Creative: Cannes – In The Lion’s Den

About 8,000 members of the global ad community will descend on Cannes this year. Upon landing in paradise, the judges go to work. The lucky few (about 65) rarely swim in the surf or watch the sunrise while leaving The Martinez bar. Instead, they sift through nearly 5,000 commercials, 7,000 print ads, 600 new media entries and, new this year, 400 contenders for The Media Lions. They laugh at the jokes, bear the boredom and hash out the disputes. All to bring you the best the ad world has to offer. Here’s a look at three U.S. judges.
Film: Nina DiSesa, Chief creative officer, McCann-Erickson, New York
The painstaking process of screening nearly 5,000 commercials may not seem like the most glamorous post at Cannes, but the method is somewhat fitting, says Nina DiSesa, one of the 20 judges on the Film jury this year.
“You’re so miserable that something has to be good to get your vote,” she says. “It’s a duplicate of the whole consumer process, right before our eyes. It simulates the overstimulation of the consumer.”
Though the 53-year-old chairman and chief creative officer of McCann-Erickson Worldwide’s New York office will be spending most of her days along the Mediterranean in the darkness of the judging chambers, DiSesa is anticipating some excitement, at least in the work.
“The thing that judges – and creative directors – have in common is that they look for something that surprises them,” DiSesa says. “But the surprise has to be relevant to the brand.”
This year, McCann’s New York flagship office has entered several TV and print executions from its “Priceless” campaign for MasterCard, including “Happy,” which debuted during the Super Bowl and features an all-star cast of cartoon characters, such as Fred Flintstone and Mr. Magoo. The agency also entered its work for Salomon Smith Barney, Motorola and Lucent Technologies.
DiSesa admits her shop’s creative product isn’t exactly the kind of work that does well at Cannes, which generally rewards “audacious work, work that really pushes the envelope and takes great risks,” she says. “I don’t have those kinds of clients . . . We do better in American shows.”
For any idea, conservative or outrageous, to reach its full potential, everything has to come together, DiSesa explains. “Talent isn’t enough. How you produce a spot, choose the right music, the right director, the right talent, all those judgment calls have to be made brilliantly,” she says. “To be able to keep that vision going and enhance it is what separates the men from the boys.”
– Eleftheria Parpis
Press & Poster: Bill Ludwig, Chief creative officer, Campbell-Ewald, Warren, Mich.
He’s come to the French Riviera to be seduced. As one of the 22 judges in this year’s Press and Poster category, Bill Ludwig knows what he likes.
“Television is intrusive. It barges into your life like an uninvited guest,” says the 44-year-old vice chairman and chief creative officer of Campbell-Ewald Advertising. “Print is different. You want to spend time with it. You want to participate with it.”
Specifically, Ludwig is lured by simple execution, citing Volkswagen Beetle work from Arnold Communications in Boston, Porsche ads from Carmichael Lynch in Minneapolis and Altoid Mints ads from Leo Burnett Chicago as prime examples.
“Just to immerse yourself in the best creative from around the world is reason enough to go to France in the summertime,” says Ludwig, adding that his trips to the Cannes ad festival have left him “exhausted yet inspired.”
While he has spent most of his career as a copywriter on automobile advertising – the last 16 years at his current employer – Ludwig doesn’t think his experience limits his ability to judge work in other categories. “I don’t consider myself a car guy. I consider myself an ad guy and a consumer guy,” he says.
Although this is his first experience as a judge at Cannes, Ludwig knows what it takes to succeed. Client Chevrolet historically has garnered an impressive array of awards through the decades, and the automaker’s “Heartbeat of America” campaign, which Ludwig helped create, earned a Silver Lion in 1990.
Although Campbell-Ewald has never won Grand Prix honors, “We get our fair share of awards” at Cannes and other shows, Ludwig says. This year, the shop has entered its Chevy Blazer print ads and lusciously photographed Chevy Tahoe TV efforts, which fit his judging criteria, he adds.
While it’s true that award shows often have no bearing on how an advertisement affects its product’s performance in the marketplace, Ludwig has this to say about those who claim they don’t care about such honors: “They’re people who tend not to win awards.” – Tanya Irwin
Media: Paul Woolmington, President, The Media Edge Int’l., New York
He’s more than just your run-of-the-mill global media chief. With an artistic bent and a penchant for creativity, Paul Woolmington prides himself on being a “passionate practitioner of the media craft.”
An avid photographer who collects black-and-white portraits of pop icons such as John Lennon and Michael Caine, Woolmington, 37, has been looking for a chance to help media professionals shed the number-crunching stereotype and raise their creative profile. As jury president of the first Media Lions, his moment has arrived.
“What we’re trying to do is celebrate media, celebrate thinking, celebrate great ideas, and also allow this to be a start of a forum to get great media people, clients and media owners together to discuss the challenges in our business.”
The four-day event, the first global awards show to recognize media excellence, will culminate on Wednesday with a presentation dinner that will also honor Italian media magnate and former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi.
Media Lions jurors will be divided into three groups of four, which will whittle down more than 420 entries to 50 before handing out 10 awards by media category, 10 by target audience and a Grand Prix. Judges consider written summaries of the media plans, along with creative samples.
One of 12 judges at the inaugural event (others include Jack Klues of Starcom and Mike Drake of BBDO), Woolmington says he’ll offer his colleagues a simple bit of advice: “Would you, as a judge, say to yourself, ‘Why the hell didn’t I think of that?'”
That question popped into Woolmington’s head a few years ago at the movies, when he bought a bag of popcorn and realized it also served as a print ad for Calvin Klein. In other words, the focus will be on great ideas – whatever the form – not just bottom-line effectiveness.
As for the complaint that the Media Lions will dilute the Cannes brand, Woolmington notes that next year’s event will take place in the fall, separate from the main ad festival. Besides, he says, “The number of entries, the number of countries [represented], the organizations prove this is long overdue.”
Overall, the Media Lions represent a significant leap forward for the discipline, and Woolmington hopes that by creating a global prize, his craft will no longer be viewed as a “step sister” to creative.
“On a global basis, the media is recognized now as a separate business. It’s recognized by clients, holding companies and media groups as a valuable business in its own right,” says Woolmington, who attended the Cannes ad festival once before, in the late 1980s, when he was executive media director at Delaney Fletcher Delaney in London. Woolmington fondly recalls his first trip to Cannes. “It was a great intrigue . . . I loved the wining and dining.” – Andrew McMains