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Special Group advertisement for Tourism NZ (Photo: Supplied)
Special Group advertisement for Tourism NZ (Photo: Supplied)

BusinessMay 7, 2021

A New Zealand indie agency just got named the best in the world

Special Group advertisement for Tourism NZ (Photo: Supplied)
Special Group advertisement for Tourism NZ (Photo: Supplied)

Global advertising is a highly competitive industry dominated by giant well-resourced conglomerates. But a small independent New Zealand agency is taking them on – and the world is taking notice, reports Michael Andrew.

Apart from a significant fee, advertising can often be a thankless task. Despite the ostentatiousness and vibrancy of the campaigns that gild our magazines, billboards and screens, average consumers often have no idea where they came from, or who made them. Our focus is typically drawn to the subject of the advertisement, not the agency in the background.

Because of this obscurity, not many people will know that some of the world’s most acclaimed and effective advertisements over the past year have been made by one small New Zealand agency. However, they’ve certainly been recognised within the industry.

Last night, Auckland-based Special Group was named the “Global Creative Agency of the Year” and “Global Independent Agency of the Year” by one of the world’s most prominent advertising publications – the UK’s Campaign. It’s the first time ever that a New Zealand advertising agency has achieved the accolade, which Special Group earned through the likes of its Super Bowl commercials with Cardi B, its work for Tourism NZ, which it took to 17 countries, and its voting campaign in which overseas New Zealanders were encouraged to “meddle” in the general election through a Russian front man.

Special group ad for Uber Eats (Photo: Supplied)

The agency triumphed over some formidable competition: the other finalists were massive agencies such as BBH from Singapore, The Brooklyn Brothers from the US, Mother from London and adam&eveDDB – one of the largest in the UK.

According to Special Group co-founder and CEO Tony Bradbourne, the advertising industry is typically full of awards, but this was particularly significant considering the power imbalance between the small independent agencies and the giant multinational networks with their massive budgets. 

”To win a global award of this scale and prestige, from such a revered and established institution, against some of the biggest advertising firms in the world, is certainly worth celebrating,” he said.

“For too long we have been dominated by international conglomerates, and now we’ve been able to unanimously prove that New Zealand creativity shines on the world stage – alongside other creative industries like film and our music.”

On the April 19 episode of The Spinoff’s media podcast The Fold, Duncan Greive talks to Special Group founder and CEO Tony Bradbourne about the changing world of advertising, going global, and making a Superbowl ad. Subscribe and listen to The Fold via Apple PodcastsSpotify or your favourite podcast provider.

According to Campaign, Special Group was also recognised for its performance during Covid-19, expanding to Sydney and Los Angeles and “winning 40 new pieces of business including UberEats in North America and Canada”.

The agency now employs 160 staff across four offices and has expanded its remit from advertising and design to now include media and PR.

While Bradbourne said New Zealand creativity is making an increasingly vivid mark on the world, he agreed that it was hard for advertisers to be recognised by the general public. “If a Kiwi played in the Super Bowl, everyone would know. But when you make the world’s best commercial at the Super Bowl, most people have no idea who did it.”

To those in New Zealand advertising, the award represents a boost to New Zealand’s increasing prominence in the global industry.

Lee Lowndes, general manager of Daylight Creative (sister studio of the Spinoff) and ex group business director at Colenso BBDO and The Monkeys AU, said the award was a remarkable achievement, not only because Special Group is a New Zealand agency but because it is independent, unlike its multi-national network competitors.

“The fact they’re independently owned and have managed to balance exceptional growth over the last 18 months while delivering an outstanding creative product for their clients is huge.”

While there are numerous advertising magazines around the world, Lowndes said Campaign had particular prestige within the industry as a long-running publication with considerable influence. A New Zealand company winning the magazine’s award was a big deal, she said.

“A Kiwi startup on the same stage as global heavy-hitting networks from around the world is testament to the creative brilliance we’re seeing out of New Zealand at the moment.”

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