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.