Remember that lovely “100% Real Virtual Reality” case for Old Irish from Georgia? What some might think is a one hit wonder from a distant place on our planet is just the tip of the iceberg – there is much more to find in Georgia. And more to come as well.
The story of creative success in Georgian advertising begins in 2011 at Eurobest. It was the first time that an agency from this small country won gold at an international advertising festival. It was a campaign for TBC Bank, and the agency behind it was a small independent shop called Windfor’s.
In those days, it was something like a lovely little side story when an agency from such an “exotic” country was called to the stage to receive the highest honors. Today, the same agency is still pretty successful on an international stage, and its founder Vato Kavtaradze is also one of the initiators of Ad Black Sea, a rising star among regional advertising festivals.
He is far from alone though – another independent agency from Tbilisi has quietly worked its way up in the international rankings. Leavingstone has won bronze Lions both in 2015 and 2016 and has started to dominate regional award shows. The way it looks, they might just win again in Cannes this summer.
Levan Lepsveridze is one of the founders of Leavingstone, and – being its CCO – clearly one of the reasons for his agency’s success. Just a few weeks ago, they contributed to an unprecedented result at Golden Hammer in Riga, winning 1 Grand Prix, 5 Gold, 2 Silver and a Bronze, and the special award as Digital Agency of the Year.
If you ask both Levan and Vato what they think is the reason for this remarkable rise in creativity, their answers are quite similar. Vato Kavtaradze: “Probably the main reason is that we gained critical mass – of people passionately dedicated to this profession, to doing something valuable, something outstanding, something that matters and can be compared to international standards.”
Levan also thinks that it is mainly attributable to the state of development of the Georgian market: “I believe that the success of the recent years is a result of the young generation that entered the creative industries.” But he also thinks that there is something in the Georgian way of life as well, saying that “Georgians have always had potential in creative thinking. Our unique culture and lifestyle has a big influence on the development of creative skills from childhood.”
Wacky And Charming
And if we look at the cases from Georgia that have gained international recognition, a pattern is identifiable – almost all of the work is a celebration of the experiment, seeks interaction with customers, wants to do more than just do a stunt and create a case video in hopes of going viral. Some of the cases are refreshingly wacky and wonderfully crafted, like the “Hungry Hungry Hamsters” Leavingstone recently come up with. Or simply charming and convincing like Windfor’s’ “Dinner With Georgia” case.
Both Vato and Levan state that being able to look at the best international work, to see case videos, to have more (and not less) local and regional shows and competitions are key to this development. As much as their work may reflect a local culture of creativity – being able to understand what it takes to reach a global audience is key.
No wonder Vato and friends decided to initiate Georgia’s own international advertising festival, Ad Black Sea. Its third installment is going to be held from September 21st to 23rd – as always in Batumi, right on the Eastern coast of the Black Sea. And in spite of all the discussions that there is an inflation of festivals, it gains followers quickly, attracting an international audience that in turn inspires Georgian creatives. A very smart move.
Modest Ad Men
As you would expect from two gentlemen who are in it for the cause and not the fame (or at least in that order), they are modest about their role in the rise of Georgian creativity. Levan Lepsveridze was quick to add that other Georgian agencies won as well when he was asked about his agency’s great success at Golden Hammer.
Both agency leaders are also have a clear vision for their agency and what their purpose in this industry is. Levan Lepsveridze: “Our agency is named after the famous novel `Jonathan Livingston Seagull’ by Richard Bach, where it says that if you work really hard, you can achieve even impossible goals. We believe in this too. We often initiate ideas that are extremely hard to make, but when done they serve as an inspiration to others – clients, employees, colleagues and ext. I think this kind of approach creates some kind of gravity, it helps us attract young talent with same desires and ambitions – willing to create remarkable work.
Vato Kavtaradze has a more personal spin, saying that his and his agency’s vision had “always been to put Georgia on international map of creativity”. He adds: “That’s what moved me ever since the very first day, and still turns me on every single day I wake up and come to the office. And if you’d ask me what was the no-turning-back point of this journey, it’s clearly Berlin School of Creative Leadership in 2010.”
The seemingly sudden rise of Georgian creativity does have somewhat of a resemblance to the wave of success that Romanian agencies have had since almost ten years now. It all started with the shining example of one agency (McCann), led by one ambitious man (Adrian Botan) – and after their massive success with their client Rom (you might remember, the chocolate bar that was repackaged to show the American instead of the Romanian flag – imagine doing something like that now…), other Romanian agencies have followed the example. Today, more than half a dozen shops in Bucharest are capable of delivering on a global level.
The comparison with Romania gets an even more interesting spin when you hear that Vato had brought in a top Romanian creative to work for Windfor’s for 18 months – Ema Prisca. Vato is still very happy about having done that, saying that “she left her classy footprint on everything here”, and that his agency clearly has what he calls the ‘Romanian touch’. Levan on the other hand doesn’t think that anyone followed the “Romanian model” – but he did think that McCann’s hugely successful Rom case was a true inspiration.
It may still be a little too early to predict a similar development in Georgia, and the business environment is hardly comparable, but it does look like other agencies are catching the bug. At Golden Hammer a third agency from Tbilisi appeared on the winners list – and this time it’s a network agency, with JWT carrying home a gold and a silver award.
Friends, Not Rivals
The small size of the Georgian market may not be an advantage – but the advertising community in Tbilisi makes up for it with a remarkable ability to connect, and to value friendship higher than rivalry. Levan is very clear about this: “We’re a very small country and the Georgian creative community is just as small. There are around 15 active agencies on the market. So, everyone knows everyone here. Most of us are good friends with each other. I would say the progress comes not from local competition, but from everyone’s enthusiastic ambition to become one of the top players across the globe. We don’t see rivals in each other.”
Or, as Vato puts it: “There is a lot of friendship in this community. And increasing competition at the same time. We are better organized now as well, having created the Association of Communication Agencies of Georgia, which helps to do things more professionally, and our own festival, Ad Black Sea, which is a wonderful opportunity to gather, inspire, compete and simply hang out together every September at the seaside and measure our level against the best works of the region.”
The first days of Cannes have passed, and Georgian work has already popped up on the shortlists. We will see where the current wave of creativity will take them. Both Vato and Levan are sure: “We know we are on the right track – and it feels like it’s just the beginning.”