The Last Ad of the Day (part 2 of 2): Learnings and musings

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This is the end…for now, anyway.

A little history

The first AoTD, Aug 2011

The first AoTD, Aug 2011

Ad of the Day began three and a half years ago, as a way to force myself out of the account man’s cave of process, spreadsheets and business plans, and instead have a look at the world of creativity in which I presumably had been working all those years. It was a transformational experience, somewhat like going from a couch to a light workout, and then sticking to it for a couple of years. Initially AoTD appeared on a blog I had started up (adboardingpass.com), with a readership consisting of my parents and my grandmother. Once I started working in Ogilvy Shanghai a few months later, I started sharing it with my immediate team, with the hope of starting a conversation about what makes good creativity.

And then it began to slowly spread, mostly by word of mouth. It crossed borders and found a strong foothold in many Ogilvy and client offices around the world, from Chicago, to Buenos Aires to Bogota, to Singapore and back. (And of course, India…for some reason I gained a ton of readers among the India offices, and some of the most responsive and engaged readers too!) I always made it a point to not pester: with very rare exceptions, you’re on this mailing list because someone told you about it and you (or they) asked to be put on it. And thus, things took on a momentum of their own.

For those of you who like data, here are some rough stats:

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500+ readers on the mailing list. 571 posts. 93 cities around the world featured, in 47 countries, on every continent. Most commonly featured: London, NY, Paris and Sao Paulo, in that (not surprising) order. Most exotic? Yangon, Vilnius, La Coruña, Nairobi, Reykjavic, Ankara, Curitiba, Hanghzhou. Dozens of Cannes winners (grand prix, gold, silver, bronze – all categories) spotted early.

If you’ve kept up, you’ve seen a lot of work. Mostly good stuff, some just ok, hopefully very little bad. And although you probably disagreed with my commentary much of the time, it made you think about creativity for a few extra seconds each day, and maybe it strengthened your own ability to judge work. That is the hope, anyway!

Learnings and musings

What happens after a while is that you start setting patterns. You start sensing common threads in good work, and seeing how those ingredients mix well, or sometimes not. And if you think about it a lot, you come up with your theory about the very essence of great (not just good) advertising.

In my opinion these are the key ingredients of great advertising.

1. A simple story, well told – Since we were cavemen sitting around a fire, people have loved stories. There’s something in our brain that gets stimulated by “story”, something that makes us lean forward and drop our guard down. And in advertising, getting people to drop their built-in mental ad-blockers is half the battle. And why should you strive to make your story “simple”? For two reasons: To make it easier for people to engage with it, and to make sure you’ve gone through the work of distilling your story and stripping away the added weight until you reach the essence…which is always interesting…and simple (not simplistic!)

2. A simple story, well told – There are plenty of idea zealots out there, but you’re missing the point if you don’t look at the “how” and see its potential to amplify an idea. Crafting can turn work from good to sublime, and there is something noble about the care and dedication that the word implies. And let’s not forget the medium…which in some cases can become the key driving force of the idea. I agree with Keith Reinhard, who predicts that the next frontier of advertising will be (at long last) the convergence of digital disruption and old-school storytelling.

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3. When the world zigs, zag – I have never found a better way to say it than the famous BBH tagline for Levi’s. I think this is where most people in our industry miss the point by a mile: if it’s not different, if it’s not disruptive…it’s just not going to get noticed in the real world. And if you don’t get noticed, you don’t have a chance. As simple as that. I cannot stress this enough, and it’s so important. So I’ll repeat it in italics for greater drama: if it’s not different, if it’s not disruptive…it’s just not going to get noticed in the real world. And if you don’t get noticed, you don’t have a chance.

4. An important, credible role for the brand – Only rookies think that the brand or product get in the way of the idea. An ad without proper branding is at best art, at worst a jumbled visual collage…but it ain’t advertising. Advertising exists for a commercial purpose…”we sell or else,” as David Ogilvy so aptly put it. The best ads are stories that exist because of the brand/product, not in spite of it.

5. “Great” is pretty damn universal – Don’t let the international experts tell you differently. I’m convinced that today’s world, for all its glorious diversity, is far more alike in its appreciation of great advertising than it is different. Great work unites almost universally because it reflects back at us the very core threads of our shared humanity: family, love, humor, empathy, dreams, and more. It is one of the more wonderful hidden truths about our industry.

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6. “Make it straight, or make it great” – One or the other. This is a quote from David Droga, when he visited the Ogilvy Shanghai office last spring. Not sure if it was an off-the-cuff remark, or something he always says, but it left an impression on me because it explained 90% of agency-client stress over creativity: Someone wants to go for great, someone feels they need straight, and in the ensuing battle over the middle ground is where ideas and relationships go to die. So make one choice, and go for it. There are brilliant ads that are a 15 second product demo (anyone heard of Apple?) There are brilliant ads that are a 2 minute soaring anthem (Imported from Detroit, anyone?) Make it straight or make it great. Now, on a related note: one of the things that sets humans apart is our irresistible quest for greatness. To reach beyond and explore the unknown. Why must we climb Everest? Why must we go to space? We just must. So while the learning above is “do one or the other,” I’d urge everyone to always aspire to a “make it great” every once in a while, and to chase it doggedly. It will keep you feeling fresh, feeling human, feeling excited about the work that you do.

That’s it. You select as many ingredients as you can, you mix, and you hope for the best. I’ve seen great work containing all different combinations of the above.

And yet, none of the above is uniquely embedded in the DNA of all great work. They are merely the important building blocks. So what then, is that unifying element? The one thing found in all sublime creativity? The holy grail of great work?

Courage

Courage. That’s it. Perhaps you expected something more mystical? Sorry. It’s simple, and it has been in front of our noses all along. In every single great piece of creative work, at some point in the process, someone was driven to arm themselves with courage and push things beyond a point of comfort. To push things into an area that felt a little risky. Or uncertain. A cheeky turn of the script. An unconventional director selection. A foray into an unknown medium. A quirky edit. A counter-intuitive use of music. And so on. Big risk, hopefully for a big payoff. And they felt uneasy. Felt afraid. Nobody wants to fail. Everyone has a mortgage, everyone has responsibilities. Everyone cares about how they will be perceived. We’re hardwired to move away from the cold and closer to the warm fire. So it’s hard. But courage doesn’t mean being detached from reality – it means seeing the whole picture and making a decision that “I believe passionately that this will make the work better. Let’s fucking go for it! Follow me!” And so they do it. And sometimes (often!) they fail. Advertising is hard, even in the best of cases. But other times they really nail it. And this is the work that transcends. And the world looks at the work and says to itself “damn, I wish I had made that.” 

Next time you’re in the midst of a creative process where courage isn’t necessary: where everything is smooth, all goes well, everyone is aligned every step of the way, etc. Congratulations, you’ve made a (hopefully) good ad, and you didn’t have to stress it. And that might be good enough. Just know that your ad has no chance of being truly great.

On the other side of that coin…the chance at greatness beckons! Your call.

And, in closing…

Why am I choosing this moment to take a pause? There are small reasons for it: Like the work day in NY starting much earlier than it does in Shanghai, making it increasingly harder for me to find the 20 minutes to do this every morning. Or that a long-time blogger idol of mine (Andrew Sullivan) just decided to put his pencil down, which gave me permission to start thinking along the same lines. But there’s a bigger reason too: mainly that the format was getting a bit stale. David Ogilvy said “Encourage innovation. Change is our life-blood. Stagnation our death knell.” And so I must follow suit. I don’t know how AoTD will re-emerge or when. I’ve long wanted to do something in a digital format, where you can see present and past work, search and cross-reference, share, etc. We shall see, but there will surely be more to come. And, if you have any ideas, I’m all ears!

There have been a lot of ads shared, and the very last one I selected on purpose. Although it’s humorous and quite tongue-in-cheek, there’s a serious undertone too: it’s a call-to-action for our industry. It shows the disease (detachment, cynicism, lack of courage) and the cure (exposure to good work, engagement, reconnecting to the roots of why we do what we do) on the very same page. 

Let’s all heed the call. Because the advertising/communications/marketing industry is a wonderful place, and there’s no better time to be in it than today.

In closing, a word of thanks to you, dear reader. For your wonderful words of encouragement and your support throughout the years. Each email meant a lot, and I couldn’t have done it without you. Let’s keep in touch!

Martin

World Cup Special Edition – the best ads!

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Cannes who? Today, June 12, the world only cares about once thing. the 2014 World Cup finally kicks off, after a long 4 year wait.

It’s a truly global celebration, and marketers/agencies have hopped on the bandwagon, producing work that runs the full range: from global to local, from inspired to clichéd, from amazing to decidedly mediocre.

In commemoration of this momentous event, I’ll share with you below the best World Cup themed ads that I’ve come across this year, along with my choice for “best ever”. Enjoy. And…vamos Argentina carajo!

1. Beats by Dre – “The Game Before the Game”: Wonderful storytelling, taking a different angle (pre-game rituals), taking its time, and sidestepping the clichés to get to real emotion.

2. GoPro – “Brasil Futebol – for the Love”: So many brands tried and failed to capture the essence of Brazil’s relationship with football. GoPro nails it, while expertly selling the product benefit. Maybe it’s the proximity of the shooting, or the inspiration of the director, or maybe they just got lucky. But I loved this one.

3. Quilmes – “Vamos Carajo!”: This one, through its repeated “c’mon dammit!” refrain, best captures the complex set of emotions of the soccer fan when the ball starts rolling. Four years of anticipation, hopes, fears, joys and doubts. And when the referee blows the whistle, what do 40 million Argentines say? Vamos carajo. Nailed it!

4. Nike – “The Last Game”: The main Nike effort was a disaster, completely missing the mark. But they redeemed themselves with this whimsical, “The Incredibles”-inspired mini-movie. Unbelievable production quality keeps you riveted and totally wins you over.

5. Movistar – “Among the People”: This one is in Spanish, but it’s easy to follow. I loved the unique angle they took. Disguised superstars among the regular people, not for a prank, not for a big reveal, but simply to feel the closeness to the millions that will be cheering for them in the next month. Very different, and very effective.

6. McDonald’s – “Gol!”: This one I thought did the very best job at capturing the childlike joy of playing with a ball. Playful, lighthearted, and even surprising at times, it brings a smile to the face and doesn’t overplay its emotional hand.

7. Banco de Chile – “Chilean Miners”: (turn on the captions for English subtitles) full-fledged nationalistic appeal to overcome tough odds, and damn if it doesn’t give me goosebumps. This is the type of borderline overplay that works gangbusters (if done well – and this can be hard) in local market ads.

My favorite World Cup ad ever? Below, by TyC Sports (a sports channel in Argentina) in advance of the 2010 World Cup in South Africa. I still get chills every time I see this – a virtuoso combination of insight,relevance, storytelling, dramatic build, emotional appeal, music, and iconic imagery. Unforgettable. If only Argentina’s teams did as well as their advertising:)

Which one is your favorite? Which ones have I missed (I’m sure there are many.) Let me know in the comments section. Enjoy!

Cannes 2014: Predictions

Cannes is around the corner, with thousands of hopefuls vying to take home a prized Lion. Who will succeed? Well, if you’ve been reading the Ad of the Day during the last year, you’ve actually seen a lot of work that will surely win some metal.
I’ve combed back through the last year of content, and below I share with you my 6 guaranteed(*) winners, plus another long list of work that I think has a strong chance. Enjoy!
(*) Trying to guess Cannes outcome is a fool’s game, as I painfully learned a year ago. But…whatever!
AD OF THE DAY “GUARANTEED” BIG-TIME LION WINNERS
 
1. OBI home improvement “Renovated Billboards” 
Redefines the boundaries of the outdoor medium, while showing the brand promise in a unique way. (OOH GOLD/Grand Prix) 
2. NewCastle Brown Ale “If We Made It”
Leveraged the insanity of superbowl ad-mania, turned it on its head, and got a ton of attention with little money. Brilliant. (Titanium GOLD/Grand Prix)
To see the entire campaign, go here: http://www.ifwemadeit.com/
3. Volvo Trucks “The Epic Split”
Dripping sheer brilliance in every glorious second. 72 million views, each one of them utterly deserved. (Film Gold/Grand Prix)
4. Mercedes Benz “Magic Body Control”
Completely unexpectd, and yet completely on target. A convention-buster that stays with you. (Film GOLD)
5. S7 Airlines “Peace Kiev-Moscow”
An amazing convergence of relevance and branded iconography. Captured lightning in a bottle. (OOH GOLD)
6. NZ transport agency
Devastatingly powerful, and strikingly original in a category that has been mined a-plenty (Film GOLD)
FULL LIST OF PROJECTED WINNERS (AMONG PREVIOUS ADS OF THE DAY – click on link to view the piece and the write up)
1. HBO GO (film BRONZE)
2. Sogni d’oro Teas (craft BRONZE)
3. VW Kombi (Titanium SILVER)
4. Lurpak (craft SILVER)
5. Nike (film BRONZE)
6. S7 Airlines (OOH GOLD)
7. Apotek Hair (OOH SILVER)
8. OBI home improvement (OOH GOLD/Grand Prix)
9. Jose Cuervo (Cyber BRONZE)
10. VANS (Branded Content SILVER)
11. NewCastle Brown Ale (film, Titianium GOLD/Grand Prix)
12. The North Face (Branded Content SILVER)
14. Guinness (craft BRONZE)
16. Day’s Inn (Film BRONZE)
17. Selpak tissues (Print BRONZE)
18. Greenpeace (Film BRONZE)
19. Volvo Trucks (Film GOLD/Grand Prix)
21. John Lewis (craft Bronze)
22. Eurostar (Cyber BRONZE)
23. Virgin (Film BRONZE)
25. Corona (Design SILVER)
26. Jack & Jones (Film SILVER)
27. Playstation (Craft BRONZE)
28. Geox (Cyber SILVER)
29. Carrie (Activation BRONZE)
30. Mercedes Benz (Film GOLD)
31. Guinness (Print SILVER)
33. Virgin Mobile (Innovation BRONZE)
34. Volvo Trucks (film BRONZE)
35. Airwaves (Print BRONZE)
36. GoPro (Branded Content BRONZE)
37. Schweppes (Print SILVER)
38. Paris Zoo (Print BRONZE)
39. Chipotle (Design GOLD)
40. Coca-Cola (Product Design GOLD)
41. Coca-Cola (Promo&Activation SILVER)

Both of these ads are amazing. One of them won’t win any creative awards.

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This Guinness ad has it all. One of those that you see and you think to yourself “I’ll be seeing you at Cannes.” Surely you’ve seen it by now, it’s gone very viral over the last month:

Instantly gripping. Fanciful camera work that gives you a kinetic, you-are-there feel. Great selection of the music track, which is at odds with the action, but hints that this is not just a sports drink ad. An unexpected, jarring twist. A meaningful emotional punch. A credible link to the brand and what it stands for. What else is there to ask for? Not much really, if you’re a consumer. As a piece of creativity meant to impact the real Joe down the street, this one just plain works.

And yet, my guess it that it won’t win a single major creative award.

Why? Because it may work for you and I, but if you’re a judge an awards show you have a duty to demand originality, and this is the mortal flaw of the Guinness ad and many other great ideas. Simply put, it has been done before.

Have a look at this one. It’s from India, for a local ice cream, and it came out two years ago.

How do you feel about the Guinness ad now?

We can’t (or shouldn’t) pass judgment on who did what first or who borrowed what from whom. But considering the timing, I think it’s safe to give it the Creativity kiss of death: “It’s been done before.”

It must be the bane of every young creative’s life: You go in to see the creative director with a great thought, something that has you thrilled…only to hear, in a most casual, almost dismissive tone “it’s been done.” Argh! Hearing this is an assured death sentence for the idea, even more than “I don’t like it”, or “this idea is terrible.”

Should it really matter if it was done before? After all, some of these cases of “been done before” happened in a different continent, in a different time, for a different category, surely it can’t be a big deal? In real life, perhaps not. But in the context of judging Creativity (with a capital C) absolutely! After all, the word itself implies creating something that wasn’t there before. If it has been done before, it may still be an amazing ad and it may still sell tons of product, it’s just not something that should be rewarded in a festival of creativity.

Now have a look at this lovely ad for Mercedes Benz, recently featured as an Ad of the Day:

What a joy it is, so interesting, crisp, and compelling in communicating the benefit. But now it gets really interesting…The Mercedes ad was posted in late September…and instantly some alert observers called foul and pointed to this ad by Fujifilm, dated February 19, 2013! Had it been “done before”?

Certainly, right? Not so fast. Amazingly, the creators of the Mercedes ad took the unusual step of defending their claim to originality, by stating that their ad was featured in Mercedes auto shows as early as last Fall (which can’t be easily corroborated), and by linking to an early Youtube upload from February 20, 2013 This, in my mind, is definitive proof that this wasn’t a copy. The defendant is innocent, and I expect awards will follow!

It’s like a cosmic coincidence of creativity. It may sound like a cop-out, but history is littered with examples of art/work/inventions that were birthed at the same time, with no likely correlation between the two. As in all creative arts, this also happens in advertising more often than you’d think.

So what do these examples teach us?

First of all, don’t be so quick to judge. It would be easy to start a witch hunt, but until you have the fact at hand, don’t make assumptions. I’m always a bit dismayed by how people toss around accusation of idea theft in public advertising forums. It’s basic civility to our colleagues to give them the benefit of the doubt.

Second, people need to understand that judging creativity in a creative awards show is not the same as a layman viewing creativity in their TV set. The criteria are much more extensive and demanding, and among these the variable of originality (“has it been done before?”) must be absolutely non-negotiable.

And finally, creativity doesn’t exist in a vacuum. It is affected by everything that came before, and it will affect everything that comes after. We have a responsibility to the past, by taking inspiration from what came before and using that to make the present work even better. And we have a responsibility to the future, by executing each idea in the very best way it can be done – If we’re going to preclude that same idea from ever being done again, we’d better make the best version of it possible!

Keep an ad on the Guinness ad and the Mercedes ad as awards season starts up next year, and let’s see if the juries agree.

Ad of the Day – July 4 (New York)

Your daily dose of advertising awesomeness from around the world!

Today’s pick:

  • Agency: W+K
  • Location: New York
  • Client: Southern Comfort (bourbon)
  • Name: Shampoo
  • Category: Film

Why I like it: This campaign is a gem, it shines bright for its courage and its flair. This is the second ad in the series, and it sustains the momentum and the “wtf?” fascination of the first ad (if you haven’t seen the classic, Gold lion-winning first ad, click here.) The flair is in the little details: the way he just goes ahead and checks the woman out…the old-fashioned shape of his glasses…his snakeskin boots…the real-world sexiness of the woman…her subtle smile of acknowledgement…his retro ring and bracelet…all of these details set off fireworks of secondary thoughts in your brain, and add depth and story to a narrative where seemingly not much is happening. But let’s talk about the courage, because as I watch this ad I have an ongoing thought of “wtf? this…is oddly awesome…I don’t know how to feel about this but I’m drawn to it. How did they ever pull this off?” Ask a FMCG client or account person about the ideal process to get out an ad and they might say something like: 1. concept testing/validation, 2. write-up a tight, specific brief, 3. develop creative that addresses all the nuances of the brief, 4. qualitative testing to make sure consumers get it, 5. quantitative testing to hopefully have statistical validation/guarantee of the breakthrough, comprehension, and forecasted efficacy of ad, 5. Hire director to “shoot the animatic”, without much deviation from what has been validated. We may talk about creative excellence, but really the driving factor here is to minimize RISK, to get it as close to zero as possible. This has a side effect: it eliminates the need for courage. It makes sense, after all there is big money at stake, careers, etc. So that’s fine. But let’s be clear: without risk, without courage at some point, there is no chance at all for great creativity. There. just. isn’t. In the example above, I’m sure they went through steps 1,2,3 and had a nice little strategy and brief. And then…they went off-road. How do you even present an ad like this? What is it even about? An oddly-semi-cool guy getting his hair washed? Imagine the leap of faith required! Going with this campaign takes courage, it assumes risk, it gives a feeling of mild discomfort, dread, and excitement. I doubt they tested it for validation. And I bet that they hired a talented director that added a thick layer of opinion on how the idea comes to life. And that…is how you get to great creativity. It’s messy, often risky, and requires courage and guts along the way. It’s a simple recipe to jot down, but a very hard dish to cook.

The “A to Z recap” of Cannes Lions 2013

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The posters have been taken down, the streets have been swept, the Nice airport has cleared, the celebratory hangovers are starting to fade…12 thousand delegates are slowly making their way home, having endured through a thrilling week of creativity, inspiration, networking, and good-old-fashioned celebration.

What to make of Cannes 2013?

The Cannes International Festival of Creativity, celebrating its 60th edition, has grown so big and complex that it’s impossible to capture the experience in a few neat thoughts. But I will try to give you a taste: below is an “A to Z” collection of parting thoughts from the unique advertising whirlwind that is Cannes.

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Anniversary Celebration: Cannes turned 60 this year, and there was an exhibition that showed the historical evolution of the festival. From its beginnings in 1953, when 200 delegates gathered in Venice and paid a 30 dollar registration fee (ha!), to the week-long extravaganza that it is today, including 12 thousand delegates and 35 thousand pieces of work submitted. Do you know that the Lion was originally modeled after the Lion of St. Mark’s Square, in Venice, and only got its current look in the 80’s? Did you know that Cannes only became the permanent home of the festival in 1984? For this and more historical tidbits, click here.

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Beach promenade: Although most of the content takes place inside a convention center, undoubtedly a big part of the identity of the Cannes festival is linked to its lovely French Riviera setting, and its beach-front promenade known as La Croisette. Why is the beach so cool? 1. You end up walking the 7 or so blocks countless time throughout the week, and amazingly you can count on running into mostly everyone at some point, from old friends to celebrities of the advertising world. 2. Most of the parties, large and small, take place on the actual beach itself – they place planks of wood on the sand and turn the beach onto a huge platform…from where you can look back onto the hotels…quite beautiful and unique.

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Lovely, relevant (and free!) last week

Coca-Cola: As far as clients go, this was undoubtedly the year of Coke. They were crowned as marketer of the year, in a rightful recognition of the incredible work they’ve been doing for many years now. An inspiration to the industry in terms of their creativity and their embrace of trans-media storytelling (if I were Pepsi I’d be so depressed!) On Saturday night they picked up their award, and this was the video that was played as an introduction. Two things to note: It’s called marketer of the year, but you don’t win this for one year of good performance, what is clear is that to get to this level you need a cumulative effect of many years of excellent creativity. Coke works with many agencies, and among them Ogilvy is extremely well represented, it can be said that we’ve been their key driver of recognition in the last two years, including CokeHands, Share a Coke, Sprite Shower, Toe Tappy, and many more!

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Dumb Ways to Die: Ten, twenty, thirty years from now, this will be the one piece shown in retrospectives of Cannes 2013. It’s an astounding achievement, and even if you saw it months ago, watch it again below and be hooked all over again. Consider: 1. It won 5, yes 5 Grand Prix (this is nothing short of surreal.) 2. Graham Fink nailed it with his prediction prior to Cannes: “…it is going to sweep the board at Cannes. And rightly so. I think if I had got this brief, I would have done something very powerful and shocking. But what is brilliant about this idea is the creative team did exactly the opposite. They started with a song. And a happy one at that. But at the heart is a dark message. I’m sure it hit the target market like an express train.” 3. Both Dan Wieden and Lee Clow got on stage and expressed their jealousy at not having come up with that one. Umm..wow.

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Excellence: One of the best things about Cannes is that it gathers all the great work from all over the world, and it shows you exactly how high the bar is. You walk away with a mixture of inspiration, ambition, healthy jealousy, unhealthy jealousy, and fear that your future work won’t measure up. A few examples below (click for larger image), like the Ogilvy Paris ads for Perrier Small Bubbles: a delightful mix of pop art, unexpected humor, solid writing, and cleverly conveyed product benefit. Or the ads for Knacki Sausages, also by Ogilvy Paris: amazing art direction, relatable humor, crisp benefit, great branding. Or the Ray Ban ad by Marcel, mixing artful photography, storytelling, and a brand-manifesto message. Amazing stuff, huh? I’d be so proud to have been involved with any of them. They all have something in common: all were shortlisted in print, yet none of them walked away with a Lion. That’s how high the benchmark is!

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Finality: Cannes can be filled with celebration, in fact there are so many awards and categories that at times it can seem a little like your kid’s soccer league: everyone goes home with a trophy. But the truth is quite a lot harsher. There were 35,000 submissions, and each one of them represents a lot of work, sweat and tears, and the hopes of many people who stayed behind in the office. When you don’t win (and most don’t win), the news arrives with a devastating finality: you see, the shortlist is published a few days before the awards show for each category. If you get a shortlist, this is a great accomplishment, and it allows you to continue “dreaming” of a Lion for a few more days until the ceremony. Party on! But if yours is not on the list…just like that, it’s all over. Sadly for me this was the case with many of our entries from Ogilvy Shanghai. On Monday morning, right at the time I was picking up my delegate badge and beginning my Cannes experience, I found out that many of our entries (including some that were near and dear to my heart!) hadn’t made the cut. Devastating. But that’s life at Cannes. Not winning doesn’t mean your work is not awesome (see examples above). But the pain is swift and undeniable.

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Gutter Bar: A true Cannes institution. Reliable, unassuming, and a charmingly decadent. If you haven’t been, you’d be stunned by what a piece of crap little bar it is. In fact I think it’s 2 or 3 little bars that are on the corner and neither of them is actually called “Gutter Bar”. What the term describes is an area on the corner across from the Martinez hotel, where hundreds, even  thousands of people spill over onto the street and just chill for hours, catching up with friends over copious amounts of beer. It’s basically the Cannes dive bar. People start arriving at 2 or so once the other parties start wrapping up, and then the place is jammed until 6 or 7. Seriously, it’s jammed until daylight. A word on the partying: regardless of what Cannes-goers might tell their wives/husbands/bosses back home, let me assure you: the amount of partying is insane. The sun doesn’t even set until 9:30pm. Dinner ends at 12. If you’re taking it easy, you sneak out to go home early…at 2 or 3. If you go with the flow, 5am. If you’ve won a lion and you’re going all out…6 or 7. Over the course of a week, this is a supreme test of human endurance, and I guarantee you that by Friday, variations on “being shattered” are featured in 94% of any conversation at Cannes. And that is just another reason why Cannes kicks ass.

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Hotels: The Carlton, The Martinez, The Splendide, The Miramar. All lovely, grand hotels along the Croisette where movie stars stay during the Film Festival, and advertising royalty stays during Cannes Lions. I walked into the lobby of the Carlton last week and as I was going through the revolving door Dan Wieden was going out in the opposite direction. Very cool. The Carlton has a fantastic terrace that spills out onto the Croisette (that is, the terrace juts out the front of the hotel,) and this is where people meet at all hours to catch up, gossip about the work and the seminars, and generally drink up pricey bottles of rose wine. At night both the Carlton and the Martinez are jam packed…they’re basically the pricier, slightly ritzier, slightly earlier version of the Gutter Bar.

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Immortal Fans: A masterful Grand Prix winner in Promo & Activation by Ogilvy Brazil (Rio office). Other work may have gotten a little more attention throughout the year in social media. But the way this case is presented has the power of a freight train, and I’m thrilled it got selected. Mixing the magic of soccer, with the passion of the Brazilian people, with a life-or-death cause, with a brilliant creative idea, with superb execution…what else? This is the type of sublime inspiration one is exposed to at Cannes. Our industry at its best.

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Sir John Hegarty: One of many “superstars” that you’re bound to walk by, or see giving a speech, or just generally be around during the week. It’s pretty cool. Shelly Lazarus, David Droga, Dan Wieden, Marcelo Serpa, Khai Meng, etc., they’re all there, most every year. I’m not sure if all industries have a collection of “stars” like advertising does, people that have been at the top of their games for decades, sometimes heading up agencies that bear their name, being very visible and vocal figures for their industry and representing tons of historic work. Certainly the entertainment industry (much more glamorous than us!), but I wonder if the same can be said for banking, or insurance, or automotive? Either way, it’s pretty neat.

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KhaiKhai: The Ogilvy network, under Tham Khai Meng’s creative leadership, last year won the Agency of the Network at Cannes, for the first time in Ogilvy’s history. We took the crown from BBDO by winning 83 lions, including a Grand Prix. This year, you figure the only way is down…instead, that record was completely obliterated. Khai gave a talk last week at Cannes where he showed inspiring recent work from around the Ogilvy network. It was amazing to see how diverse it was in geography, medium, and execution, but how consistent it was in its excellence. I don’t see Khai’s creative machine slowing down. I mean, even stuff that didn’t win a lion, or even get a shortlist (!) was awesome. Like this submission video for IBM by the New York office. Sweet stuff.

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Links: Cannes, is so large, so filled with content and options that I think you could easily fill up 10 schedules that would never intersect. Anytime there is a cool talk, seminar, meeting or party there are 3 others great ones at the same time that you unfortunately have to miss. So there are as many Cannes experiences as there are individuals – this A to Z view is one person’s view (mine). For more, here are links to some excellent Cannes roundups:

Mannes in Cannes: By our own Chris Gotz, ECD of Ogilvy Cape Town. Without a doubt, the very best day-by-day recounting of Cannes I have seen. Read from the bottom up. Seriously, you must. I wish I could write like this.

Adweek: Make sure you read the one where Lee Clow and George Lois dispense their timeliness wisdom, and also the one where they interview 12 greats

Adage: Filled with good video interviews of the top winners

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Meeting 2

“How not to be a douchebag in advertising”

Master Classes: At Cannes there are many types of “talks” during the week, all happening at once in a big jumbled heap of a schedule. You have Seminars: keynote speeches given on all types of topics, normally “sponsored” by an agency or industry-related company, and held in a big auditorium. There are Forums, where a panel sits and gives a bit of a speech, and then takes questions from the audience on a variety of topics.There are Workshops, which are skill-based and feature a more interactive, participatory setup. I bet not many were scheduled before noon. Also Tech Talks, where tech companies give their pitch on how they are going to revolutionize the industry. And even specialized content groupings, such as “China Day” this year, where all things China were discussed. But my favorite were the Master Classes. If a Seminar is a rock concert in an arena, the master class is an acoustic concert in a neighborhood bar. A very small, intimate, relaxed setting, with some seriously smart folks sharing their know-how in a casual, easygoing way. This year I went to hear Khai talk about creativity (above), Stephane Xiberras describe the difference between great and bad ads (more below), and the founder of Mother NY talk about how to avoid being a douchebag in our business. The only one I missed was Amir Kassaei of DDB, because I was triple-booked. Either way you like it, there is a ton to learn at Cannes.

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Schedule

Non-stop: They say you can do “learning Cannes” or “social Cannes” easily…if you try to do both you’ll end up quite worn out. Well, that’s what most people try to do. Folks that don’t go (especially wives and husbands) might think it’s a paid vacation…and while it’s as awesome as a vacation, it’s by no means as relaxing. Here is a sample agenda for last Tuesday June 18, kept track of with a handy Cannes Lions App that would crash every 5 seconds: 9:25-9:45 How to reap the benefits of 1.34 billion Chinese consumers, China Day; 10-10:45 Iconic Storytelling frame by frame, Annie Leibovitz, Disney & McGarry Bowen; 10:30-11:15 Four hands piano: how different is Chinese creativity?, China Day; 11:30-12 Casa Mexico hospitality area; 12-13 How to avoid being a douche in this business, Mother Collective; 13-13:20 Where is China’s youth heading? China Day; 14-14:45 Creativity at scale, Facebook; 15:30-15:50 Lightning Talk: LMAO with Gen Z – and realizing I am getting older, Google Beach; 16-17 The health tech revolution, crossing the physical digital divide, Arianna Huffington, 17-17:45 How brand can embrace miraculous new technologies, Leo Burnett & Contagious; 19-21 Media, Mobile, Innovation and Outdoor Lion awards; 21:30-1 Opening Gala, 1-3 Carlton Terrace, 3-5 Gutter bar…repeat more or less for 7 days..!

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Ogilvy: It feels a little bit crass to wave your own flag, but honestly at Cannes 2013 O can only stand for Ogilvy. Let me throw a couple of facts at you: 1. Agency Network of the Year. 2. Agency of the Year (Sao Paulo). 3. If you remove the points of all of Ogilvy Brazil entirely, we’d still be Network of the Year. 4. If you combine the points of 2nd place BBDO and 3rd place DDB…we’d still be agency of the year. 5. From Khai’s email: “No one had ever won more than 100 Lions before; our previous record—set only last year—was 83. We almost doubled that with 155 Lions.” 6. Grand Prix are extremely rare. The most we’d ever won was 2 for Dove Evolution in 2007. This year we won 4, and for 4 different offices on 4 different ideas (Promo&Activation: Rio for Immortal fans. Media: Amsterdam for Dela. Titanium: Sao Paulo for Dove. Outdoor: Paris for IBM) 7. We won a rare Creative Effectiveness Gold Lion, for which only previous Gold Lion creative winners can submit. 8. We won lions in 38, yes thirty-eight, different offices around the world. I don’t know how to say it elegantly, so I’m just going to say like it is: historic.kicking.of.ass.

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Pereira O’Dell: an agency from San Francisco that teamed up with Intel and Toshiba to win an astounding 2 Grand Prix (Film, and Branded Content/Entertainment) for “The Beauty Inside”. The piece doesn’t have a simple explanation, but it’s basically a series of web films released online and made in part by filmed contributions from Facebook followers of the story. An amazing mix of storytelling, technology, strategy and innovation. I was impressed because I had never heard of it (most everything that won last week had been appropriately pre-hyped to death), so it was a nice surprise. But what really stand out is the complexity and ambition of this project. You know how when a professional basketball player shoots a free throw, you can imagine what it feels like? Likewise with much of the winning work, I can imagine being involved in creating something like that. But this one…I don’t even know how people do it. A big part of the appeal of Cannes is setting a high benchmark…and then seeing how people consistently surpass it and push the boundary further. Check out the winning case study below.

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Quality: Much of the winning work at Cannes is crafted to such a high polish that it sparkles. It is quality advertising that makes the brand proud. I like that there is a craft category, because it recognizes that beyond the almost mystical powers of a great idea, there is also tremendous power in a wonderful execution. The Getty ad below won a gold for ALMAP BBDO for film craft in editing…but I think the music could just as easily been recognized. The Southern Comfort ad won a gold for film craft in casting…and I have to admit that guy just rocks. Like these two below…there are dozens and dozens that are the maximum expression of great photography, script writing music, cinematography, etc.

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Rosé: For some reason, rosé wine (quick note: pronounced “rou-ZEI”, just like the flower, but with an accent on the second syllable. The R can only be pronounced in the French way if you are French…or Brazilian.) is the official drink of Cannes. It must have to do with a summer feeling, a Riviera je ne sais quoi…or maybe it’s just savvy marketing by the wineries, ready to dump all their unsold wine on eager tourists one week a year. I’d easily bet that one sips more rosé in Cannes than they will in the whole rest of the year combined. If you win a lion, you go to the Carlton and order a big bottle of Champagne? No. You order a big bottle or rosé. And they do sell bottles that are the size of small children, as you can see in the adjoining photo.

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Ogilvy São Paulo: What to say about these guys? Five years ago they’re a decent creative office. Then they become a top creative office within Ogilvy. Last year at Cannes they were ranked the 3rd most creative office in the world, which was unbelievable. This year, they were number one. In the world. In the entire world, including the luminaries that everyone always thinks of, the Wiedens, the Drogas, the BBHs, the BBDOs, etc. Number one. Most offices are thrilled to shortlist. Win 1 silver lion or a couple of bronzes and it’s a banner year…hell win a gold and careers are made. This year Brazil won: 2 Grand Prix, 16 Gold Lions, 4 Silver Lions, 12 Bronze Lions and 24 shortlists. It’s almost grotesque. What’s best is that I’m lucky enough to actually know these folks: so I know they did it with hard work, without cutting corners, on real brands and with huge creative ideas that make a difference. An inspiration. Once again, parabens, galera!

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Twitter (and social media) overload: Cannes can get so intense with mobile overload that, upon leaving one would welcome a couple of days in a monastery, or camping, or wherever there isn’t electricity or a wireless connection. At Cannes there is wi-fi everywhere, and if the talk gets just even the slightest bit boring…people are immediately looking down at their phones. Tweeting about what is going on. Updating Facebook. Checking the schedule on the Cannes App. Catching up on Linkedin. Having a peek at Adage, or Adweek, or Adlatina. It’s non-stop. When you go have lunch or dinner…no problem, every place has free wi-fi, and so the madness continues. It can get a little overwhelming. On the more positive side, Rai Inamoto, the president of the mobile jury, pulled a stunt that I thought was pretty cool as he opened up his segment during the awards ceremony. He asked everyone to pull out their mobile phone and hold it up towards him. He took a picture. He tweeted it. He wrote “Admiring the stars of “#CannesLions at the Palais”. In seconds we had the picture in our own phone, via twitter. It all took less than a minute. Pretty amazing world we live in. Here you have it below.

Stars

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Unexpected discoveries: In the age of the internet, YouTube and blogging, if you pay attention to creativity you can pretty much be aware of most of the good work out there as it comes out throughout the year. Cannes often serves as a culminating recognition for great work that has been seen many times over, and this is great and well deserved. So it’s a special double treat when you discover work that is great AND you had not seen ever before. It’s the thrill of greatness and newness, all wrapped up. I’m sure you’ve seen and enjoyed Dove’s real Beauty Sketches…but I had never seen Dove’s “Cameray Shy”, a Gold Lion Winner for Ogilvy London. Brilliant, isn’t it? Amazing insight, powerful message, wonderfully executed…this got a huge round of applause, a real delight. And, if you’re not British, perhaps you may have missed the unbelievable “Meet the Superhumans” a Channel 4 promotional ad for the Paralympics last year. Crank up the volume and prepare to be amazed. This one also got a roar of delight when it was screened as they picked up their Gold Lion. Discovering these “hidden” gems makes a special event even more magical.

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Viral: “Dumb Ways to Die” has been viewed more than 51 million times on YouTube so far. Dove “Real Beauty Sketches” more than 55 million times. Last year’s Chipotle “Back to the Start” ad, 8 million times. And Dodge RAM’s “The Farmer”, 15 million times. Even a small activation on the streets of Singapore, Coke’s “Sharing Can” has been viewed over 1.5 million times. Media budgets are great, but we live in a time where amazing ideas, expertly produced, simply cannot be contained. There are so many channels, outlets, devices and means to get out the message! Advertisers sometimes speak wistfully of the 60s, when you had 3 networks in the US and if you had a good TV ad it would pretty much be seen be everyone. But think of all the good ideas for that didn’t make the cut…because their brands didn’t have a media budget! I’d much rather take my chances now.

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Wieden + Kennedy: 2013, Independent Agency of the Year. 2012, Independent Agency of the Year, and also Agency of the Year overall. 2011, Independent Agency of the Year, 2010, runner-up to Independent Agency of the Year. I mean, seriously! When they were announced winners this year, it caused zero stir, zero surprise, it was almost dull. This is what it means to be damn good. There is plenty of healthy jealousy and petty sniping between the “large” agencies…but not many people seem to have a single bad thing to say about Wieden.  And it’s not like they’re a tiny boutique shop in Soho…they’re a major agency with offices in multiple big cities around the world, doing work on mega brands for now decades. Whatever it is that they’re doing, probably more people should be paying attention and trying to emulate it.

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Stephane Xibèrras: Stephane is the CCO at BETC, the largest and one of the most creative French agencies. Among their many memorable achievements are last year’s magnificent “The Bear”, for Canal+. He gave a lovely little Master Class session entitled “From Lion to Skunk”, about how little decisions turned great ideas into terrible ones. Funny, self deprecating, charming and honest, he left me with one of my favorite quotes from the week. After explaining that the difference between good ideas and bad ones is often in the details, he stated, in a fantastically thick French accent, that  “…everybody can have an idea. THEN the work begins!” So true. And to his credit, he didn’t just tell us, he showed us. He took great, acclaimed ads from the past (such as “Gorilla” for Cadbury Dairy Milk) and then he went into client-from-hell mode: “I love it! Fantastic! Let’s DO it. (wait for it..wait for it…) BUT (bingo!)…only a few details…we need more energy, no? And a demo? Where is the demo? And I hate Phil Collins, is there something else”. Then, to our delight, he showed us the revised ad that emerges when those little tiny tweaks are made. What made it so funny and meaningful…was that the ads weren’t horrible…they were like every average ad that you see on TV! The aberration, the great ad turned bad for a few poor choices, was exactly the mediocrity you’d expect, but no worse than so many others. The lesson here? The difference between mediocre and great is razor thin. Details matter, obsess over them. Fight for the right to make the right choices. Wonderful.

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Young Lions: There is a category of attendee at Cannes called the Young Lions. It’s a brilliant move by the organizers as it begins the process of training, educating and inspiring the future leaders or our industry from an early age. They have a dedicated area, dedicated parties, and dedicated classes and seminars. Many agencies invest in selecting a few Young Lions from around the world and bringing them over to Cannes, and it’s great to hang out with them and take in their enthusiasm. The bad part is that it makes all the other “old lions” feel old as hell.

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ZZZZZ: This signifies all Cannes attendees come Sunday morning…people in the airports and planes were passed out hard. I’m sure it’s also many of you reading this post…which somehow seemed like a clever idea when I started, got incredibly long and out of hand, but it was one of those where I was on K and couldn’t just stop, now could I? I hope it gave you a small window into the eclectic, fascinating, maddening, uplifting experience that is Cannes.Last year was my first time ever, this year was my lucky repeat, and I hope to be there again next year, and maybe pick up a lion or two for work that makes us all proud. Most of all, I hope I get to see you there, walking down La Croisette, at a Master Class, at Gutter Bar, at the Palais, or hell…maybe even up on stage, picking up a lion or two for work that makes us all proud!

Cheers,
Martin

Ad of the Day – November 17 (Treviso, Italy)

Every morning I scour the web and look at the latest ads (in any medium) from around the non-US world. Then I post for you my Ad of the Day. Some days it will be awesome, some days you might not like it. But it’s the Ad of the Day!

Today we’re featuring not an ad but a campaign. The print ads first caught my eye, but check below for much more.

Today’s pick:

  • Agency: Fabrica, and 72andSunny
  • Location: Treviso, Italy, and Amsterdam, Holland
  • Client: Benetton
  • Name: “Unhate” (check out the site for the Unhate foundation here, there’s lots more to see)
  • Why I like it: OK, I’m going to go ahead and make a prediction: This campaign is going to win a TON of awards. A ton. It’s a done deal. And it’s a pantheon level candidate for my ad/campaign of the year.

Why? Because it’s tremendously creative. It’s superbly executed. Its core idea is broadly appealing, yet the execution is controversial enough to get people talking. It’s global in reach, yet can infinitely personal and customizable. It’s campaignable across any medium, and for a long period of time. It’s highbrow, yet a 6-year-old can understand it. It has an emotional heft, even as it toggles between humor, outrage, tenderness and love. It can be boiled down into one friggin’ word(!) It’s, it’s, it’s just…awesome.

Now, an important disclaimer for the cynical among you. I too think that it’s easier to “sell” unhate than to sell a detergent, or a motor oil. The benchmark of difficulty is not terribly high. I get it. But…the trick is always in the doing, and these guys have done it, as far as I’m concerned. I grew up with Benetton being a big deal, and the campaigns were iconic and groundbreaking even back then. This one I think recaptures that style, and we shall see if it helps bring the brand back into the global limelight. I can bet you that you will be seeing/reading/hearing about this campaign more in the next week/month than anything other campaign out there, by far – so that’s a start. This was done by Fabrica, their in-house agency in Treviso, in partnership with Sunnyand72 in Amsterdom. Awesome stuff, guys! More to come, I’m sure.

PS – The mini-film deserves extra commentary: whereas the print is very iconic and you get it right away, the film shows the fine line between love and hate, and it teeters back and forth in a way which is beautiful in its subtlety…it keeps the mind guessing the entire time. It’s so unconventional and just, cool. Don’t you think?