Can You Hear the Shrugging?

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This year, for the 22nd time, Leo Burnett has released a “Cannes Predictions” reel, along with general observations about industry trends. The picks take into consideration the results of previous awards shows, and are usually astute. The big news on the trends front this year? “Prognosticators everywhere are shrugging when asked to guess the Grand Prix — perhaps more than ever” is the way the Burnett team put it, in an exceedingly diplomatic version of “these days, who the hell can tell?”

Given that so many categories have now blurred under the banner of “brand communication,” any single piece of work can be entered into multiple niches, which gets confusing and expensive for the agencies doing the submitting. Only the Cannes judges know which entries are in which categories, so predicting winners gets mighty complicated.

I hear prognosticators shrugging.

For example, say you come up with an Internet campaign. You can enter it into Film. (According to the latest rules, Film entries can live on any screen, including TV, cinema, computer and phone.) It could also qualify for Titanium & Integrated. Then again, there’s also a Cyber category. Which one matters most? Although Film has traditionally been considered the top prize, “last year was the tipping point,” maintains Titanium & Integrated jury head Mark Tutssel. “Titanium is now the most prestigious award to win.”

Perhaps that’s true. But in the midst of so much exciting new work in newly established categories, not to mention a world economy rocked by recession and inflation, one trend that has emerged, particularly in the U.K., surprises me: huge, conceptual TV commercials, featuring ginormous productions that cost into the tens of millions of bucks to create. Of course, by dint of being so massive, the TV spot then has an instant Internet component in the “making of” documentary, which can be slapped on a microsite, along with outtakes and interviews with the director and production designers, which raises the chance that interested viewers will post the spot on YouTube, which in turn attracts press coverage. So perhaps there’s a method to the spending madness.

Or maybe not. Speaking of tipping points and huge productions, one of the top picks on the Burnett reel this year is Guinness’ “Tipping Point,” from AMV BBDO, London.

Feeding off the “Good things come to those who wait” tagline, the spots generally offer a visual feast and a clever ending. For “Tipping Point,” director of the moment Nicolai Fuglsig of MJZ — he directed two other prize-worthy candidates on the prediction reel, J.C. Penney’s “Aviator” and Coke’s “It’s Mine” — took over an entire Argentine mountainside village to set up a miles-long domino trail that included a line of rusted cars, refrigerators, crates, suitcases and flaming bales of hay. It ends with some flapping books forming a pint of the stout stuff. It’s intricately engineered and a great art project, a production designer’s dream. But in the end, the payoff on the reported $20 million expenditure isn’t big enough. And it’s derivative — just the dark-beer version of Honda’s “Cog.”

Another giant production included on the reel is Skoda’s “Cake” from Fallon U.K. The compact and economical Skoda Fabia was the butt of jokes in Britain for many years. To elevate the car’s image, Fallon did something aesthetically sophisticated: edible art. We watch as a crew of white-clad bakers spends the entire spot making an enormous (and real) cake, in the form of the car, to the sounds of “My Favorite Things.” Again, it’s an awesome production with an unexpected outcome. The car looks delicious. It also looks like a cartoon car — and isn’t that the image they were trying to get away from?

There’s another car campaign from the U.K., however, that’s a Titanium-worthy big idea. For starters, it’s sheer poetry, in that the soundtrack features actor Richard Burton reading Dylan Thomas’ Under Milk Wood. Called “Night Driving,” the spot from DDB London shows a lone driver in his Volkswagen Golf speeding around a deserted Los Angeles in the dead of night, as Burton’s rich, resonant voice offers some of the dreamiest, most enchanting words ever written. “And all the people of the lulled and dumbfound town are sleeping now,” he says. “Hush, the babies are sleeping, the farmers, the fishers, the tradesmen and pensioners, cobbler, schoolteacher, postman and publican, the undertaker and the fancy woman