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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Khai: 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.
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
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.
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..!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!