Cannes Dispatch – What wins at Cannes?


Last week I had the chance to see literally hundreds of pieces of work. The finalists for Press, Outdoor, PR, and Design are all exhibited on posters in a sort of gallery on the lower level of the Palais, so it’s easy and comfortable to view them at one’s leisure. What’s even better, this year they had an app which permitted you to scan the work that you liked and have it sent to you. Amazingly convenient! The film work was exhibited in a huge screening room, where they basically played a continuous loop of all of the finalists and you could sit there, along with hundreds of others, for as long as you liked. Other categories such as Cyber lions were shown in computers that were set up as interactive kiosks. Importantly, only the finalists (“shortlists”) were shown, so all of the hundreds of pieces were the best 10% or so of the 32 thousand submissions – thankfully the jury did the pre-editing job for us!

As you look through so much great work, patterns begin to emerge in separating the good from the truly great. What are some of the common elements that I found among the Lion winners at Cannes? Said otherwise, what wins at Cannes? (mind you, this is not an all-inclusive list or a formula…that one I’ll sell to you for a lot of money!)

1. Humor wins: Based on what I saw in the film category, one of the sure ways to increase likability and chances of success is by making people chuckle. I sat through 2 hours of screenings for film category shortlist, and some of the greatest spontaneous applauses were reserved for the ads that struck the funny bone. This reaction is no guarantee, but it matters a lot…more than people will admit to. If they laugh, it sets you apart, people instantly open up their mind, let their barriers down, and then look for reasons to like your ad even more.

This whole campaign is hilarious. DirectTV “House”, from Grey NY. It won a Gold lion.

We can all relate. Axe “Brainy Girl”, from BBH London. Awesome. Won a Silver lion.

God I love this one! From Del Campo Nazca Saatchi & Saatchi, Buenos Aires. It took home a Gold Lion.

2. Emotion wins: The other way is to touch the emotions. This is always a slippery slope because nobody likes to be manipulated. But if done right, what can I say…advertising people are a bunch of softies! I’m not kidding, the two biggest applauses I heard for work the whole week were for emotional ads. (note: one of them is a stunner for the Mumbai Mirror, called “I am Mumbai” I can’t find it online with subtitles, I will post it here as soon as I do!)

Coke “Security Cameras” by Wunderman Argentina. Won a Silver lion. Great music!

Barnardo’s “Life Story”, by BBH London. Also took home a silver. Heavy stuff.

3. Trying to make the world a better place wins: Perhaps advertisers have a chip on their shoulder about what they do. Maybe some guilt about the fact we spend part our careers selling the “new & improved!!” soap, when the old one could probably do the job. So when the chance comes around to do something good, to improve the world a little bit…people react pretty strongly to it. This is also a slippery slope: I admit that I’m pretty tired already of the usual “pro bono” type of ads for Unicef or for anti-drunk driving, or road safety, or whatever. It can start feeling a little formulaic. But when you do something in a way that hasn’t been done before…the public can be very welcoming.

This was the Grand Prix Winner in Film and also in Branded Entertainment. Chipotle’s “Back to the Start”, by CAA Los Angeles

This outdoor ad from Y&R Mexico won a Gold Lion, for “Save the Children”. Powerful.

And Droga5 won a special “Grand Prix for Good” with this for Help Remedies Bandages.

4. Craft wins: Craft refers to the skilled use of art direction, copywriting, music, editing, special effects, etc. in the service of providing a pleasurable aesthetic experience. In fact there’s a whole category called “Film Craft”, where they judge the craftsmanship independently of the idea. But even outside of this category, it’s amazing how detailed workmanship and attention to detail can help elevate ideas. The big winners could not rely on the idea alone, (the what): they were all made better by  how they were executed.

Canal + “The Bear” was the Grand Prix winner in the Craft Film category, and deservedly so. It’s by Euro RSCG BETC.

And here’s The Guardian’s “Three Little Pigs”, by BBH London and winner of a Gold Lion

5. Long format storytelling wins: The most powerful stories in film were all told in long format of more than 30 seconds. Back in February I looked at all the Superbowl ads and also drew the same conclusion, and now if you look at the top 5 most impactful films of the festival, it’s pretty obvious that there is a rule forming. What this tells me is that we and our clients should seriously consider film length as part of the storytelling element – and should fight to do things the right way. Just like we fight for the right director, or the right location…we should fight for the right format to tell the most powerful story. Especially in today’s world: The Chipotle ad ran once…at full length. Word of mouth did the rest. The Chrysler halftime ad ran once…at full length. And so on. At a very minimum, if we produce a good 30 second version, we should always film a longer version that can live online and tell the story even more powerfully.

Check out Dorito’s “The Dip Desperado”, by AMV BBDO London. Won a Gold lion.

Our how about Nike’s “I would run to you”, winner of a Bronze lion for W+K Portland

6. Different wins: I spoke with a couple of people who were part of the jury, and a common thread was how much work there was to review in such little time. Inevitably, the human mind starts looking for shortcuts – “what can I discard quickly, so I can focus my thinking on the better stuff?” One of the first things that gets discarded is anything that has been seen before. It might be great, but if it has been done, or if it reminds the judge of a piece they saw last year…it’s probably out. Interestingly, the consumer probably uses a very similar filter to wade through the thousands of marketing messages they’re bombarded with. If it has been done before, it’s out. As more and more messages are done in more ways than ever, the bar is being set ever so high to really distinguish oneself from the crowd. Even successful, long running campaigns have to find a way to keep fresh, to offer a new spin somehow in either idea or execution…or risk irrelevance. Now, this does not mean that if you have a winning campaign you should scrap it and start from zero every single time you do a new execution…many iconic campaigns (Absolut Vodka, Marlboro) have run successfully for years and even decades. Just don’t expect to see them pick up a lion.

This one for Mercedez by Jung von Matt Hamburg picked up the other Grand Prix in OOH for it’s amazing use of innovative technology in communicating the product benefit

Flying Horse’s “Catoast”, from Ogilvy Brazil, took home a Bronze

This one from Wall’s Sausages called “Petrol Station” is by Saatchi & Saatchi London won a Silver. It’s…different:)

And finally, check out this great one for Getty Images by ALMAP BBDO Sao Paulo, which won a Silver lion

The cynics among you might think, “well, you’ve listed so many elements, what’s left?” But the sad truth is as far as your TV set. Go and watch an ad break and come back. You’ll see that, in real life, most ads are neither funny, nor well crafted, nor different, nor emotional…etc. Even ads that have aced quantitative tests measuring recall and persuasion will just pass on by like a ship in the night once they air, because they don’t aspire to anything other than a respectable mediocrity (I’ve worked on many of these!) Creativity with high ambition, like the examples above, they are the ones that truly stand a chance to get through to the consumer. And do note that many of these ads contain not just one of these elements, but many of them (and there are many more elements not listed!).

So there you have it: the competition is fierce, and the task is daunting. This is, at a minimum, what it takes to aspire for a win in Cannes. Hey, if it was easy, then everyone would be able to do it, right?

Let me know your thoughts on this!

Come back tomorrow for the final Cannes Dispatch, where I will post the Adboarding Pass “best of the best” awards.

note: I’ve included mostly film examples because it’s more entertaining to watch – but trust me the rules apply across all categories.


Cannes Dispatch – Five lessons learned

What a crazy, wild, enlightening week it was: filled with learning, creativity, networking, inspiration, and yes: even victory.

Here is a look back at five things I learned:

1.   Creativity comes in all shapes and sizes – it’s truly a great time to be in the advertising business, because creativity and good ideas have so many outlets to be expressed in. An idea only becomes real once it’s produced, and today one doesn’t depend on the expensive tv ad: in fact many of the outstanding ideas I saw were in the areas of design, promotion and PR: check these out, for example:

LEGO “Builders of Sound” , by Serviceplan Munich. Won a gold lion.

VW “Sheep Alert”, by DDB Tribal. Shortlisted

“Sprite Shower”, by Ogilvy Sao Paulo. Won a Gold Lion

2.   But let’s be honest, the Film category is still king – Speculation on who would win the Film Grand Prix was actually a topic of conversation and anticipation, and this didn’t happen for any other category. (the broad consensus was that it would be The Guardian’s “Three Little Pigs”, followed closely by Canal+ “The Bear”, which I had as my favorite. I would say that everyone was pretty surprised when it leaked on Saturday morning that it would be Chipotle’s “Back to the Start”, although everyone thought “hmmm, that’s surprising…but ok, that’s a pretty good choice too, wonder why I didn’t think of it!”) Bottom line, film is still the most versatile of mediums – it’s universal, it can evoke any of the emotions, it shows off elements of craft very well (writing, direction, casting, music, editing, etc…) and it links up very nicely with other mediums as part of an integrated campaign. There’s a reason why it gets awarded on the last night, towards the end of the show. It’s just like the Oscars: they award a couple of  big ones like Best Supporting Actress towards the beginning, but they leave Best Actor/Actress/Movie/Director all for the end. The film category, agency of the year and network of the year are BIG awards among all the other big awards.

Here are some awesome film winners that you may not yet have seen:

Dos Equis “Sword Fight”, by Euro RSCH NY. Won a Silver lion 

Zonajobs “Grandma”, by Draftfcb Buenos Aires. Won a Silver lion

Ghandi Bookstores “Keep Reading”, by Ogilvy Mexico. Won a Bronze lion


3.   It’s so.damn.hard to win in Cannes – The folks at JWT on the 25th floor won a grand prix last year, and we won one this year, so it’s tempting to think that this is a fairly common thing. But it really, really isn’t. I spoke to accomplished creatives with many years of experience and all of them reach the same conclusion. It’s just extremely hard. The odds are daunting. As an example, let’s look at the numbers in the Outdoor category: there were 4,843 entries submissions in total. 588 (12%) made it to the Shortlist, from which there were a total of 112 (2.3%) winners. These winners were split into 50 bronze lions (1.03%), 35 silver (0.82%), and 25 gold (0.5%). And of course there’s the Grand Prix, of which two were awarded (0.04%!) It’s not just a matter of numbers, the reality is that you’re competing against the very best of the best. And, you’re being judged by a jury of your peers who is under tremendous time pressure. A whole year of work and your entry could get dismissed after being viewed for 5 seconds: It’s inevitably a form of creative triage, where they have to decide if you make it through, or you don’t. The lesson here is: a Shortlist is a great honor. Any kind of metal is a tremendous achievement worthy of celebration. And a Grand Prix is basically like winning the lottery (it’s impossible…yet somebody has to win it.) Now, that being said, there are things you can do to help your cause, see below.

4.   Good creativity rises to the top – This is definitely true. I know it because of all of the shortlisted work that I saw, (and I saw a lot) there was nothing that I considered outright poor. And, of all of the work that was awarded a gold, everything was simply quite excellent. There’s no way that you survive a jury of seasoned creatives from all over the world unless your idea is exceptional in some way (usually it’s exceptional in many ways!)

I mean, just look at this Film for Google Chrome, “Dear Sophie”, by BBH NY

Or this OOH poster for Maxam Toiletries, by JWT China, winner of a Silver lion

Or this Press ad for Ray Ban, from Marcel in Paris. Winner of a Gold lion

Or this Design entry for Google, by Johannes Leonardo in NY. Winner of a Gold lion

Or this amazing OOH for Getty Images, by ALMAP BBDO, winner of a Bronze Lion

None of it is bad, not even mediocre, in fact, it’s not even just good. All of it is pretty awesome, and that’s the minimum requirement if you want to compete for an award in Cannes!

5.   You have to be “in it to win it – Doing well at Cannes starts with great creativity. But beyond that, it takes work, dedication and savvy: agencies need to set objectives, hold periodic creative reviews to weed out the bad and encourage the good, enlist clients who believe in the business impact of creativity, hire top creative talent, encourage pervasive creativity among all of the staff, study how the winners create their submissions and follow the learnings, know what categories to enter in, adjust the entry so as to be eligible in multiple categories, participate in other awards shows, get involved in the juries, network, get the internal PR machine to help spread the work about your best work, etc. That’s only a partial list! But you can definitely tell that some people (such as the Brazilian agencies) have this as such a priority that it’s almost an art form. They are the number two country in number of submissions (behind the US and ahead of the UK) and they are very savvy about what/where/how they enter. Their dominance in the world stage is driven by brilliant ideas, yes – but they’ve also made this a priority and work hard at the business of award shows.

Stay tuned tomorrow for Cannes Dispatch 4, where I’ll share with you what I think are some of the key ingredients for winning at Cannes.



Cannes Dispatch: Touching the sky!

With Graham Fink (our CCO) and our poster – on the day before. Filled with hope…but never imagining what was about to come.

Regular readers know that I try to keep this pretty impersonal – I think this blog is about my views on international advertising, not about me, so I barely ever speak about where I work, what I do, etc.

Well, for today we’re going to make an exception. Because Cannes is a very personal experience, different for everyone, and I just had a pretty surreal day.

Read on for a behind-the-scenes look at what it’s like to win a Lion. And not just any Lion…

You see the new header on the blog? That’s a Cannes Grand Prix Lion. One of the ultimate pinnacles of advertising. And I didn’t get the image from Google…it’s my very own hand holding that baby up..! And what’s more, that’s not just any old Grand Prix…it’s my Grand Prix (or more accurately, Ogilvy Shanghai’s Grand Prix). Un-be-lie-va-ble…

Let’s rewind a bit, back to an Ad of the Day from April 18. With much pride I shared with you an outdoor piece we had produced in Ogilvy Shanghai for Coca Cola.

So now here we are at Cannes. Happy to accompany our single, little submission. Looking forward to learning, getting inspired, and planting that seed of future success. Perhaps, if lucky, we win a bronze Lion and take it home to inspire the office.

What follows is taken in part from a recap I sent back to our agency colleagues. Enjoy the behind-the-scene look at what it’s like to win, and win bigger than you ever dreamed.

First, some context:

A quick word on the significance of a Grand Prix. This year there were slightly over 30 THOUSAND separate entries. Only a very small percentage get shortlisted. Even fewer win a bronze, or a silver. Only one Gold is awarded in every Category/Subcategory (for example: Outdoor – food). And among the few golds awarded in Outdoor, they select one or two Grand Prix winners. The odds are ridiculous, it’s like winning the lottery. For example, is the first Grand Prix in Ogilvy China’s history. The first in Coke Asia’s history. Many top creatives go whole careers collecting prizes of all kinds, but have the Grand Prix elude them. This…is a big deal. And now…it’s ours. Forever. And they can’t take it away (at least, I hope they can’t!)

“You’ve got to be kidding me…c’mon, get outta here…”

Rumors started spreading late Monday night. Very underground, unofficial rumors. I thought it was going to be like the Oscars, where you find out at that very instant…but here the news starts leaking as soon as the judging is done. It might seem lame, but there’s a purpose for this – it gives agencies the chance to fly in winning teams at the last-minute, that perhaps would miss out on their accomplishment otherwise. In our case, it ended up being a key part of our celebration because we were able to bring in a key figure. I first heard the rumor from a colleague that has a reputation for being a bit of a jokester. I immediately dismissed it. How not funny, I thought. If he had said “silver” I might have believed him, but since he went for Grand Prix I just knew it was BS. I mean, it was preposterous. Then I heard it a few hours later from another person pretty high up, and that’s when I started thinking “oh, shit. This could actually be happening.”

“Get Jonathan on a plane. Just do it.”

Read the link above and you’ll know that this piece was created by Jonathan Mak, a (now) 20-year-old design student from Hong Kong, working in conjunction with our team. Graham our CCE called him late Monday night and I spoke with him shortly thereafter. Luckily he’s doing a semester in Cologne, Germany, so he was nearby. “Ummm hi Jonathan…you’ve got to get on a plane and come down here – can you do it?” He was slightly in shock too, so without thinking about it too much he said “sure”, and we booked tickets.

The Ceremony

It was…awesome. We entered the Palais through a “winner’s” side entrance. Again, there was no suspense involved, but that actually made it quite pleasant. No suffering, just enjoying every moment of it!

L to R: your truly, Francis Wee (ECD Ogilvy Shanghai), Jonathan Mak Long, Graham Fink (CCO Ogilvy China)

We got there early, and I sat with Graham, Jonathan and Francis as part of “winner’s row”. Everyone in our section was winning something, so it was just a great, relaxed, jovial mood. Seated directly to my left people from Jung Von Matt in Hamburg that won the other Grand Prix for “The invisible drive” video they did for Mercedes. A few rows down were the Belgians from Duvalle Gillaume that did that won multiple golds for their “Bikers” stunt for Carlsberg (by the way, don’t say I don’t share the good stuff with you on the Ads of the Day!) I mean, all the great creative teams that do the most famous work of last year…they were all there, it was like an all-star creative gathering (don’t ask me how me, an account guy, managed to sneak in. I think they saw my black t-shirt and bald head and assumed I was a creative director…) Having Jonathan there was special – it was inspiring that talent was being recognized and fostered, without the petty egos and jealousy that often pop up in these situations. Here’s a pic of the three musketeers. In cause you were wondering, the little guy is a mascot from the office that I brought for a little good luck!

We had pre-arranged that Graham and Jonathan would go up and receive the prize, for maximum effect. And when they called our name, I tell ya…it was…awesome. Even knowing that it was going to happen it was just great. Graham and Jonathan got a loud, heartfelt ovation. You can accuse creatives of being jaded at times, but I heard from many that they were very inspired by Jonathan being given proper recognition. And he deserved it. It was a marvelous, simple idea, the kind you can’t believe had not been done before. And we shaped it into a finished piece that really resonated with the international jury. And of course, once you add the back story of how it was created, it made it all the more interesting!

Once we exited the Palais, there was quite a bit of press that wanted to get their hands on them. Below is an image of Brazilian journalists asking their questions. The Asian journalists and delegates were particularly effusive in their praise of Jonathan, they couldn’t get enough!

A special note on the “physicality” of a Lion. These things, while in Cannes, are a source of awe. Especially a Grand Prix, because it has a whole thick wooden base, so it’s twice the size of a regular lion. It’s a big, blocky thing weighing 20 pounds, it certainly has a presence. When you are walking around holding that, you’re basically holding something that most people in advertising will never hold as their own – this sounds obnoxious but it’s true, so I say it in full appreciation of how ridiculous it is that I lucked out into this on my first day in Cannes! So anyway, this thing is like a magnet. We will bring him to the parties, drink champagne with him, take pictures with him, pass him around, and ultimately he’ll end up at the office, probably in some kind of semi-shrine!

The Cannes Opening Gala

Hundreds gathered for the opening gala, which was conveniently scheduled right after the awards. Let me tell you, the experience of walking down La Croisette holding a heavy Grand Prix in the hand is…quite something. This was a huge win, and people were coming up to Graham and Jonathan and congratulating them, taking pictures with them, etc. (me? Not at all! I think they thought I was Jonathan’s bodyguard or something!) Here are a couple of pics from the party, which lasted onto the high hours of the night and ended up at the legendary local pub nicknamed “The Gutter Bar”. Throngs of people, complete madness, you get the picture. Very high school, college, but with older, richer, drunker people:)

The aftermath

The good news is that we didn’t lose the Lion. We made it back home, and here’s a picture of him at breakfast the next morning as proof!

On a more long-term view of “aftermath”, only time will tell what this will mean for Ogilvy Shanghai, Ogilvy China, and creativity as a whole in China. I really think this is the beginning of great things to come. (I was expecting a more gradual build, to be honest!) We have very creative colleagues and clients working very hard, and with a little luck and a lot of perseverance I know we’ll be back to taste the success of Cannes next year.

Of course, the way things went down on this first day were probably a once-in-a-career occurrence, and that’s fine: we’ll enjoy it all the more! I’m very conscious that there is a lot of “lottery” involved, regardless of the greatness of the work. Very conscious, and very grateful. But someone has to win the lottery, right?

These were a surreal couple of nights that I won’t soon forget. And what’s best, the rest of Cannes is still ahead. As I write this we have three more full days of great work, great learning, super talented people, and some all around freaks, all mixed together and sent walking up and down a sea-side street known as La Croisette.

Of course, count on me to keep you posted on the shenanigans of the days to come. We’ll be back to “original programming” with the next post, and I hope you’ll forgive this personal detour – hopefully it gave you a little bit of a look at what this roller coaster ride can be like.

And above all, I hope that you get to experience it for yourself very soon!


Cannes Dispatch – Day 1, Monday

Like a kid in a candy store, I enjoyed today to the max, walking around in full “sensory overload” mode during my first day ever at Cannes. The people, the great work, the old colleagues from all parts of the world, the lovely, unapologetic Frenchi-ness of Cannes (even when filled with thousands of foreigners), the excitement of the awards show, the lovely weather…I mean, what can I say. Awesome. A great time. And this considering it wasn’t a late night because everyone, including me, was pretty tired from the flight yesterday!

Some of the cool work I saw:

Awards news:

  • Tonight, shortlists were awarded for many categories, and the awards ceremony was for Direct/Promo/PR
  • This is a personal blog so I don’t talk much about work…but I’m very proud – we submitted one entry for Coca-Cola in the Out of Home category…and we got into the shortlist! This is a big honor, especially since we’re coming in to learn and be inspired…this is just…a cherry on top. Of course, now that we made the shortlist, it would be really nice to bring some “metal” back to Shanghai…please send good vibes:) Awards are tomorrow.
  • Big winners tonight that come to mind are some past Ads of the Day – in my mind the one that was unanimously admired was The Return of Ben Ali, by Memac Ogilvy. Just great stuff.

Lessons learned:

  • Good work rises to the top, more than ever in this age of internet, blogs, etc. It’s just hard for really good work to not get seen and spread around. This is, more than ever, an argument in favor of creativity as a strategy for gaining awareness!
  • If you pay attention to the Ads of the Day…you’re pretty well caught up on a lot of the best work out there. Many (most?) of them will take home prizes!
  • Some of the speakers were simply not as good as I would expect for an event of this caliber. More to come on this later but, really, if you’re not ready to deliver on this stage, I don’t know when you will ever be. Some of the highlights from today were Deutsch LA on controlling agency turnover, and Kraft on new ways of getting good work from agencies.

Party happenings:
Empty page. Went out to dinner after the awards with a group of clients and colleagues, and then took a taxi back, I’m writing this at midnight. So pretty civilized, which is good because tomorrow we have an early-ish start.

More to come tomorrow. If yo’re interested, follow the action at #CannesLions, or on my twitter feed on the left. And send some good vibes for CokeHands!


See you in Cannes, baby!

Yes indeed! Adboardingpass will be at Cannes 2012, starting this very Sunday! I’ll be there for the first time, and I’ll be bringing you the goods on what goes down at this extravaganza of advertising.

Next week, instead of an “Ad of the Day”, look for other features, such as:

Daily Dispatch – cool work I saw, cool people I met, and observations of a Cannes newbie

Cannes Style Watch – “The Suit”, “The Creativo”, “The A lister”, “The Wanker”…they will all be there, and more. Pictures will be taken, tales will be told.

A bientot!