DDB Group crowned Agency of the Year ~ agency laser-focused on big, powerful creative ideas

DDB Group crowned Agency of the Year ~ agency laser-focused on big, powerful creative ideas

It’s been a year of highs for DDB Group Aotearoa, an agency laser-focused on delivering big, powerful creative ideas. Winning major awards, clocking up enviable new business wins and hiring some of the region’s most talented hasn’t gone unnoticed, resulting in the agency being crowned Campaign Brief NZ Agency of the Year.


Convincing Apple iPhone users to make the switch to Samsung, removing gender bias from our search engines and helping Macca’s to speak the language of late-night cravers, DDB Group Aotearoa NZ soared well above the long white cloud to deliver creative solutions that broke the ceiling for its clients.

According to DDB Group Aotearoa NZ Chief Creative Officer Matty Burton, bold creative ideas move businesses, grows brands, increase awareness, drives preference, create desire, body slams fame and, most importantly, moves people.

“We invest in the kind of creativity that turns people’s heads and doesn’t bore them to death with yet another unnoticed piece of rubbish polluting our eyeballs,” he says. “Because as humans, we’re very bloody good at blocking things out that annoy us. Advertising is one of those things and studies suggest that over 95% of all of it is completely wasted. Because so much of it is so bloody boring and just makes too much sense.”

The CCO reveals his creative team loves the illogical, crazy, non- predictable, story-loving, food-craving, shelter-obsessed humans that we all are and hence likes to cater for them.

And said humans, it would seem, loved DDB Group Aotearoa NZ back. The agency certainly turned heads and industry award show juries observed. DDB Group Aotearoa NZ won accolades left, right and centre. In 2023, the agency was named Spikes Asia New Zealand Agency of the Year, Effie APAC Awards Agency of the Year and Shots Asia Pacific Agency of the Year. The agency also picked up countless medals at Axis, Best Awards, Cannes Lions and The Immortal Awards.

DDB Group crowned Agency of the Year ~ agency laser-focused on big, powerful creative ideas

DDB Group’s Gary Steele, Priya Patel and Matty Burton

In Burton’s opinion, award shows are important because the business is about creating fame for clients, helping to build desire and mental availability for brands.

He explains: “That can sound pretty simple, but it is easy to get lost in meetings and decks and feedback loops and money and fear and everything else that comes with the territory. To remember to keep things simple, and to use our power of creativity, needs a constant reminder. I guess that’s why awards exist and are so prevalent. It means when we are winning them our work is standing out, it’s passing that first test of even being noticed in what has become a wasteland of very ordinary advertising desperately trying to gain our attention.”

In 2023, DDB Group Aotearoa NZ enjoyed strong organic growth across many of its existing clients. Its new DDB Group Social function won projects for New World, Lion, Sealord, The Warehouse and Volkswagen, to name a few. Other new clients to join the agency roster included Live Ocean, ACR Coffee, Sunkist, World Vision, Dairy NZ and Ryman’s.

Says DDB Group Aotearoa NZ CEO Priya Patel: “We’re really pleased that DDB Group finished 2023 ahead of the previous year. It’s a great result in a tough environment and requires huge effort across many clients and across many different specialisms. We never take this success for granted and we’re very much focused on 2024 – and how to be even better partners to our clients.”

Reflecting on how the agency’s leadership team supports each other, Patel says they tend to keep things simple: “We hang out together as much as we can, and we laugh a lot – mostly at ourselves and our height deficiencies. And, we usually have a lot of carb heavy food around to avoid any hanger-driven engagements.”

In terms of style, she adds: “We’re not hierarchical and this means we are very open and honest with each other. I don’t think any of us will ever die wondering what the others’ think. And that applies across the entire exec team. Ultimately, we have a shared ambition to make the best and most effective work for our clients and so it’s much easier to support each other when we’re all pushing for the same thing.”

Whilst the leadership team sets the tone and the standards, the culture, Patel says, belongs to everyone: “We have over 200 talented and nice humans who make us what we are and one of the great things about working at a legacy business like DDB, is that far cleverer humans have come before us. So, we also steal with pride.

“We’re all hardcore fans of our founder Bill Bernbach. He said: ‘An idea can turn to dust or magic, depending on the talent that rubs against it’. And our culture is about giving people the opportunities and space to bring their magic.”

She also points to DDB Group’s Chairman Emeritus, Keith Reinhard who codified the agency’s values: “He wrote Four Freedoms that enable a creative culture to thrive – the Freedom to Fail, the Freedom from Fear, the Freedom from Chaos and the Freedom to Be; and those principles still guide and inspire how we behave today.”

DDB Group crowned Agency of the Year ~ agency laser-focused on big, powerful creative ideas

Last year, DDB Group Aotearoa NZ integrated its creative department across the different business units, bringing a diverse skill set and, most importantly, more fun. The agency added some talent at the top of the tree, bringing in ex Global Creative Director of Meta and Instagram Pablo Jimenez.

Before the past eight years heading up Insta and Meta, Jimenez worked under Mark Tuttsell at Leo Burnett and was based in Chicago – but helped out on anything digital from the network.

Says Patel: “People are our most important asset, so we try to attract and retain the most talented, diverse, passionate and fun people in the industry.”

In 2023, the agency hired creative team Jack Wadham and Karla Tarr and promoted Veronica Copestake to creative director, Mitch Young to lead business partner and Hanna Pettit to business partner.

One of DDB Group Aotearoa’s most awarded creative directors was also promoted to executive creative director. Rory McKechnie first joined DDB in 2010 and has won more than 100 international and local awards during his time at the agency.

While the world was busy going through a technological revolution, DDB Group’s design department went through an evolution of its own. Its team of 15 motion, digital, UX and graphic designers, helmed by Head of Design Dean Pomfrett, unified under a creative umbrella with an agenda to be more integrated with its creative department.

Inspiring his team to think differently and take risks, Burton admits the creative department is a bit like a circus and creatives needs to feel like there’s a safety net.

He explains: “It takes more than one person to hold the net up and I’m very lucky to have people like Gary, Rory, ECD Haydn Kerr and all the creative execs, as well as the rest of our building, to pull those lines tight. Also, Priya knows how to write an ad; probably our secret weapon in our department if we’re to be honest.

“We do have a bit of a feeling of a gang, there is a culture that is alive and growing every day and this kind of pulls me into work and I know it pulls in others. It’s a feeling and I don’t quite know how to describe it in words.”

DDB Group Aotearoa NZ Chief Creative Officer Gary Steele agrees the agency operates like a tight-knit crew, and its culture drives the work.

He explains: “When these collide, it creates momentum, making way for creative opportunities to pop up anywhere, benefiting all our amazing clients. We just grab them, assemble the right minds, and let the magic happen. I’m excited. We’re all excited.”

Steele says there’s also a uniqueness to operating in New Zealand: “This place has always had something a bit special about it, some say it’s in the water, but I think it’s the people that live here. They think differently and then you combine this with the Kiwi attitude of giving anything a go and doing what it takes to make it happen, that seems to make some magic. There are also no egos, so we move on pretty quickly to the next thing.”

When quizzed on his favourite work of the year, Burton points to the ones that have touched most parts of the building: “When we have everything firing from all our agencies, we can put some different-shaped work out in the world. I don’t play favourites so I can’t really choose.”

Like Burton, Steele’s favourites are projects that saw many people come together to make them happen, but unlike Burton, he does play favourites.

He says: “The first one is Correct The Internet, for not only highlighting the inherent bias but more importantly, helping make the fundamental change to a data set that has been around for decades due to the continued pressure and dedication of everyone working on this.

“My second favourite is our latest piece called VW Greenprint because who doesn’t like an idea that puts the planet before profit? And from a brand that truly understands its audience by helping them convert their loved cars so they can continue driving them into the future. Lastly, it would be our outdoor campaign for Samsung Flip 5, a simple outdoor with a playful edge to it. Some say it’s ‘different’.”

DDB Group crowned Agency of the Year ~ agency laser-focused on big, powerful creative ideas

The Work seen and noted in 2023:

McDonald’s – We Speak Late Night
DDB Group Aotearoa NZ noticed sometimes McDonald’s late-night customers have a little trouble articulating their order, no one knows why… maybe they’re just a little tired? Luckily for them, McDonald’s speaks the language of the late night fluently. Using targeted and time-based media placements the out-of-home assets lit up the dark with the orders a person might make on their way home – exposing that stage of the night when an order for a Cheeseburger Combo turns into a “Cheebs Urga Condo” or McNuggets comes out as “Nickin ChicMuggets.” The out-of-home assets were supported by instore posters, a ‘late-night’ version of the Macca’s app, film and bespoke PR packs.

Live Ocean – The Real Watergate
DDB Group Aotearoa NZ, Live Ocean, and VICE joined forces to unveil ‘The Real Watergate’, spotlighting the ocean’s crucial role in combating climate change and elevating ocean health as a priority. On World Ocean Day 2023, renowned ocean advocates from around the world united to call for urgent action to prioritise the health of the ocean. ‘The Real Watergate revealed the vital role a healthy ocean plays as our greatest ally in the fight against climate change, highlighting how it’s done the heavy lifting as the planet’s largest carbon sink and kept global temperatures at a habitable level. Created to reframe how people see the ocean in a way that challenges their assumptions and opens their eyes, the campaign featured an interactive website that educated and showcased the ocean’s ability to shield us against catastrophic global warming. An exposé-style film produced by DDB Group Aotearoa and VICE was launched, supported by multiple social edits tailored for ocean advocates, with out-of-home ads running alongside editorial content on VICE channels.

Samsung – Try Galaxy
It’s one of the most divisive choices faced by consumers today – Apple or Android? In a bold move to get Apple fans around the world to experience the Samsung interface, DDB Group created ‘Try Galaxy’. Apple users downloaded an app that appeared to transform an iPhone into a Samsung. The web application mimicked the operating system of an Android device, allowing consumers to experience navigation, app interaction, settings, texting/calling, and even the camera features.
Initially soft launched to a small, New Zealand-only audience, ‘Try Galaxy’ gained global momentum in 2023 at an unprecedented rate with more than 38 million downloads.

Team Heroine – Correct the Internet
When you ask the internet a question, you expect to get the right answer. Unfortunately, when it comes to women’s sport that’s just not the case. Humans’ inherent biases have trained search engines to recognise male athletes as the holders of most sporting records, even when the answer is often a woman. DDB Group’s film created a worldwide PR storm, and its video was viewed tens of millions of times and multiple governments cited it as a reason for change. The agency sent everyone to a digital tool that used the built-in feedback function of the search engines to report search results as biased. With over a million reports filed with the search engines, the agency was able to apply internal pressure to the engineering sides of the businesses to change the search results. A social and poster campaign kept the attention on the cause and the United Nations also shared the campaign and so too did its network of influencers.

Tourism New Zealand – If You Seek
Following the success of Tourism New Zealand’s ‘If You Seek’ – a campaign that doesn’t show its wonders – DDB Group continued to launch several digital experiences extending the storyline with immersive experiences. Even though the audience needed to do a little more than usual, the experiences have led to preference of New Zealand being at an all-time high with the highest ever seen in the travel category, according to Meta.

Volkswagen – Greenprint
DDB Group created a set of plans people could follow to turn their Kombi electric. It’s remarkably simple, in just 20 steps anyone can do it themselves. The agency made a kit available with everything people needed to help save the planet and keep the car they love. The agency also created a list of parts people could source themselves, along with a website and community where people could share troubleshooting and tips as they electrify their own Kombis.

Speight’s – The Speech
Nothing’s louder than silence. If you saw a mate dying on stage, would you come to his rescue with a poorly sung rendition of “I love you” by Donna Lewis? DDB Group’s film, the extremely awkward sequel to Speight’s – The Dance, answers the question for two mates Callum and Richie.

One NZ – SpaceX
Dropping cellular coverage in New Zealand happens more often than you’d think. To help launch One NZ, DDB Group partnered with SpaceX, using its satellite technology to ensure that if its customers can see the sky, then they can send a text.

Volkswagen – Electric Trade In
You’d never dream that your rusty old kettle or never-used juicer would be worth $14,000 but thanks to the VW Electric Trade-In it is. With the threat of the clean car rebate being removed by a new government, all car manufacturers were trying to get rid of their electric vehicles. To cut through, DDB Group put a fun spin on the promo by inviting people to trade their old electrical items in for $14,000 off a brand-new VW ID. The agency launched with outdoor and social.

McDonald’s – We’re For The Driver
It’s good to be the driver. You get to choose the music, direct the aircon, and in the case of Macca’s, collect the Driver Tax. A handful of fries, a nugget, a bite. Basically, if they’re eating it, they’re sharing it. DDB Group turned this fan truth into the big summer ad, freeing drivers to tax heavily and heartily. The agency created an app that helped Kiwis pay their drivers in the app with bespoke Macca’s deals. And, launched a Free Bonus Fries promotion, helping backseat passengers pay up without the pain, all summer long.

Samsung Galaxy Z Flip5 – Different
Apple warned the world about conformity and told people to think different. However now, almost every hand has an iPhone in it. And, every new iPhone model looks just like the one before it. Therefore, DDB Group used this insight as a chance to take aim at Samsung’s biggest competitor, and launched Samsung’s newest, most different phone ever – the Flip5. The new Samsung Flip5 looks, acts, feels and flips like no iPhone has. Drawing inspiration from the very things Apple preached and warned us about in its most famous ads, the ‘Different’ campaign used it against them.

Meadow Fresh NZ KALÓ – I Want Real
Meet Kay – the sentient self– checkout machine looking for love, and yogurt. For the first time since 2018, a new KALÓ brand campaign from Meadow Fresh, in collaboration with DDB Group Aotearoa, launched to highlight KALÓ’s credentials as ‘Greek yoghurt – made the real way’. And who better to tell us, over and over again, than a sentient self-checkout machine that’s never tasted it? The agency launched with the world’s weirdest-ever picnic caught on film. Next up, Kay will go online as she searches for real human connection across TikTok, Hinge, and OnlyFans.

McDonald’s – Fax 4 Kiwiburger
Macca’s was bringing the best of ’91 back with its Kiwiburger. Naturally, DDB Group did the promotion ’91 style, with a what was then cutting-edge Fax-to-Win promo. Punters were asked to dig up a fax in their Nana’s attic, fax the number (if they remember how), and the best of ’91 is theirs. For everyone without a fax, Macca’s got a ‘Floppy Voucher’ – a floppy disk loaded with a free Kiwiburger for those who can open it. Plus, a whole bunch of ads with the era’s best music and even the ‘91 Macca’s logo.

DDB Group crowned Agency of the Year ~ agency laser-focused on big, powerful creative ideas

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