Being invited to be President of a Cannes jury is a real honour and I was lucky enough to land the Promo and Activation gig. I love the work in Promo and Activation as the ideas in it are screaming for attention like a spoilt kid. Trying to arouse curiosity and deliver an impact with measurable results in a condensed time frame is always going to be challenging creatively. For me it can be best summed up as ‘Creativity without borders’.
The jury this year is no exception to other years where there is a great mix of talented creative minds from all corners of the globe, except China, although we all know it's only a matter of time before that changes. It's something that to my mind makes Cannes unique and gives credibility to the notion that it is indeed the Olympics of advertising in all its forms. Our first day of judging revealed that setting world records, super sizing the product or experience to ridiculous proportions or re hashing a social phenomenon is still not going to get you very far.
Fresh ideas that make you feel something instantly without the veneer of familiarity are always going to win out. The jury found a few that made being stuck inside on a beautiful day in the med bearable.
Day two beckoned for what was more of the same but the good thing about being in Cannes before the madness that descends on the Croisette the following week is it's actually a lot more fun judging with a clear head, and I thought I'd never ever admit to that. Our jury stayed in a hotel where all the floors are themed differently taking the various continents as their design lead. I was on the African floor where the designers have taken deepest and darkest as their cue as I didn't know what I looked like in the morning until I got in the lift. My eyes eventually adjusted before I injured myself on the furniture.
Anyway we're there for the work.
Great ideas hit us like a bolt of lightening and if they don't kill us with envy they'll charge us with enthusiasm to do better. I regard Promo and Activation as creativity that is let off the leash and runs amok in our society creating an immediate impact, over the course of the first couple of days of judging some themes emerged.
The words challenge, solution and results are punctuated by words like world's first, awesome, incredible, outstanding, impossible goals, best ever, unbelievable, amazing, inspiring humanity, most talked about ever, never before in the history of marketing, in our wildest dreams etc, you get the picture. Such superlatives lose their potency when you hear them every few minutes for a couple of days.
What amazes me is how easy it is to attract an enormous level of interest with benign, bland and puerile activity. The world's apparent thirst for content of any sort seemingly knows no bounds. And don't get me started on the subject of stating the bleeding obvious and trying to pass it off as a searing insight. To think people get paid big bucks to do this is hilarious; anyway it only helps to elevate those who have dug deep enough to unearth something truly original and interesting to say.
At the end of day two and judging by the majority of entries it makes me wonder how on earth we ever managed to sell anything to anyone in the past without the help of blogs, apps, facebook, youtube or twitter.
After a three-day travel odyssey our judge from Argentina finally managed to join us with a ready made case study of his efforts to escape the cloud. http://vimeo.com/25215569 We voted on it and from memory I think we gave it a Gold.
No show is complete without a Trojan horse idea or two. It must be one of the longest running campaigns ever, the idea that just keeps on giving, we also came across a beer campaign's insight that drinking beer can make you feel less than perfect the following morning, reeeeeally? I had no idea, to think for all these years in Cannes I've been blaming it on the sea air and sunshine.
It's also amusing to see people with misplaced optimism prepared to spend 10 times the budget they had for their idea on entering Cannes in an effort to try and snaffle a Lion. Mind you there was a student who had a go by submitting himself as a Promo, like it, big thinking, it's just as easy to fail at the top as it is at the bottom so why not start at the top.
There were some very clever ideas and plenty more that claimed overwhelming responses that tend to leave you feeling underwhelmed at best but the gems were gradually unearthed. If you were to believe every word of the case studies up for consideration it seems incredible that people have enough time to experience all the phenomenons and world firsts created by our industry. Not forgetting the ultimate experiences, who needs class A drugs when advertising is pumping out all this amazing experiential stuff?
The judging did have its lighter moments though, like Titanium was created for work that didn't quite fit in any category I think there's enough evidence to suggest Cannes could do with a WTF category as well. We ended day three and looked forward to the shortlist where opinions are shared amongst all 21 of us for the first time. The shortlist initially comprised of around 220 entries, which equates to roughly 10% of all the work entered. It’s a basic rule of thumb used by the Cannes organisers but it still manages to let some things through that don’t belong.
That’s where the fun begins, to tidy up the shortlist we began by pulling the chain on the work that barely scraped in. Coincidentally nearly all of this work had the unpleasant odour of scam about it so the jury was more than happy to flush those entries out.
What we ended up with was a body of work that anyone on the jury would be happy to put their name on, with some having achieved that distinction already. When you see how much work gets turfed out anyone who gets a shortlist should be pretty proud of themselves. Not exactly Gutter bar strutting stuff but pleased nonetheless.
Before the final shortlist is set in cement the jury have an opportunity to bring back any work, as long as they don’t have their or their network’s fingerprints all over it. Two pieces of work were retrieved, and included, the one I dragged back actually went on to win metal, always happens on juries, some things just turn from shit to clay before your very eyes. 175 carefully considered decisions later we had our shortlist.
Day five is all about metal, the jury now armed with their combined scores of how they ranked the 175 entries on the shortlist were ready to award the appropriate coloured metal, which isn’t as difficult as you’d think. In fact the Golds more or less self select, most of the discussion centered on the Silvers and Bronzes. Bearing in mind you can only upgrade rather than downgrade the metal, the jury tempered their enthusiasm for some of the work initially. One of the jurors thought it was important to explain work that we’d all seen several times.
Best to be patient in such circumstances and I did encourage everyone to get it all out as they may never be invited to be a Cannes judge again. Sometimes I could kick myself.
As we nudged closer to awarding the Grand Prix the room began to fill with the Cannes top brass, obviously keen to make sure we were still in full command of our faculties after five days of judging and weren’t about to loose the plot and create an international incident that would knock the troubles in the Eurozone off the front page.
For the Grand Prix we debated the merits of two obvious candidates, the other Gold winners being for public awareness or charity and therefore ineligible for the top prize. The discussion only served to strengthen one over the other to the point that the verdict was virtually unanimous. The campaign for the ROM chocolate bar from Romania was deserving of the Grand Prix and reminded us all that a great ballsy idea that uses technology as a lubricant to spread the message rather than as a crutch will always capture the hearts and minds of a Cannes jury.