Cannes in 12 ideas

Issue 24 | September 2012

At the Cannes Festival of Creativity this year I was fortunate enough to be given a workshop slot.

Working to a live brief for Greenpeace to raise awareness of the opportunity in 2013 to reframe the European Common Fisheries Policy to ensure more sustainable quotas, I took about 600 people through The 7 Advertising Ideas.

The 7 Ideas is a practical tool I devised to help creative people have ideas; help planners and account people write better briefs; and, in some circumstances, help agencies work more collaboratively with their clients.

The premise is that just about every ad, be it above the line, below the line, on or offline, will belong to one of the seven ‘buckets’.

And it works.

Or, rather, it used to work.

The irony of Cannes 2012 for me was that while I was talking about the seven ideas, the juries were awarding Lions to campaigns that belong to far more categories than those. Where my training focuses on executional ideas, Cannes is now as much about business ideas, product ideas and technology ideas as it is about communications ideas.

1. Product ideas

When I showed the big Lions to the MAA in early August, at about slide 50, I paused and asked rhetorically: Notice anything peculiar?

Not one of the campaigns I had shown was what you might call an ‘advertising idea’.

Starting with the Titanium Grand Prix, Nike Fuel Band.

For starters, it’s an object. A thing. True, it is a thing that connects people through a shared interest in physical activity. True, it communicates much about the brand behind it, Nike’s celebration of the athlete in everyone. But it is not the sort of idea that traditional ad agencies are equipped to create. It’s too innovative. The sort of game-changer that comes from an entrepreneur on a mission.

But it did come from an agency. From R/GA and in Cannes, in a seminar he shared with Nike Marketing Director Stefan Olander, CEO Bob Greenberg talked about how his company has changed its nature every nine years. It started out as an animation house, it became a digital agency and now, said Greenberg, it was about to become a technology company, helping clients develop “an ecology” of branded products.

Historically, brands have simply replicated themselves whenever they wanted to extend and grow. Coca-Cola, a black fizzy drink, created Sprite, a clear fizzy drink. But this “horizontal integration” is no longer relevant in an age when the real and the virtual worlds are connected. “Functional integration” is the future, said Greenberg. Accordingly, he proposes to remove the word ‘agency’ from any descriptor of his company as it morphs into a service business that generates ideas linking products and services seamlessly.

Agency bosses, take note: in the same seminar, Olander mentioned that already Nike North America does not need to advertise any longer. All Nike does is start new communities and the members of those communities spread the word themselves.

From this perspective, the future of advertising looks as if it may not be in advertising. Except for the fact, of course, that new media don’t replace old media. And the two largest categories at Cannes in 2012 were Press, with 6,056 entries, and Outdoor with 4,843, more than twice the number of submissions in Cyber.

1. Nike Fuel Band – a product idea, a business idea, an idea that connects the real and virtual worlds, an idea that won the Titanium Grand Prix

2. Business ideas

Nike Fuel is an idea that changes what the company does and how it does it. Along the way, it appears to be changing how agencies see themselves going forward too.

There is no doubt that technology is allowing alert and agile companies to change their business models. And Cannes has always been quick to recognise these transformational ideas. CP+B’s ‘Twelpforce’ in 2010, Cheil’s ‘Subway Store’ for Homeplus in 2011. And CP+B’s ‘Small Business Saturday’ for American Express in 2012.

This won two Grands Prix (in Direct and Promo) and got mixed reviews from festival attendees. When I interviewed Gideon Amichay, President of the Direct jury (, he was unrepentant, arguing that this is the direction all advertising should be moving in. Creating ideas that transform our clients’ businesses to transform their sales.

For me, as with so many of the submissions, the results section of the awards entry is frustratingly devoid of real numbers.

Yes, ‘Shop Small’ got over 100 million Americans to support small stores (including President Obama) and yes, 40,000 people redeemed their $25 FedEx vouchers, but what did it do for American Express?

A lot, we resume. But we don’t know.

Elsewhere, in a largely disappointing Film category, the Grand Prix went to Chipotle, arguably not so much for its animated film with the brilliant Willie Nelson soundtrack but because here is a fast food chain setting out to be a sustainable business.

2. An idealistic idea about how they can run their business informs everything Chipotle does.

3. Connecting ideas


Fuel Band may have won the Grandest of the Grand Prix but it was not alone in being an idea that connects offline and online. JWT New York’s ‘Magical Bandaid’ idea for Johnson & Johnson was an app which brought the sticking plasters to life through an iPhone or an iPad so instead of the sound of weeping parents hear the sound of their kids laughing.

RAAD Dubai’s ‘Red Tomato Pizza Fridge Magnet’ was another of these ‘connecting’ ideas, a fridge magnet, which, once you have set it up, needs only to be pressed to send a signal to Red Tomato Pizza that you want a pizza NOW!

Perhaps the ‘daddy’ them all was Dr. Dre’s idea to bring Tupac Shakur back to life as a hologram on stage at the Coachella Valley Music Festival. Once you are derad you are extremely virtual, yet there was Tupac strutting the stage as if he had just driven in from the airport.

Ultimately, this was a business idea, driving sales of Tupac’s music, owned by Dr. Dre, and business ideas were warmly received by the thirteen different Cannes juries this year.

3. It’s not an ad, but it is a great idea. Red Tomato Pizza – a fridge magnet that orders your pizza for you.

4. Packaging ideas


The pack is a brand’s first and last opportunity to talk to potential purchasers. Innocent built all their early relationships by using the pack copy to talk to shoppers in a completely new, chatty way.

At Cannes in 2012 we saw Coca-Cola in Australia using the pack to create not so much a buzz as a roar in social media when they rebranded every can with 300 of the most popular names in Australia. Then they invited the entire country to share a Coke with a friend.

Which they were more disposed to do when the friend’s name was printed big in white out of red on the product itself.

Personalisation works, as any direct marketer can tell you. Also in Australia, Slurpee invited punters to personalise how they drink the stuff by having a Bring Your Own Cup day. People took along boots, helmets, vases and toilet bowls to be filled. And won Leo Burnett Melbourne a PR Silver.

For me personally, one of the most extraordinary ideas of the whole show came from Age Isobar Brazil for Camp Fruit Juices.

What they managed to do was persuade lemons and limes to grow from pips into the whole fruit inside plastic containers. The fully-grown fruit came off the tree square in shape and embossed with the Camp logo.

The square fruits were placed in the fruit boxes of supermarkets, communicating that Camp juices were 100% natural while directing shoppers to the juice section.

Only a few years ago, shopper marketing was mocked as the most stunted form of advertising but two things have changed that dramatically. First, P&G now insist on every creative brief having a box that explains how the idea must connect to the in-store environment. Second, Cheil’s Grand Prix winner from 2011 for Homeplus suddenly revealed that in-store communications could be a route to fame. Accordingly, in-store is where we are seeing real innovation.

Okay, perhaps it’s not strictly in-store, but Lego’s ‘Builders of Sound’ from serviceplan, Munich, is an instance of an advertising innovation, a device that allows the product to speak (or play music) for itself.

4. Camp grew real fruits in the shape of their boxes.

5. Long-tail ideas

Achieving Grand Prix status in both Direct and Promo, Crispin Porter+ Bogusky’s ‘Small Business Saturday’ was a landmark campaign in many ways. For starters, it had won lesser Lions Cannes in 2011. But it was the way the idea moved into social media in 2012, changing from a B to C idea to something C to C, that won the admiration of many festival-goers.   

Long-tail ideas are not easy to buy nor easy to manage because at the outset the team will have absolutely no certainty that their idea will work. They have to trust that people will grab hold of it and give it energy and direction.

Not all Marketing Directors have the bottle to buy this sort of a campaign because at the outset they will have absolutely no idea if they are going to work. It would have been hard for anyone to predict that the Senate would approve Small Business Saturday as an annual feature in the American calendar when they started rolling out the idea in 2010. But that’s what happened.

Other long-tail ideas we saw at Cannes include Gatorade “Replay”, now in its third year.

Many agencies now talk about starting ‘movements’ on behalf of their clients’ brands. Movements may well start with a leader who provides direction but as many a deposed autocrat can testify, movements have a habit of overtaking their originators and setting off in entirely unexpected directions.

If, historically, Cannes, was a festival that lionised the writers and art directors within agencies, it is now a festival that recognises the roles others play in the communications business.

‘Small Business Saturday’ is a tribute to account management. Managing the assets would have been no mean feat but the agency pulled it off and full credit to them.

Similarly, Saatchi & Saatchi Italy’s campaign for Coordown Onlus is a testimony to the suits. Having the idea was the easy bit.

“I know, let’s reshoot as many commercials as possible but with actors who have Downs!”

Making it happen would have required great organisational skills, tenacity, and the gift of the gab to talk brand owners into underwriting the costs of shooting their commercials twice.

5. On Integration Day, over 350 ads on TV and in print were replicated using Downs actors and models.

6. Ideas people want to be part of

The results section of almost every submission to the awards this year (barring print media) decribed the idea’s effect in social media. The number of facebook friends gained. The number of conversations started on Twitter.

Where social media dominated the conversation a couple of years ago, when Mark Zuckerberg came to Cannes himself, they are now a given in nine out of ten campaigns.

However, ten days before the festival, General Motors in the US issued a statement to say they were pulling their $10m investment in advertising on facebook. It was, they said, expensive and didn’t work.

At the festival, Coca-Cola CMO Joe Tripodi talked on stage about Coke’s 46 million facebook friends and how important they are to the brand. Coca-Cola clearly sees value in facebook.

I was able to talk to Mr. Tripodi after his seminar and put it to him that his endorsement of facebook seemed to suggest that Coca-Cola had worked out the metrics of what a ‘like’ is worth in sales dollars.

He confessed that, as yet, investment in facebook is still a matter of faith rather than anything else, meeting long-term brand building objectives rather than short-term, incremental sales.

For me, this is heartening. Because if increasingly we see science at work in many of the award winners at Cannes, communications is still an art. And Joe Tripodi is a worthy successor to the great William Lever who famously stated that “I know half my advertising works; I just don’t know which half.”

Still, it was intriguing to see ideas at the festival created expressly to secure more facebook friends for the brand.

For instance, TBWA Brussel’s ‘MINI Fan the Flame’ idea shortlisted in Direct, where every ‘like’ led to a jet of flame from a burner being directed at a rope holding a new MINI Countryman on a ramp. The person to click on ‘like’ and release the car won it.

Paul Adams, facebook’s Head of Brand Design, in his seminar, expressed exasperation that so many people in advertising and marketing try to apply the rules of advertising in traditional media to facebook.  He had come to Cannes to talk specifically to creative people, to get them to create ideas specifically for facebook rather than to repurpose ideas and slap them on the platform.

6. The idea was to win more friends for the brand on facebook – which the campaign did, attracting 21,314 friends in a fortnight.

7. Management ideas

At least Paul Adams was a creative person. Increasingly the speakers on the main Debussy platform are business folk and CMO’s. Some of whom thought they were more interesting than they actually are.

One exception to this, however, was Stephen Friedman, President of MTV, who talked about ‘Millennials and the Future of Creativity’.

He had persuaded Selena Gomez to come to the festival and be part of the discussion panel in his seminar. Selena is a star presenter on MTV and when she tweeted that coming to Cannes and ‘being part of this awesome panel’ was a joy and a delight to her, it started 3,863 conversations.

Bill Clinton, by contrast, started um…just 559.

Again, I got a chance to speak to Mr. Friedman and was intrigued to hear him talk about his mentor. Though the CEO of MTV, he holds regular meetings with a mentor nearly one third his age.

Isn’t this brilliant? A manager understanding that even as a bigwig running a global brand he has much to learn from people younger than himself. There is a humility here which is rare in the boardrooms of 99.9% of companies, even those that target ‘yoof’ – or ‘millennials’ as I suppose we must call them.

7.  Selena Gomez caused more excitement in social media when she came to Cannes than even ex-President Bill Clinton.

8. Strategic ideas

One of the fascinations of Cannes 2012 was seeing the same strategy win awards for agencies in Australia and China as it had done in 2011 for agencies in Argentina and Brazil.

Indeed, it won Ogilvy Shanghai the Outdoor Grand Prix.

Coca-Cola’s ‘share a Coke with a friend’ strategy, sitting on their ‘happiness’ platform, is a genuinely big idea that transcends media and transcends technology. Funnily enough, the most startling manifestation of it came not from Coca-Cola themselves but from Google.

The “Rebrief” campaign was aimed at getting traditional advertising luvvies to recognise what they can do with Google in all its myriad guises.

One of the strands they developed was to take the 1972 classic commercial, the kids on a hilltop singing “I’d like to buy the world a Coke” and make it actually happen, using their Android platform.

The result, a person in London buying a Coke for a person in New York or Buenos Aires, won the Grand Prix for mobile and was in itself an eloquent testimony to the fact that ‘the big idea’ is not being suffocated by technology but can be set free by it.

Strategies are the means by which brands become more frequent winners at Cannes than agencies. Pepsi’s “Refresh” project is another. This year BBDO Guerrero Manila won Lions for its ‘Litre of Light’ idea and there will be many more civic-minded ideas in the pipeline, I’ll hazard.

Like many brands, Pepsi is looking for higher-purpose ideas, ideas that embrace causes, which will engage broader communities than those who are merely fans of the cola itself.

These are ideas of relevancy and of shared purpose.

So Gatorade supported the Maria de los Angeles 5km road race designed to raise funds for disabled children by getting the competitors in their own Contender Triathlon to move straight from the finish line to the start of the fund-raising race and accompany the kids every step of the way.

And so on.

If people buy into a brand, they are more likely to buy its products. It makes marketing sense; and it makes for more engaging communications.

8. Outdoor Grand Prix to Ogilvy Shanghai, yet another award-winning idea born out of a great strategy.

9. Insights

An insight is an idea about likelihood thrown up by data.

It is a generalisation about individual behaviour informed by numbers, which can have a huge impact on the bottom line.

There is a famous story of Walmart data-crunchers identifying from the changes in shopping baskets women who had just discovered they were pregnant. This allowed them to start marketing to this group specifically with remarkable success not just in immediate sale but in building loyalty.

So at Cannes this year, as well as Chief Creative Officers on stage in the Debussy such as Sir John Hegarty of BBH and David Lubars of BBDO, we had heavy hitters from Nielsen, Millward Brown and the big media agency networks.

Adobe asked, “Is data killing creativity?” but allowed the panel to skirt the issue.

Leo Burnett put on stage a bunch of guys who have rarely shared oxygen together and tried to suggest that data leads directly to big creative leaps.

I’m sure it does.  

But where were the great examples?

What we saw were people defending their turf but very little that was illuminating except, perhaps, for the facebook admission that they are currently collecting information about each of their 900 million users in no fewer than 42 different areas of interest.

When they start making that data available, that’s when facebook shares won’t look as if they were over-valued at flotation.

For me, data only came to life in SapientNitro’s daily upload to the Cannes website, visualising the data generated by the festival.

There is no doubt that when you can see information produced graphically like this, it becomes both arresting and stimulating.

What are we to make of the fact that rather fewer than 25% of the registered delegates were creatives?

Plain and simple, creativity is too important for it to be left to the creatives.

The small green segment – that’s the total number of creative people at Cannes 2012 (from SapientNitro)

10. Good ideas

That said, creative people can, and do, show what they can do at Cannes in Pro-Bono work. It makes them feel good about themselves and it also provides a showcase of what advertising can do for their commercial clients.

So, Droga5 have been regular winners of Lions for good causes but this year also won Gold for the Prudential.  

They also won the Grand Prix for Good with an idea for the Bone Marrow Registry of America.  It is a box of sticking plasters, on sale in pharmacies. When you cut or graze yourself, before applying the plaster you can use the Q-Tip to take a tiny sample of your blood. This lets the Registry analyse your marrow type once you have dropped it in the pre-paid envelope contained within the pack and posted it. Now, substituting a complicated process for a simple one, you have become a bone marrow donor.

Incidentally, this was also what you might call a ‘solo’ idea. It was conceived and produced by Graham Douglas, a creative at the agency. No account team, no planners, no creative directors, just a guy with a purpose.

What we are beginning to see here is a tradition of young creatives liberating their ideas from the committees that might all to easily kill them in their infancy. If this year it was Graham Douglas, last year it was Matthew Ryan who won a pride of Lions for his Fourth Amendment T-Shirts.

Cannes has changed from being a retrospective of old ideas to a springboard for new ideas.

My own workshop was one instance of that. On a larger scale, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation are using the festival as a source of inspiration for ideas to change the world.

Cannes Chimaera is an annual competition with $100,000 dollars available to develop ten ideas.

If there were any big announcements about the 2011-12 awards, I missed them. Pity. This should be a showcase seminar/event at the festival because it is an expression of faith in the creative community.

I don’t expect Nielsen, Millward Brown, Zenith, PHD et al to be submitting too many ideas, do you?

11. Timely ideas

Sadly, much great work at Cannes in recent years has been in response to crisis.

In 2012, the earthquake that devastated Japan led to a number of great ideas, none more deserving of awards than Honda’s ‘Connecting Lifelines’ idea. Using the data captured by their sat nav systems, Honda were able to map which roads in the disaster areas were passable and which weren’t.

They provided practical help at a time of confusion.

Of less immediate use but of greater long-term meaning, perhaps, was Hakuhodo’s ‘Memories for the Future’ for Google, an idea which helped people who lost everything in the tsunami recover a few of their memories through photographs and videos.

Equally topical, though political in intent, was Memac Ogilvy Tunisia’s ‘Bring Back Ben Ali’ poster.

Having just disposed of the dictator, the country was sinking back into apathy before the all-important elections. To remind people that another dictator might easily step into the vacuum, the agency put up a poster of Ben Ali as if he had returned to power.

When passers-by angrily tore it down, they found a second poster beneath urging them to vote at the forthcoming elections. Or else…

If timeliness is when a brand chooses the right time and the right place to deliver the right message, it doesn’t always have to be in response to massive events.

A personal favourite this year was ‘Sorry about the Twigs, Folks’ for Monteith’s Cider from Colenso BBDO New Zealand.

A twig inadvertently (they say!) made its way into every box of bottles that went out from the factory and waited for the inevitable calls and complaints. But what better way to enhance the natural credentials of the product than to apologise to the nation for the bits of apple tree included with every purchase?

12. Good old-fashioned advertising ideas

They still exist.

What they offer is an immediate visceral response.

For instance, the loudest cheers of the week were at the Goodby Silverstein seminar when Jeff Goodby showed some of the agency’s old ads.

When I show the Cannes 2012 winners, there are plenty of  ‘Wows’.

A ‘Wow’ idea is admiration and appreciation.

But when I show Duval Guillaume’s viral film for Turner Broadcasting, ‘A small town-square in Flanders’, which 26 million people had viewed within a week on YouTube, there is a gasp.

A gasp idea is when the audience starts laughing. People start talking to each other.  The response is noisy, enthusiastic. Warm.

It is no accident that people say George Patterson Y&R’s ‘Mobile Medic’ idea for the Australian Defence Forces is ‘cool’. Or DDB Paris’s ‘MINI Maps’. Or Intel’s ‘Museum of Me’.

You regard them from a distance. Whereas Duval Guillaume’s ‘Bikers’ for Carlsberg is immediate, compelling, human.

The same for P&G’s “Sponsors of Moms at London 2012’ from Wieden + Kennedy. Mums in my audiences start biting their lower lips as the emotion gets to them.

That’s not to say there isn’t an emotional response to advertising in the other categories. Of course there is. But, as the BBDO seminar featuring David Lubars, Josy Paul and Paul Brazier set out to establish, the power of a well-crafted TV commercial should not be underestimated.

12. Warm applause every time ‘Push To Add Drama’ gets aired.

So, there we have it.

Cannes 2012. Big, bewildering and more important than ever. So important, in fact, there were accusations of vote-rigging in the jury rooms as well as the usual grumblings that the Golds went to the best entry videos rather than to the best work.

The festival has no other competitor now, providing evidence of the global transformation not just of our industry but of our clients’ industries as well.

They call it the Cannes Festival of Creativity. Personally I think it is more a Festival of Ideas.

Patrick Collister

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