Advertiser of the Year 2014: Diageo

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The drinks giant's advertising certainly didn't want for style this year. But arguably outshining even David Beckham and Jude Law was a rather lower-profile band of sophisticates from the Congo

You might think that Diageo has an advantage over its competitors because of the depth of its pockets and the breadth of its portfolio of brands. But, in 2014, the drinks giant really pushed the boundaries of its marketing campaigns, experimenting with short films, experiential marketing and a more content-led approach. It did all of this while maintaining consistent quality across its stable of brands – no mean feat.

Diageo started the year with the launch of "Sapeurs" – a big, bold TV and cinema ad for Guinness, created by Abbott Mead Vickers BBDO. The spot used real men from the Congolese fashion subculture Sapeurs – the Society of Elegant Persons of the Congo.

These blue-collar workers graft by day in Brazzaville, the capital of the Republic of the Congo. But, at night, they shed their work clothes and dress in stylish attire, refusing to let their spirits be dragged down by their circumstances. The voiceover says: "In life, you cannot always choose what you do, but you can always choose who you are." The ad was accompanied by an online documentary about the men.

The sumptuous and engaging campaign picked up more than 45 creative awards, including seven at the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity (two silvers and five bronzes), a gold and two silvers at the British Arrows, a highly commended at the Campaign Big Awards and the Grand Prix at the Clio Awards.

Later in the year, Guinness released its "made of black" campaign across Africa – an attempt to reposition the brand for a younger generation. The energetic ad, also created by AMV BBDO, featured a range of young African performers, artists and creatives expressing their "made of black" attitude, set to Kayne West’s Black Skinhead.

Guinness also released four pieces of content this summer to rally the UK ahead of the autumn international rugby matches, of which the brand was a sponsor. They celebrated four stars from the four nations, including Jonny Wilkinson.

Of course, Guinness is well-known for its original, creative advertising, but Diageo was not a one-brand wonder in 2014. Its other properties also set the standard this year, making use of the internet’s insatiable appetite for content and opportunity for longer films.

To promote Johnnie Walker’s high-end Blue Label, it shunned TV for a six-and-a-half-minute online film, directed by Jake Scott and created by Anomaly New York. The spot starred the actors Jude Law and Giancarlo Giannini (of Casino Royale and Quantum Of Solace fame).

It starts with the two men sitting on a yacht drinking Johnnie Walker Blue Label. Law’s character proposes a wager that, if he wins, will secure him ownership of his friend’s boat. The film then chronicles his attempt to win the boat.

Not content to leave it there, Diageo struck an innovative e-commerce partnership with Mr Porter, where people can buy the clothes featured in the film.

It also created an experiential event, "Symphony in Blue", which used lights, dancers and musicians to bring to life the whisky’s six flavours: fresh, fruity, malty, woody, spicy and smoky. Guests were served the whisky over 10,000-year-old ice and breathed in a "cloud" made from the whisky. The activity was crafted by Done & Dusted and Bompas & Parr.

At the time, James Thompson, Diageo’s global managing director of reserve brands, said: "Creating experiences is how a lot of brands will communicate in the future, particularly luxury brands."

Just as the year drew to a close, Diageo released another celebrity-packed ad to launch Haig Club, the whisky brand it de­veloped with David Beckham and his agent, Simon Fuller. "Welcome" was created by Adam & Eve/DDB and directed by Guy Ritchie (who makes a cameo as a fisherman). It features Beckham toasting a whisky glass with friends in the Scottish Highlands.

While Guinness, Johnnie Walker Blue Label and Haig Club were the big ads of the year, other brands ran campaigns as well. Smirnoff kicked off a £15 million new campaign by 72andSunny Amsterdam across Europe. It is aimed at millennials and uses the strapline: "Filter the unnecessary, keep the good stuff."

Other work included campaigns for Captain Morgan, Bushmills and Baileys’ sponsorship of the Women’s Prize for Fiction.

Diageo’s consistently strong advertising, genuinely innovative approach and distinct brand personalities prove that a big cor­poration can also do big creativity.

Recent winners: Unilever (2013); Adidas (2012); Stella Artois (2011); John Lewis Partnership (2010); COI (2009)

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