Reflections on Cannes 08

The hotels have lowered their prices, our livers are slowly drying out, and nearly a week has passed since the end of this year’s Cannes Lions. So it’s time to reflect: what can we learn about the state of the advertising industry based on this year’s festival?

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The hotels have lowered their prices, our livers are slowly drying out, and nearly a week has passed since the end of this year’s Cannes Lions. So it’s time to reflect: what can we learn about the state of the advertising industry based on this year’s festival?

Firstly, that it’s confusing. This year there were more awards than ever, across an increasingly diverse array of categories. While the Cannes Lions organisers are happily cashing in on this development, it does offer a pretty accurate description of how the industry operates now – with ad campaigns now routinely taking a multitude of different forms.

The quality of the winners in the Cyber Lions category shows that clients are finally (finally) realising that using the internet can be a boon for brands, and this year’s development of allowing internet films to be entered in the Film section was a shrewd one, especially as we are regularly seeing films made for the internet that are at least equal in quality to those that appear on TV (see the Grand Prix-winning Halo films as an excellent example). Plus the festival’s resistance to this in previous years was beginning to make it seem out of date. The choice of Cadbury’s Gorilla as the joint winner in the Film section was also an encouraging one – yes, it is a TV ad but it’s lack of brand message still shows bravery on the part of Cadbury’s, and that audiences are totally ready for more ambiguous approaches to ads. Rumour has it that Cadbury’s were extremely nervous about the ad before it aired, but presumably they are feeling pretty pleased with their leap of faith now.

The Film awards showed that a lovingly crafted or amusing TV ad can still do its work, however, with the excellent Skittles Touch apparently nearly snatching the Grand Prix from Gorilla (it eventually got a Gold), and DDB London’s Night Drive for VW and Fallon’s Skoda Cake both picking up Golds.

Also new this year was the Design Lions, although the category appeared to make little impact, with attention still firmly focused on the major advertising awards. While Turner Duckworth’s Coca-Cola identity is a solid Grand Prix, it didn’t do much to draw interest to the fledging category, which was (perhaps unsurprisingly) dominated by ad-based entries. Cannes needs to do some serious wooing of the design community to bring some excitement to the Design Lions, a tough task considering the industry’s current antipathy towards D&AD and its emphasis on advertising.

The Titanium Awards still seem to cause by far the most confusion and jury president Mark Tutssel’s description that Titanium is simply “the most precious metal” did little to illuminate what in particular the award is celebrating, apart from the increased creativity and diversity of the industry, which is now evident in other categories. Titanium was originally formed as a place for the BMW Films to be awarded, when online films were unheard of, yet this is already clearly out of the date. Perhaps it needs to look at other areas of true innovation in the industry, such as at how ad agencies are increasingly beginning to make their own products and long-form content, two areas of development that still remain unrepresented in Cannes.

Strongly evident this year though was the truly global feel of the industry, with great work appearing from all over the world. Japan continues to pioneer in digital advertising, as evidenced by the much-lauded Uniqlock project from Projector, which picked up the Grand Prix in both Cyber and Titanium. Also worth checking out is GT Tokyo’s Rec You site, which picked up a Gold award in the Cyber Lions. Beating Projector to the award for Interactive Agency of the Year however, was the UK’s very own Lean Mean Fighting Machine, whose web work for both Emirates and Virgin Games also picked up Golds at the Cybers.

As digital advertising plays an increasingly dominant role in the industry, demand for due recognition for digital agencies continues to grow, a point brought into focus by Big Spaceship’s recent vocal complaints at BBDO’s reduction of their contribution to the Outdoor Grand Prix-winning HBO Voyeur campaign. Cannes only allows one company to be awarded per prize at present, a rule that will no doubt continue to be contested over the coming years, yet this is a problem that goes beyond just award ceremonies. Speaking in Ad Age earlier this week, Big Spaceship’s co-founder and CEO Michael Lebowitz commented that Cannes has “an awards structure that hasn’t adapted”, but also laid some of the blame directly with BBDO (which also picked up the Agency of the Year award at the festival). “I don’t think that BBDO is completely innocent in this,” he said. “I tremendously admire what BBDO did … they shot an incredible piece of film. But to qualify us as a production company is to sell short the tremendous amount of insight it takes to take a traditional piece of media and put it out into the world in a natively digital way. Certainly, a lot of people came up to me and said ‘sorry’ when I was in Cannes.”

Other aspects of the Cannes festival also seem rather stuck in the past. Gone was the feel-good environmental rallying from last year after Al Gore’s call for a Green Lion award. Instead Y&R’s special guests this year were Rupert Murdoch and New Corp chief operating officer Peter Chernin. Chernin encouraged bravery by clients in the face of the current economic turbulence, suggesting that brands should at least stick to their advertising budgets, or increase them. “[There is a] much bigger impact increasing marketing in tough times rather than when everyone is shouting at the top of their lungs,” he remarked.

Outside the Palais, there was little obvious evidence of credit crunch fears, with the rosé flowing and the parties continuing in full swing as in every year. Also worryingly obvious however, was the continuing ‘boy’s club’ feel of the industry. This point was underlined within this year’s Saatchi & Saatchi New Directors Showcase, which, while demonstrating an exciting level of new talent in the industry (many of whom should be familiar to readers of Creative Review), contained no female directors at all. It begs, once again, the age-old question of why women are not drawn to the ad industry, or why they are struggling to break through in the same way as men. Advertising has come along way in the last five years, embracing the ever-increasing new media and demonstrating its continuing role as a creative force, but in this area it at times still feels as if it is back in the age of the Mad Men.

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