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Creative highlighters

Bärbel Unckrich 2019-09-06

After stepping into the spotlight with such a terrific yet simple idea, Teresa Berude and Vera Ickert of DDB Germany in Dusseldorf don’t feel like the overlooked protagonists of their Stabilo campaign.

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The strong print ads bring to the fore talented women who stood in the shadow of successful men throughout their lives. The magic wand: an ordinary text highlighter in a vivid neon colour. With its help, the eye of the beholder falls immediately on mathematician Katharine Johnson, nuclear physicist Lise Meitner and President’s wife Edith Wilson, whose outstanding services to science and politics during their lifetime were eclipsed by those of their male peers.

The creative duo say the campaign sprung from a sense of the zeitgeist and a lucky knack for good timing. “The idea behind ‘Highlight the Remarkable’ comes straight from the product,” says senior copywriter Berude. “As 2018 was a year when the attention was on women, it quickly became clear that we needed to emphasise women and their history.”

The client immediately saw the campaign’s potential and was delighted that it centred 100% on the product. Certainly, without the Stabilo Boss, the idea would work neither visually nor in terms of content. The response was correspondingly positive – and not just at awards shows. The press and public enthusiastically took up the topic too.

The idea arose within the framework of the “Open Briefs” concept, with which DDB encourages all agency staff to generate outstanding creative work. “The briefs are deliberately drawn up by strategists, based on market and target group analyses and important customer issues,” explains senior art director Ickert. They are open to everyone, whether in creative, planning or accounts. “The process creates space for creativity, regardless of which team or department you belong to.”

After getting the green light for their campaign, the duo went in search of suitable candidates, ideally from the fields of pop culture, science and politics. The former did not make the cut, but science is represented twice, via Johnson and Meitner. An important criterion: “The better known the male counterpart and the events, the more relevant the new perspective on the woman’s role,” says Berude.

The duo felt it was important to break away from the usual feminist debates: the campaign should not be about “women against men”. That’s why the ads contain no accusations, but simply highlight the woman and her success story. “Everything else is at the most subtext or the reverse of the viewer’s learned narrative,” says Ickert.

Although the pair have made a strong gender statement with their campaign, they do not want to be typecast in that area. They support a broader concept of diversity. “Only when every employee is perceived as an individual, with their own weaknesses and strengths, can we overcome old patterns of thinking and therefore ways of acting,” they say. What’s required is a contemporary corporate culture.

Such a culture exists at DDB. The network is already ahead of many a competitor in terms of its approach to gender, equality and diversity. Not least with Wendy Clark, a female CEO at the forefront of global management, actively driving these issues. One concrete example is The Phyllis Project, launched two years ago: a worldwide support program for women in creative leadership positions. It’s named after copywriter Phyllis Kenner Robinson, who in the 1950s Bill Bernbach era was the agency’s first female chief copywriter.

Role models are important, and it sends a positive message when modern, self-confident women like Berude and Ickert take the stage, with their natural sense of inclusivity. “We are more enthusiastic about ideas than the minds in which they originated,” they confirm.

Neither do they favour traditional or digital media. In the case of the Stabilo campaign, the old school print medium was simply the best choice, not to mention the most logical. “After all, the Stabilo Boss is an analogue tool that is used primarily in printed media,” says Berude.

The pair say they tend to approach all their projects in this rational way. They don’t see themselves as “crazy artists, who are characterised by a certain look or spirit,” but rather as strategic creatives who look for the best solution and then enjoy focusing on the details from concept to implementation.

In addition to Stabilo, the duo works for almost all of DDB Dusseldorf’s clients, including Henkel, Deichmann and Miele. They’re also involved with new business. That should give them plenty of opportunities for outstanding creativity. But they remain cautious and down-to-earth. “Unfortunately you can never 100 per cent predict that a campaign will be as successful as this. We are working hard to achieve similar highlights in the near future, but everything always needs a bit of luck.

Bärbel Unckrich is the creativity editor at Horizont magazine and a juror at the Epica Awards.

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This article appears in Epica Book 32, published in September 2019, featuring all the winners and selected high-scoring entries from the previous year's awards.

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