Spikes Asia
Jan 12, 2021

The message in a bottle that won big at Tangrams and Spikes

Simon Vicars and James Tucker of Colenso BBDO and Amanda Palenski of PHD New Zealand discuss their award-winning work, 'DB Export Beer Bottle Sand', which won at both the Spikes Awards and in the Tangrams Strategy & Effectiveness Awards in 2017/2018.

L to R: Simon Vicars, James Tucker & Amanda Palenski
L to R: Simon Vicars, James Tucker & Amanda Palenski

As the deadline for the 2021 Spikes Awards and Tangrams Strategy and Effectiveness Awards entries approach, Spikes Asia reaches out to past winners at both award programmes who have demonstrated exemplary creativity and marketing effectiveness in the same piece of winning work. We ask the creatives and strategists to talk about what made the work stand out to the juries and what winning a Spike and Tangram meant for them and their team.

This time we speak with Simon Vicars and James Tucker of Colenso BBDO and Amanda Palenski of PHD New Zealand about their award-winning work, ‘DB Export Beer Bottle Sand’.

The entries deadline for the 2021 Tangrams Awards has been extended but will close on Thursday, 14 Jan 2021. If you are concerned that you won’t meet the deadline, please get in touch at [email protected].

Sand is the second most exploited natural resource on the planet and takes hundreds of thousands of years to regenerate. At the same time, global mainstream beer consumption is in decline. So the agency teams built machines that turn empty beer bottles into a sand substitute. To save their beaches, they asked New Zealanders to empty a bottle of DB Export.

Q&A with creative, strategy & media planning

  • Creative: Simon Vicars, Executive Creative Director, Colenso BBDO
  • Strategist: James Tucker, Creative Strategist, Colenso BBDO
  • Media planner: Amanda Palenski, Group Business Director, PHD New Zealand


Why did your team decide to enter DB Export Beer Bottle Sand into the Tangrams Awards?

JT: Someone relatively famous in our industry once said, “If your advertising goes unnoticed, everything else is academic.” Creativity is our industry’s superpower, but if that creative thinking goes unnoticed then we’ve failed to deliver on the most basic and important part of our jobs. What makes the Tangrams such an important show is the commitment to rewarding the most effective & creative ideas. Recognising that creativity and effectiveness must, not just can, go hand in hand is vital to ensuring the credibility of our industry.


Simon, why did your team enter it for the Spikes Awards?

SV: There are too many advertising award shows in the world. We don’t need them all. Not because award shows don’t matter, but because they should matter. It should matter if you win. And the more shows there are, the less winning means. So we focus entering our work into award shows where the trophies have meaning to the agency and our Marketing partners. Shows that recruit world class juries and have consistently high standards. Spikes is one of those shows.


Every team has their own way of coming up with a campaign idea. In the case of DB Export Beer Bottle Sand, how was the idea conceived? Was it a collaboration between the creatives and strategists from the get-go? How would you describe your working relationship?

SV: Beer Bottle Sand was a follow up idea to DB Export Brewtroleum. Brewtroleum turned drinking beer into a selfless act of environmental heroism. That crazy logic of drinking a beer for the planet did huge things for the brand, won big industry awards and sold a heap of beer.
We wanted to repeat that formula. Simple as that.

So we started looking at the different elements of the brewing process and supply chain, searching for new ways to be more sustainable. We found that sand was the second most exploited resource in the world. Sand takes thousands of years to form, so it’s not a renewable resource. Desert sand is unusable for construction, making the impact on beaches, rivers and lakes even worse. So we wondered if we could turn our empty bottles (made from desert sand) into a sand substitute for construction.

We have an incredible Production team at Colenso BBDO. They are smart and relentless. Their attitude is alway “Fuck yes we can”. So they spoke to industry experts in alternative construction materials, and discovered it was possible. Then we built machines, partnered with the country’s biggest glass recycler, created an eco-concrete and then encouraged our drinkers to empty bottles of beer for us. Easy stuff.

JT: It sounds cliche to say, but Colenso truly believes that great ideas can come from anywhere. Obviously different departments all have certain responsibilities, but the collaboration between strategy, creative and production doesn’t stop when the creatives get briefed or production gets asked to figure out how to bring crazy ideas like Beer Bottle Sand to life. Strategy, creative and production working closely at each stage is vital. It fosters constant discussion which allows great ideas to continuously get better.

AP: James has nailed this one. It’s all about collaboration. And that collaboration extended to the media team at PHD too. We’ve always had a good, open and honest relationship with the Colenso BBDO team who have involved the media team right from the beginning. It didn't matter what department you were from, there was acknowledgement that a good idea could come from anywhere and we worked hard together to make the campaign the best it could be.


At any point of conceiving the idea and planning the execution of Beer Bottle Sand, did either party (creative vs strategist) oppose the creative idea or how the campaign should be executed? How did this affect the campaign results?

SV: Kiwis love their beaches, and the majority were unaware that some of the most pristine places in the country were being dredged to make stupid stuff like shopping malls and motorways. The difficulty this time around compared to Brewtroleum, was that we had to tell people the problem of sand exploitation. As well as entertain, we had to educate. And that was a tricky balance to get right. 

JT: No one opposed the idea (not outwardingly anyway). But after the success of Brewtroleum we knew we needed something equally as audacious to follow it up. Because the beach is such an integral part of the New Zealand way of life we believed the idea would resonate with kiwis once they realised the extent of the problem. The biggest challenge was the explanation required for Beer Bottle Sand (vs. Brewtroleum which was a ‘quicker get’ for drinkers), but I think where we ended up was the right balance of education and entertainment.

AP: We immediately knew this was a cracking idea, and a great follow up to Brewtroleum. We had some really good learnings from a media perspective from Brewtroleum meaning we were able to collectively develop the campaign framework and how this rolled out early on in the piece. These were elements like having a specific strategy for greater local PR pick up, a greater focus on real world activations to ensure drinkers new it wasn't just a marketing gimmick.


As the coronavirus swept through the world and hit Asia-Pacific hard, everyone’s way of working and collaborations have been forced to change. Do you think you would have been able to pull off this campaign the same way as you did now? How would Covid have affected the way it was rolled out?

SV: Yeah I think we could have pulled it off, but the authenticity of the idea would have been hurt. This idea relied on interaction between drinker and brand. Empty a bottle of Export, crush it in our machines. That was a pretty magic moment and brand interaction. So if people couldn’t get to bars, and only saw ads about the idea, it wouldn’t have been nearly as powerful.

JT: Brewtroleum showed us that people loved the idea of beer drinking as a way to save the world, but they wanted more transparency. They wanted to be more involved. This involvement would have been difficult if we were all confined to our homes. Fortunately, NZ is living relatively COVID-free so I like to think this idea would have still gone ahead if we were launching it today.


Question for the creative here. If you had to pitch a solution to the same brief from the client today, how would you change your creative idea in light of the economic climate and new way of life caused by the coronavirus?

SV: New Zealand is really lucky. Being a little island at the bottom of the world our whole country is effectively in isolation. So Covid hasn’t restricted our movements as much as elsewhere. Bars are open, pubs are pouring beers and the summer is breaking. We’d run the same campaign today as we did back then.


It's the strategists' turn now. If you had to pitch a solution to the same brief, how would you execute the campaign in light of everything brough by the coronavirus?

JT: Because of how fortunate we are here, being COVID-free, I don’t think we’d change anything if we were to run the campaign again. With the way DB Export is flying out of chillers and fridges at the moment, if anything, we’d have even more bottles to crush back into sand.

AP: Whilst we’re certainly very lucky not to be affected as much of the rest of the world, lockdown is still a possibility so retaining a bit more flexibility on how we plan the media would happen.


Simon, from your point of view as a creative, describe the role of a strategist in a campaign.

SV: I think a great strategist's job is to speak simply. To listen and learn and understand the complexity of our client’s business needs, but then distill it down to what matters. Great strategy people find societal insights and truths, and give brands the right to claim them. They sell the work before we even present the work. They are the connective tissue between agencies and clients, and make us proper partners. They save me in meetings. Great strategists are everything. I love them.


James, as a strategist, have a go at describing the role of a creative in a campaign.

JT: Creatives deliver the magic. They take the (sometimes months of) ‘talk’ and theory and turn it into something for real people in the real world. The best ideas make it real in ways that are impossible to ignore and endear people to brands.


Have you ever thought of switching roles?

SV: Nah, I’d miss making the work too much. 

JT: I spent the first 10 years of my career as a creative before switching to strategy. I don’t miss being a creative, but I do miss going on shoots.

AP: I feel pretty lucky that as a media person, strategy and creativity are part and parcel of what we do every day - so I get the best of both worlds!


Simon, which piece of work did you win your first Spike for? What did winning your first Spike mean to you and what does a Spike mean to you now?

SV: I remember my first gold, which was for Sky TV’s Arts Channel in 2010. James Tucker, the brilliant Strategist on Beer Bottle Sand, was my Art Director at that time. I remember a feeling of validation and pride, mixed with the feeling of, ‘Shit, how are we going to do that again?!”

James, which piece of work did you win your first Tangram (previously known as the AMEs - Asian Marketing Effectiveness Award) for? What did winning your first Tangram mean to you and what does a Tangram mean to you now?

JT: When I was a creative I remember winning my first Spike. But Beer Bottle Sand was the first piece of work I was involved with (as a strategist) that won a Tangram. Answering these questions brings back how validating it was to be involved with such an iconic idea that delivered both creative and commercial results.

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