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!


Ad of the Day – April 18 (Shanghai)

Your daily dose of advertising awesomeness from around the world!

Today’s pick:

  • Agency: Ogilvy
  • Location: Shanghai
  • Client: Coca-Cola
  • Name: “#CokeHands”

Why I like it: Well, I’m very proud of this ad because I worked on it! It’s the first time I post an Ad of the Day that I’m involved with, and I wouldn’t do it if I didn’t think it was well worth sharing. It kind of just speaks for itself. You look at it and think…dammit…why didn’t I think of that?!? It’s a truly iconic and universal image. It instantly conveys the spirit of sharing and friendship that is inside of every Coke bottle. And it’s minimalism at its best – distilled down to two key elements that both happen to be trademarks of Coke (the “dynamic ribbon” and the “contour bottle”). It’s ballsy when agencies and clients dare to express a though so cleanly, without all the extras! But wait…there’s more. There’s a fantastic story about who had the idea for this visual, and how it came to be. You’re already pissed off that you didn’t think of this…what if I told you that the person that came up with the initial idea was a 19-year-old design student? And what if I told you that this design student’s other piece of work was a very viral and equally iconic graphic tribute to Steve Jobs? Well, it’s all true. If you want to read all about it, (and trust me, you should!) check out the AdAge story that just came out today.

I’m proud of this work, and if you want to help me spread the word, I’ll be in your debt:) This is only in Shanghai for now, but I believe that it’s a universal icon, and these are somewhat rare!

Bonus – want to see a flickr stream of live photos of the poster, the Steve Jobs tribute, and a photo of the young designer? Click here.