180 Amsterdam, TBWAChiatDay Global Network

With its innovative print ads and daring outdoor displays, which included two real soccer players dangling on a giant billboard, adidas wins this year's coveted Client of the Year award.

Adidas' grand tally of four Gold, two Silver and two Bronze Pencils owes as much to Marshall McLuhan's famous dictum, 'The medium is the message,' as it does to the inspired pairing of TBWA Worldwide in the U.S. and 180 in Amsterdam. Both agencies are responsible for separate portions of the adidas global oeuvre, which embraces several different campaigns in many categories, including outdoor, innovative marketing, TV, print, design and collateral. The pairing came about as a result of adidas, desire to simplify and strengthen the message of its global advertising, once controlled by many numerous agencies in different countries.

The winning work is a mix of executions created separately by 180 and individual agencies in the TBWA network, many under the 'Forever Sports' themeline, as well as TV from adidas, new 'Impossible is nothing' manifesto, created by the 180TBWA collaboration. From TBWA Japan comes a much admired human billboard involving a ball and live players suspended by ropes and playing soccer 12 stories above ground in the middle of Tokyo and Osaka's trendy retail areas. TBWA China has an outdoor poster featuring an actual three-dimensional rock formation. 180 created a series of print and poster installations appearing in London, Dublin, and Paris, among other places and featuring paint-splattered portraits of individual players, such as England stars Jonny Wilkinson and Martin Johnson, along with the All Blacks, Jonah Lomu and Ritchie McCaw. Each execution carries a headline that offers an insight into the individual's performance. For example, the Wilkinson poster states: 'There's only one way to match him. Cloning.' Art directed by Stuart Brown and written by Peter McHugh, Giles Montgomery and Brad Roseberry, McHugh explains, 'In rugby, the more you respect someone, the harder you hit them. It's a sign of honor. So we set out to celebrate the physicality of the game, and demonstrate the impact that occurs in a cool, impactful way. We got all the big, hulking, brutish stars of New Zealand All Blacks together, covered them with acrylic paint and had them hit canvas-wrapped tackle bags.' These signed 'self-portraits' have now become a traveling art exhibit. In addition, there's a coffee-table book, a calendar, postcards and TV spots based on behind-the-scenes footage of the works in progress.

The amount of attention it got was fantastic, says McHugh. 'One of the great things about doing work for the UK market is that, at least when you're using athletes the entire country loves, the amount of media attention an advertising campaign gets is similar to a movie launch or an album release,' he says. London's Sun newspaper ran six 'pre-release' pages on a David Beckham/Jonny Wilkinson campaign, and the rugby 'Impact' campaign got the front and back covers of the Daily Telegraph. 'So it piques people's interest in the work even before it comes out,' says McHugh. 'One of the attractions was seeing the athletes behind the scenes' getting painted up, hitting canvas-wrapped tackle bags, taking great pride in the results. It was a marriage of media and creative, and the fact that the campaign kept coming back at you in different ways. First, there was news coverage of the 'making of.' Then came the art exhibit. Next, just as the Rugby World Cup was beginning, the outdoor was placed in impossible-to-avoid places, building wraps in the UK and Australia, the entire Piccadilly tube station in London. The players really jumped at the chance to participate and took pride in the results.'

The brand's new 'Impossible is Nothing' TV campaign from 180 Amsterdam and TBWAChiatDay/San Francisco, incorporated digitally-rendered historical footage of Muhammad Ali. 'Long Run' uses Leon Gast's original 16-mm film of Ali's legendary morning training session in Zaire in 1974. But the people who accompanied him on his run have been digitally replaced by a current generation of adidas athletes, including swimmer Ian Thorpe, runner Haile Gebrselassie, soccer-players David Beckham and Zinedine Zidane, basketball-player Tracy McGrady and Ali's daughter, Laila.

TBWA's Lee Clow, explains how the collaboration came about: 'People in both agencies already knew each other and had worked together, and we got a call out of the blue from 180, who had been asked by adidas to deliver a global capability. Everyone believed in the commitment, that we have to do great advertising for a great brand, because we're competing with one of the great brands on the planet. So we've had that brief from day one.'

But the reality, says Clow, is that it has taken longer than expected. 'The client had never worked with a single-minded resource before, so they had to learn how to sign up for a single mission and idea,' he says. 'Plus, 180 and TBWA had to get to know each other.' Until the relationship was up and running, both agencies continued producing work, hence the ongoing 'Forever Sports' campaign. 'Adidas was looking for an understanding of sports that would give them more emotional traction with consumers and we came up with this manifesto that declared that 'Impossible is mainly a state of mind,' says Clow. 'It's really nothing, because every year there's going to be someone who breaks the last record and does something and runs faster. That's the spirit of athletes. This resonated with them and gave us the focal point for the work. The one thing that's important is the manifesto was the beginning of the Impossible is nothing idea. It's not a slogan; it's an emotional idea. All of this is just a brand proposition we have to deliver.'

Globally, says Clow, every country comes up with its own solutions on bringing that to life locally. 'We have a guy in Tokyo who did the soccer wall, we have Chuck McBride in the U.S. and Peter McHugh, who watches over all of Europe. Our job is to deliver the results in the U.S., and counsel adidas on how to make the brand much more relevant and cooler in this country. The reason adidas hired us is to make sure kids understand that we're not just an imitator of Nike and a basketball brand, we're a truly authentic deep brand.'

As for results, 'The client is already feeling very upbeat about the fact that the brand is taking on a point of view around the world,' says Clow. 'Ultimately, we have to wait until sales go up in the U.S. It's a two-year job. But this thing has re-vitalized the company. They just had their big sales meeting in Florida and they had 30 athletes that were part of the brand and these people left cheering, and celebrating what the brand really is. There's a company passion for 'Hey, now we stand for something to build on,' which is one of measurements of this kind of branding solution.' And according to McHugh, 'The best results, for me, are when people start stealing your posters, and that's exactly what happened here. In-store posters, were snatched from the walls. Bus shelters were smashed, and posters taken. People are having their pictures taken next to them in the Piccadilly tube station. As one tube driver remarked, 'Can somebody remove these adidas rugby posters? People are taking photos with flash, and it's dangerous!'

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