she said.

Khnaisser expanded on this, saying that he has a data role but is also a musician and artist, so he sees the separation between these worlds as fictitious. Of course, we're celebrating creativity and craft, he said, but you can also be creative in your use of data.

Maher agreed that data is just another creative form, before moving on to recap the Gold winners and reveal what campaign made the Grand Prix Shortlist.

Round 4 Winners’ Announcement

  • The first finalist is the campaign from Wunderman Thompson and BT Sport

Round 4 Panel Discussion

Maher began the last debate by posing the question, why do awards matter to the industry?

It's an inspiring opportunity to bring together lots of people from different industries and agencies in the marketing community, so we can learn about and celebrate success, Ricketts explained, as well as to take back new brilliant ideas and content into the work environment.

Maher agreed that Awards create an incredibly rich databank, adding that they’re used to provide a valuable benchmark for best practice.

He asked how difficult it is to get to the level of a Grand Prix contender.

Bullard said it's less about barriers and more about pushing to find the opportunities and open doors. Wunderman Thompson and BT Sport did exactly that: “they looked at was what they had and used every single tool.” That expression of ‘you just can't write this,’ is a human insight, she explained, not a data insight. They could in fact write the script, because they’ve got the data partnerships.

They ticked every other box as well, Bullard said, praising their creativity for being off the scale and, despite having a budget cut, the results being a huge uplift in subscriptions.

She added that while everybody wants to win awards, that's never where you start: you begin with wanting to do the best piece of work that you possibly can.

Are boldness and innovation what separate a potential Grand Prix from a Gold? Maher asked.

Absolutely, Miller said. When it comes to strategy, creativity, and data, there’s a lot of strong contenders. “But you need something that is going to really just slightly tip it over the edge.”

Langley emphasised that connecting the three criteria – strategy, creativity, and results – is also essential and that, indisputably, the Grand Prix winner will have achieved this.

If the results don't come up in the first paragraph, Maher added, the campaign, even though it might do well, probably won’t get there. All elements are vitally important, he said, but it's ultimately about the impact that the work has in the real world.

Maher wrapped up the event by recapping some of the trends discussed and offering his gratitude and applause to everyone involved.

A huge congratulations to all our winners and thank you to our contestants, sponsors, partners, panellists, and Judges. We hope to see you at our next Awards events:

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