The view from Cannes

Issue 28 | September 2013

The trouble with Cannes is the location. It’s just too pleasant.

Blue sea, yachts bobbing in the bay, ridiculously fit and healthy people on the beaches and the sun shining sweetly.

Everyone assumes that when you go to the Festival of Creativity, all you do is lounge around having a fantastic time giving your expense account a thrashing.

Tell people that it is actually hard work and they look at you with cocked eyebrows, as if to say, “Pull the other one, it has bells on.”

But Cannes really is hard work now, especially with increasing numbers of clients coming down to the South of France.

This year, it is reported that around 35% of the registered delegates were clients. For them, Cannes is a cost-efficient way of having major meetings with all their agencies, conveniently assembled in one place.

They can also get up close and personal with the media owners, to find out about the next new big thing.

The fringe

That, perhaps, was the most striking feature of this year’s extravaganza. It has expanded beyond the main exhibition halls of the Palais des Festivals. There was a rash of tents and temporary structures nearby. Facebook had a bus. Google had a whole beach with a two-storey structure

and offered talks and inspiration sessions to anyone who dropped in.

In other words, the larger media owners are beginning to offer alternative attractions to the Festival itself. There is, if you like, a growing ‘fringe’, which is more appealing to many of the younger visitors because it’s more fun, more relaxed and more relevant to them. And free.

Bear in mind, a full registration package is €2,550 ($3,315 USD) and never mind the hotel bills on top. Even my modest little hotel, overlooking not the Mediterranean but the motorway, was €250 a night.

Visit any of the luxury hotels down on millionaire’s row and a round of drinks will set you back €100 and more.

In many ways the profligacy is obscene. Yet this year, well over 12,000 individuals persuaded themselves and their companies that it was essential they should be there.

There to meet and to learn.

Once again the Festival’s programme of seminars and workshops was both broad and deep, offering some of the most exciting and interesting people in media as speakers and teachers.


Some of the most popular of these were figures from the past.

Sir Alan Parker started life as a copywriter before becoming the writer/director of ‘Bugsy Malone’, ‘Midnight Express’, ‘Mississippi Burning’ and so forth.

In his seminar, he talked about creativity and his career with great humility.

Not a word that you would use when talking about George Lois. The legendary New York art director of the 1960’s and 70’s introduced himself as the most handsome man in the world.

He got loud cheers when he described the difference between good and great creative people.

“Young people come to me and say sometimes we have
to do bad work and I say to them, no you don’t. You can refuse to do it. When I had Pappert Koenig Lois there were times when I came back from the presentation and I had to tell the guys the client wouldn’t buy the idea so I had no alternative but to fire the client. They applauded me.

Young people say, yeah, but we have to pay the mortgage and I say to them, what you’ve told me means you will never be great.”

Lee Clow, creative director of TBWA Chiat Day Los Angeles, talked about what it was like to work with Steve Jobs and told the audience that there were still big lessons to be learned by marketers today from the single-mindedness of Apple’s driven genius.

For him, it had been “a privilege to ride his (Jobs’s) coat-tails.” 

Today and tomorrow

As well as looking back, the Festival looked forwards with much discussion about the advertising of the future.

For me, the most interesting presentation was from The Wharton School of Business, which tells you something about the kind of organisations Cannes Lions is now enticing to the Festival.

Professor Jerry Wind suggested that the communications in the future needed to be based around R.A.V.E.

Advertising, he suggested, will need to be much more Relevant and timely, it will be Actionable, it will be Valuable to the consumer and it will provide them with Experiences. The challenge will be to create new touchpoints rather than falling back on traditional media.

Also talking about the future was Sean “Diddy” Coombs, the rap star and businessman. He spoke about millennials, consumers born at around the turn of the century and whose outlook on life is very different to their elders.

“They don’t like advertising”, he told his audience of advertisers. “But they do like creativity.”

He was in Cannes to launch his new TV station, Revolt, which is to be aimed fairly and squarely at millennials. He was the only presenter at the Festival to bring his own bodyguards, which brought a touch of drama to the Q&A session he gave in the press room after his seminar.

One of the most used word of the Festival was “storytelling” and there was no end to the number of seminars about
it. Mostly organised and moderated by media agencies. Funnily enough, the great storytellers there (Parker, Lois, Clow) didn’t use the word.

For me it is a meaningless buzzword used by media planners as a substitute for words like ‘idea’, say, or ‘plan’.

Perhaps the most astonishing idea of the entire week was one which did not win a single award. But on the Monday, Astro Teller, head of GoogleX, revealed that Project Loon had been a success.

This was the launch of a series of balloons which ride the upper reaches of the atmosphere to provide free wi-fi to the territories below them. Google’s ultimate plan is to bring free wi-fi to vast tracts of remote Asia and sub-Saharan Africa and thus to help improve the world.

The test, in New Zealand, had worked.

“So, where’s the storytelling in that?”, I asked one media planner.

“’s all part of Google’s story about not doing evil.”

“But no-one sat down and said, how can we tell a story. They sat down and said, how can we have ideas that will change the world.”

Interviewed for Micrososoft’s ‘Mashable’ channel, one executive from a media agency, Jonathan Hoffmann of Starcom Motive, provided me with my most ironic moment of the week.

“Is there anything about Cannes that you don’t like, which is over-hyped?,” he was asked.

“Yes,” he replied, “All the arrogant creative people.”

Because the big media owners take Cannes seriously, with Google, Yahoo, Twitter and Facebook all highly visible presences, the media agencies are all there in force as well. Their agenda is not creativity but technology and how to adapt to it.

Personally, I think it would be a mistake to turn Cannes into anything resembling a tech conference. There were tech talks every day in the Palais and even more at the Sandbox. But Cannes is not SXSW and never will be.

Still, Mr. Hoffmann provided evidence, if you needed it, that the Festival has changed beyond recognition. It used to be a time and a place where creatives came to share their pain and celebrate the best work of the year. Now it is a place where creative people are not only in the minority, they are even resented.

The 4 points of conflict

Creative people formed the majority of the audience for
the Directory workshop. On the Tuesday, down in the bowels of the Palais, I ran a session about ‘The 4 Points
of Conflict in the Creative Process’. Actually, I ran it three times in total and many thanks to everyone who came along and especially to those who tweeted sweetly about the experience.

In my rant, one of the points I trued to make was that the creative process is defined by the constancy of conflict.

As a creative director, my job has always been to be the piece of grit that gets inside the oyster. What happens is the oyster sets about creating a pearl, something of beauty and value but the oyster’s endeavour is throughout the process is simply to expel the piece of grit.

Creative people are, by nature, difficult because they reject the status quo. They look constantly to change things. To improve things. To change the world.

The Festival still recognises that the future belongs not
to the Jonathan Hoffmanns of this world but to the tricky, awkward and irritating people who have ideas. That’s why a lot of ideas start in Cannes. For instance, Cannes Lions has developed a partnership with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to create Cannes Chimera. This is an initiative to get creative people thinking of ideas to help combat global poverty. Winners of the competition are awarded $100,000 to make their ideas happen and there is $1 million on offer to any idea that needs to be, and which can be, scaled up.

At the Festival, the 2012 winners were lauded and the 2013 competition launched. (For details, www.

Creative people, as I say, are not always easy to be around. They are driven by qualitative needs to produce ideas which are not just good but great. 

They go to the Festival not to talk, not even to listen but to see. They look at as much work as they can, the shortlisted work which is put up on the walls of the Palais and the work which is shown in the theatres and on the website.

So, what were the campaigns which excited the creative community?

Well, ‘Dumb Ways To Die’ from McCann Melbourne. It won a ridiculous number of Gold Lions (25), not to mention five Grands Prix. Oh, and three Silvers and a Bronze.

Watching it for the fiftieth time, I had to remind myself of the sense of envy and admiration I experienced when I first watched it.

It has now had nearly 52 million views on YouTube. Not bad for an ad about safety at railway crossings.


Another deserved Grand Prix (in Media) was the ‘Why wait until it’s too late’ idea from Ogilvy Amsterdam for the funeral services company Dela.

Quite simply, the idea was to get people to tell their loved ones all the things you mean to say while they are alive but don’t, for one reason or another. I have never before had a tear in my eye, watching an awards submission video but I’m afraid I did well up when I saw this.

Two Grands Prix (in Branded Content and Cyber) also went to Pereira O’Dell in San Francisco for their work for Toshiba and Intel.

With all the mumbo-jumbo about storytelling, this was a great story told with considerable brio. The concept was that the hero of the six webisode films is someone whose physical identity changes each day. The series tells the

34 Lions for ‘Dumb Ways to Die’

story of a love affair, how a guy falls for a girl who can only ever get to know him by who he really is, not by what he looks like.

One friend of mine went online to look at the campaign and instead of spending a few minutes, as expected, spent an hour and a quarter watching all of the films. As content, the story is told as well as anything you will see on TV.

Episode One is at: watch?v=-7bG5wo95jI

Direct winners

Naturally at Directory (, we have a particular interest in the Direct category.

This year there were 2,578 entries, up from 2,357 in 2012, when there was one Grand Prix, 15 Golds, 25 Silvers and 44 Bronzes, a total of 85 Lions. This year, one Grand Prix, thirteen Golds, 19 Silvers and 28 Bronzes. 61 Lions. So it was harder to win in 2013.

We were pleased that much of the work we showcased earlier in the year won Lions. We predicted that ‘My blood is red and black’ from Leo Burnett Brazil for Hemoba would win Gold and it did.

To raise awareness and to get more people to give blood, the Vitoria football team, who normally played in red and black strip, played in white and black. The more blood that was given, the more red was returned to the team’s shirts.

Blood reserves increased 46%. Hurrah.

The case study is at: watch?v=yRLUDuAvTkw

We predicted Gold for ‘Trial by Timeline’ for Amnesty International from Colenso BBDO Auckland and were not disappointed. 

We also predicted Gold for Draftfcb Lima, Peru with ‘Potable Water’ for the School of Engineering at Lima University. In the event, it won Golds in both Outdoor and in media. What they did was create a poster which collected condensation from the atmosphere and converted it into drinking water for the people of the nearby village. It was an example of how an engineering degree can help you have useful ideas. yZTueg

Lastly, we anticipated a big prize for Draftfcb’s ‘Driving Dogs’ for MINI and the SPCA. In so many ways this was a great idea, creating a new sort of mutually beneficial partnership between the car brand and a national charity.

What they did was to teach three dogs to drive a car. This reached a wide audience through a media partnership with a TV show. And then went massively viral. This one video on YouTube alone has had nearly 10 million views:

No Gold for Pantone. Boo.

We reckoned Abbott Mead Vickers BBDO would win for Doritos ‘Mariachi Doritos’, which they duly did. But only Silver and Bronze (in Media and Branded Content respectively.)

The idea was to get a Mariachi band to play hit pop songs. Through Facebook, followers could book the band to come and play at their parties, thus generating buzz in social media as well as content for YouTube and the website.

To see the band’s amusing interpretation of the hit pop song ‘Stay Another Day’, go to: watch?v=ZFqE5XKMwf4

As a fan of Direct Mail, we hoped Leo Burnett London would win Gold with ‘The Queen’ for Pantone, a colour

Silver for Baumgartner and Red Bull

chart based on the hundreds of different-coloured dresses Her Majesty wore in the run-up to her jubilee year. It won Bronze. Boo.

But ‘The Daily Abuse’ from serviceplan for the charity Innocence In Danger was a piece of Mail, which did win Gold.

The simple idea was to print and distribute a newspaper in which every word was the name of a child, whose childhood had been lost to abuse.

Work which I expected to win something and which won little included the remarkable Red Bull ‘Stratos’ campaign, which merely won a Silver in Branded Content. A man freefalling through space, which captured the interest of nearly one billion people did not captivate the 22 men and women of the PR jury.

Perhaps the jurors were too familiar with it?

For me it was another good Festival. There was plenty
to marvel at and much to debate. But for me the most inspiring moment of all was a conversation with John Merrifield, Google’s creative director in Asia-Pacific. We were talking about how digital technology is transforming our industry.

“Hey,” he said. “It would be good to win a Gold. It would be even better to win Titanium. But, you know what? Shouldn’t we be aiming to win the Nobel Prize?”

Now there’s a vision.

Not that Jonathan Hoffmann would understand.

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