Australian Agency Takes Top Echo for Credit Card Campaign

NEW ORLEANS — Australia's iLeo claimed the Direct Marketing Association's prestigious Diamond International Echo Award yesterday for an integrated campaign to introduce the new Virgin Money credit card in a mature market.

This is the second year in a row that an Australian agency received the top Echo honor. M&C Saatchi, Melbourne, was last year's Diamond Echo winner, ending the two-year domination of Spain's CP Interactive and CP Comunicacion Proximity. The awards were given out at a brunch ceremony at the DMA's 87th annual conference.

Of the other top Echo awards, Belgium's DVN, Gent, won the Gold Mailbox award for the Flemish Tourist Board, and New Zealand's Clemenger BBDO, Wellington, took home the Henry Hoke prize for Dunlop.

“On the overseas front, I've noticed every year they've really caught up to America,” said Connie DeBord, president of DeBord & Associates, Virginia Beach, VA, and chairwoman of the 2004 Echo Committee. “Some international campaigns have even exceeded some of the U.S. work.”

But the news is not so dire for U.S. agencies this year. True North Inc., New York, won the digital Echo award for Discover Magazine. Gillespie Healthcare, a McCann-Erickson WorldGroup agency in Lawrenceville, NJ, received the new broadcast Echo for Johnson & Johnson's Reach Access Daily Flosser.

In all, U.S. entries won 41 of the 84 newly redesigned Echos. The United States received four gold, 18 silver and 19 bronze, leading in each category. Last year, the United States won 28 Echos — four gold, 13 silver and 11 bronze — of the 74 handed out.

Canada came in second this year, with six awards: three silver and three bronze. Britain, last year's international champion, was third, with one gold and four bronze. Germany followed, with two silver and two bronze.

Of the gold winners outside the United States, two each went to Australia and the Netherlands while Belgium, Brazil, Britain, Ireland, Mexico and New Zealand took home one. All told, 14 gold, 33 silver and 37 bronze awards were given for direct marketing response results, marketing strategy and creative. The tally was up from 74 Echos last year and 83 in 2002.

Overall, 71 individual agency offices and advertisers received awards this year from a field of 1,077 entries. This is a marked improvement from last year, when 57 individual agency offices and advertisers won from among 1,034 entries. However, the number of entries still is down from the 1,113 received in 2002.

While foreign entries were up marginally this year to 520 from 509 in 2003, U.S. participation rose from 525 in 2003 to 557 this year.

“That's coming out of a tough year,” DeBord said. “Economically, it's been a bit of a recovery from 9/11.”

OgilvyOne Worldwide's nine offices globally won 14 Echos, albeit only one gold that went to its Mexican outpost. Among other agency brands, five offices of CP Comunicacion Proximity and its Proximity siblings won one gold, three silver and three bronze prizes.

The Netherlands' TequilaDirect Company was the only agency to win two gold awards.

Ireland's Dialogue, Belgium's DVN, New Zealand's Foote, Cone & Belding, Mexico's OgilvyOne, Australia's Proximity Worldwide and Clemenger Proximity Melbourne, Brazil's Salem and Britain's Story all received one gold Echo.

From the U.S. agencies' side, Alan Rosenspan & Associates, DDB Direct Seattle, Lisa Selner Creative and Loomis Group Inc. each won a gold.

Each Echo winner delivered meaningful results for clients.

Diamond Echo recipient iLeo, a Leo Burnett Co. agency, was tasked to launch a credit card in a sophisticated Australian market. More than 70 percent of Australian consumers own credit cards, with 9 million credit card accounts nationwide. Australia's population is under 19 million.

So not only did Virgin Money lack an existing customer base in that country, it also had to convince Australian consumers of its credibility as a card issuer. Add to that the challenge of overcoming customer inertia in switching credit card providers. The agency also faced negative attitudes toward high card fees, charges and surcharges. Plus, there was a growing dissatisfaction toward credit card providers.

But Virgin Money saw a gap in the market. Competitors charged annual fees with a great interest rate or enticing rewards. The upstart developed a credit card with a low ongoing interest rate, no annual fee and a really low introductory rate. It topped that with an instant discount rewards program called Mates Rates.

ILeo, McMahons Point, New South Wales, used television, print ads, direct mail and public relations stunts by Virgin founder Richard Branson to target high-spending, creditworthy consumers ages 30-45.

The strategy of the estimated $8 million campaign was to attract potential customers by creating trust and credibility. It also aimed to convert awareness into applications by providing the substance of the offer.

ILeo's efforts paid off. Virgin Money got 300,000 customers in its first 10 months. The first-year target was eclipsed by more than 240 percent. Cost per credit card account was only 83 percent of target, or 17 percentage points better than the target. And Virgin Money achieved an overall credit card market share of 3.4 percent in Australia.

Virgin Money arguably revolutionized the Australian credit card business by offering consumers a choice of five colors. It also cut the bottom right corner of its card. Quite fitting then for iLeo's campaign creative theme: “Plastic surgery.”

An Echo judge for many years, DeBord has noticed the growing importance of multichannel direct marketing. This year's entries reflected the interdependence.

“Increasingly, I think that the electronic media is becoming an integral part of the direct marketing campaign, regardless of the medium,” she said. “Direct mail pieces are directing people to the Internet, TV is directing people to the Internet. Even [a] simple mailing is preceded by an e-mail blast. There aren't single-medium campaigns anymore.”

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