Cannes Round-Up 2008

Issue 8 | September 2008

Cannes this year was a bit like peering into a petri dish and watching the amoeba swell and begin to split.

Direct is becoming two quite different disciplines. There's the stuff we all want to do and then there's the stuff we actually do.

Naturally, the stuff we want to do is what people were talking about most while the stuff we have to do barely got a look-in.

The main themes

If you should lack for proof that direct is the ugly sister of advertising, come to Cannes. DM occupies the first two days of the festival and is then shooed off when all the beautiful people fly in to see what's happening in cyber and in telly.

That said, we were amazed to get a crowd of 500 in the Debussy Theatre when Directory did its talk on 'DM gets sexy'.

Our theme was that direct is becoming more attractive to clients because it stimulates emotion and transaction. It builds brands and drives purchase.

Take Sony's 'Foam' commercial. The url at the end takes you to a website where you can see all the other footage of foam and check out which cameras were responsible for which shots. Want to know more about any particular camera? Click. Then on to the shop and, click, it's yours.

Pretty much the same message was at the heart of Ian Haworth's speech. Global creative panjandrum for Rapp Collins, Ian talked about the need for brands to build relationships around shared values rather than around a free gift or an offer.

Nick Moore, the executive CD of Wunderman, New York, talked eloquently about how brands can start conversations rather than firing off messages at prospects as if it's a military exercise.

It's important to be important

What the speakers were all saying, secretly, was: 'Take direct seriously, pleeeeease, and a slot towards the end of the week with the Integrated and Titanium awards would be nice. It's where we belong.'

The awards themselves seemed to bear this out. Announcing the Grand Prix, Marcello Salem, jury president, said: 'This campaign moved the focus of the jury from the tools used in direct marketing to looking at the movement it created throughout the country.'

A couple of years ago, after he had been jury president, Fred Koblinger of PKP Proximity, Vienna, observed that epoch-making ideas don't come along every year.

Perhaps, after a couple of quiet years in direct, the 2008 jury tried a little too hard to find an epoch-maker. Apparently the Times of India campaign started the last day of judging a lowly bronze before it was upgraded to Silver and, gathering momentum, it rocketed from Gold to Grand Prix.

One can understand how the force must have been with it. A campaign that seemed to be a brilliantly orchestrated example of social engineering, moving a nation to declare a new sense of identity and purpose. Wow! Big stuff. Important stuff.

And yet. And yet.

When you look at the campaign, it started with a single press ad and a stirring call to action. 'We are looking for a few brave souls. Young Indians who believe in letting their guts do the talking. And prefer to lead from the front rather than from the armchair. So if you have it in you to lead India, log on to'

The only problem is, the call to action isn't the point of the ad. And it is almost invisible in teeny type down at the bottom of the page.

Nevertheless, it led to 874,000 videos uploaded onto YouTube, 50,000 column centimetres of editorial and 34,000 applications to lead India.

To me it's Frank Capra's brilliant movie 'Mr. Smith Goes To Washington' reconstituted for a world of social media. And it is nothing more than a clever recruitment campaign for a reality TV show, in which Mr. R.K. Misra was the declared winner.

Speaking for myself, I can see why it won the big 'un but I'm not sure it should have. It must have been exciting to vote for a 'movement' rather than an idea that grew a business.

Other Lions that touch the heart

Admittedly, there were plenty of Lions that did have compelling numbers behind them. The Wonder Performance Bread campaign from BMF, Sydney, sold nearly a million loaves in the month it was launched, with a 50% unprompted recall of the brand name after just one week.

'Anti-Slavery' campaign for MTV may have had less impressive figures, just 7,000 YouTube hits and 2,000 visitors to the Four Continents website, but early days, early days. The numbers will be bigger by now and besides, the creative idea, to parody direct marketing, is clever and chilling.

Equally clever, equally chilling is the Mortierbrigade campaign for Studio Brussels. A little black kid breaks into the regular TV programming to drink the presenter's water. Chat shows, discussion panels, even the evening news were all invaded.

By the time the 'Music for Life' telethon took place, awareness of the issues was huge and the event raised nearly four million Euros.

If you rummage among the Silvers and Bronzes, there are some other brilliantly engaging campaigns. Lowe Sydney's MTV campaign on behalf of Snoop Dogg, for instance. The rapper was being refused entry to Australia, so the idea was to mobilise public opinion and shame the Government into letting Snoop in.

The Médecins sans Frontières campaign is another. 1300 children's coffins were left on the streets of Stockholm. If you phoned to donate money, the coffin would be removed.

Within two hours, Saatchi & Saatchi Stockholm had hit their financial targets and the airwaves were buzzing with radio and TV stations talking about the campaign.

Did you notice the names of the winning agencies there?

Are the Lions irrelevant?

JWT, Lowe, Saatchi & Saatchi. Over 50% of the Lions awarded went to 'traditional' ad agencies rather than direct specialists. And that, I think, describes the split within direct pretty nicely.

A lot of award-winning direct is brand advertising by another name. It uses direct techniques to drive traffic to a website, perhaps, or to engage consumers in measurable ways. But that is not what direct marketing agencies came into being to do.

Philip Greenfield, CEO of RMG Worldwide, spells it out in the film. Nine out of 10 clients who invest heavily in and who value direct marketing would not recognise the award-winners at Cannes as being in any way relevant to them or their businesses.

For starters, as Duncan Gray, worldwide creative leader of Proximity, points out, precious few of this year's Lions are actually trying to sell anything.

Of the exceptions, my favourite is Hjaltelin, Stahl & Co's 'Wooden Shed' campaign, selling Citymail to direct marketers in Denmark. To demonstrate that this new postal service can, and will, deliver absolutely anything, provided it can fit through a letterbox, they mailed everything that was needed to build a shed inside a Copenhagen shop.

A webcam showed the hut being built before the core target audience got invited to the grand opening party.

Direct direct and indirect direct

I can see a time when direct creatives abandon Cannes. Instead of being a source of inspiration it may well become a fount of frustration. At the show they see the sort of work they would love to do, campaigns like JWT Costa Rica's work for Nelka Car rental, for instance, but which they never get the chance to.

For nine out of 10 creatives, the job is to create ideas that fold because for nine out of 10 clients, creativity is the Tesco Clubcard. There are at least 150,000 variations of the quarterly mailing, each designed to stimulate sales of products of specific interest to the recipient.

It's about kerching! Not the heartstrings. And it works. It is, if you like, direct direct as opposed to indirect direct.

Direct direct is what direct agencies do, getting their recognition at The Caples and The Echos. Indirect direct is what ad agencies do and Cannes is their playground. The whole week through.

Well, that's one opinion. What's yours? We have six of this year's top winners for you to look at. What do you think? Because that's the real value of Cannes. To stimulate debate, get people talking, get people thinking so that together we can move the nut forward an inch.

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