Creative: In With The New

At the 50-year mark, the Cannes fest considers advertising’s future

Celebrating its 50th anniversary this week, the International Advertising Festival will look to the past—with a ceremony honoring five decades of Grand Prix winners—and the future of advertising, with an award for an entry that breaks through standard definitions of creative work.

With Procter & Gamble’s first-time festival delegation of more than 20 marketing execs sending a signal that creativity does, in fact, matter, this year promises to break some new ground. And Dan Wieden, one of advertising’s most respected and reclusive creative talents, is leading the film and press and outdoor juries, making the rewarding of innovation one of his chief goals.

“It is my intention to see if the festival’s 50th jubilee can’t usher in a new sensibility—and make it stick,” said Wieden in his message to the judges. And for the award show to “point the way forward,” the chief creative officer and CEO of Wieden + Kennedy urged the festival to introduce a new Lion, which he named the Titanium, to reward “work in a category or more than one category that makes the industry stop in its tracks and reconsider the way forward.”

The Titanium will be eligible for work entered in any of the five competitions—outdoor and press, film, cyber, media and direct—and will be determined with a vote by Wieden and the three other jury presidents: Marco Tinelli, president and CEO of FullSIX, Paris (cyber); Fernando Rodes, evp and CEO of The Media Planning Group in Barcelona, Spain (media); and Daniel Morel, chairman and CEO of Wunderman, New York (direct).

Categorizing work into film and press may be an outdated model, says last year’s film and press jury president, Jeff Goodby. “I expect we’ll have to make further changes,” says the co-founder of Goodby, Silverstein & Partners in San Francisco. “[The Titanium] is a good solution for this year, but these distinctions are all going to date themselves really soon.”

Last year many festivalgoers felt BMW Films from Fallon in Minneapolis was largely overlooked simply because the Internet film series didn’t neatly fit into any one category. (It was honored only in the cyber competition, with the Grand Prix.) “The shows are supposed to reward out-of-the-box thinking, and here is out-of-the-box thinking that was penalized for being out of the box,” says David Lubars, president and ecd of Fallon North America.

“The industry always seems to be—and I include ourselves in that—walking in the same footprints we’ve had for years and years,” says Wieden, whose shop took home last year’s Grand Prix in film for the Nike spot “Tag.” The Titanium “is a way we can focus attention on work that challenges the conventional way we approach things.” (For more from Wieden, see On the Spot, page 30.)

Judges will have less work to consider this year. Following a 9 percent drop in 2002, entries were down 5 percent to 16,392, but some gains were seen in media and direct, says festival chairman Roger Hatchuel. Media entries rose 9 percent to 779, and entries for direct, introduced last year, increased 6 percent to 1,123. Film entries, however, fell 10 percent to 4,577, and press and outdoor dropped 5 percent to 8,669. Cyber entries fell 7 percent to 1,244.

“I think we are doing fairly well in view of the economic climate,” says Hatchuel, estimating attendance at 8,000, about the same as last year; two years ago, the festival hosted a record 9,000 delegates. The threat of SARS kept nearly 100 Chinese attendees home this year.

Like other delegates and jurors, Mark Tutssel, vice chairman and deputy chief creative officer at Leo Burnett, Chicago, predicts Wieden will a “hard taskmaster.”

“It’ll be about ideas, ideas, ideas,” he says. “Only the best will survive. It’ll be an interesting competition.”

Wieden + Kennedy itself has several strong entries in the film contest, notably the Honda spot “Cog,” out of its London office (see Editor’s Pick). From its Portland, Ore., home base, contenders include the Nike ads “Before,” “Angry Chicken” and “Streaker.” And Nike’s Phil Knight will get the advertiser of the year honor (see Critique, page 28).

Other potential U.S. winners include Ikea’s “Lamp,” which won the Grand Clio in television last month, from Crispin Porter + Bogusky, Miami; Saturn’s “Sheet Metal” from Goodby; Volkswagen’s “Bubble Boy” and “Squares” from Arnold, Boston; and a slapstick Fox Sports National Hockey League series from TBWA\Chiat\ Day, San Francisco, a client and style of dark humor that have done well at Cannes.

U.K. contenders with buzz include two fantastical productions from Bartle Bogle Hegarty, London; in one, for Levi’s, mouse-headed kidnappers negotiate ransom for a cat, and in the other, for Johnnie Walker, people are propelled through water like fish. John Smith’s “No Nonsense” work from TBWA, with comedian Peter Kay, is also a favorite, as it won two silver pencils at D&AD last month. Perhaps the film work that will generate the most talk is a campaign for MTV Latin America from La Comunidad, Buenos Aires and Miami; one spot shows a breast-feeding baby’s hand straying to the mom’s other breast, and another features a boy watching porn.

The P&G delegation will watch and learn, says Jim Stengel, global marketing officer. “Going to Cannes is a reflection of the journey we are on as a company,” he explains, referring to P&G’s discussions over the past several years with its agencies and the decision that “we needed to achieve a higher level of creativity for our brands.”

Says film juror Steve Rabosky, chief creative officer at Saatchi & Saatchi, Torrance, Calif.: “Any client taking that many people over there and putting them to work is fantastic. … They are saying: We’re not going to succeed if we continue to rely on the same old process and formula.”

Agencies as well as clients need to rethink their old ways, notes print juror Gary Koepke, applauding the Titanium as a way to help move the industry forward. “We’re seldom breaking down the paradigms we’ve created,” says the chief creative officer at Modernista! in Boston.

Wunderman’s Morel says he imagines a Titanium winner will have to be “mind-blowing and above and beyond what we do now as communicators.” One theoretical example: “A creative answer to address the threat of TiVo.”

While the Titanium will be determined by the four jury presidents, says Hatchuel, it need not win a gold Lion in its category to be considered and should not overshadow the golds in the other categories. “The Titanium is not a Grand Prix of the Grand Prix,” he says. “It is a striking idea that looks for the future.”

There’s one other change on the Riviera this year, notes Hatchuel: an action-packed schedule that leaves no time for sun and sand. “Until 1991 it was film only and time for beach,” he recalls. “From 1991 to 2002, it was more work, less beach. From 2003 onward, Cannes has moved to more work and no beach.”

Editor’s Pick

By the time the Cannes judging takes place, I’m craving a surprise, an out-of-left-field win that will keep attendants debating long after the fireworks finale. I’m not talking about an upset along the lines of Saatchi & Saatchi’s sexually charged Club 18-30 work, which won the print Grand Prix last year. More like the proverbial “undiscovered gem” from a quiet market that’s rarely recognized on a global stage. Wouldn’t that be fun? But it won’t be this time.

Pre-Cannes praise doused on a commercial can suck much of the life out of even the most stunning spot for me. But if the entry with the most buzz this year, Wieden + Kennedy, London’s “Cog” spot for Honda, takes home the Grand Prix—which I predict it will—the win will be well-deserved. The masterful craftsmanship can’t be ignored (the chain reaction of car parts that culminates in a finished Accord took more than four months of prep time and 70 takes for the final shoot). It’s a spot that fully engages until the very end of its two minutes. And how often do viewers get a glimpse of a car in anything less than the most flattering light, let alone disassembled with parts strewn around? It’s a testament to a brave client and agency.

“Cog” will compete in what is shaping up to be the most impressive category this time around. The U.S. alone has a few strong auto entries, including Arnold’s Volkswagen spots “Squares” and “Bubble Boy” and Goodby, Silverstein & Partners’ “Sheet Metal” for Saturn. My favorite contender after “Cog” is “Squares,” an execution as simple—a consecutive series of square images to contrast with the round Beetle—as “Cog” is complex.

Like British-made spots “Champagne” for Xbox or “Bear” for John West, this year’s favorite so instantly enthralled the ad community when it broke this spring, it was quickly shared around the globe via the Internet. Working against it is that two artists who made a 1987 short film that shows dominolike reactions involving household items have argued “Cog” borrows from that work. Agency creatives acknowledge the film was an inspiration—but so was Rube Goldberg and even children’s games like Mousetrap.

I think the judges will reward the degree of difficulty involved in creating “Cog” and, more important, the strength of its idea. A car is, after all, the sum of its parts. And this spot has all the components of a Grand Prix.