John Hunt, Film and Press & Outdoor President

Worldwide Creative Director, TBWA Worldwide, London

John Hunt, TBWA worldwide creative director and jury president of this year’s Film and Press & Outdoor competitions, doesn’t like to use the word “creativity” much.

“I hate it,” Hunt says. “It’s so abused.” So when asked what he will be looking for when reviewing the more than 16,000 entries in his categories, he says the answer is simple: “The original idea, beautifully expressed.”

It may be a cliched description, he says, but the Lion-winning ads need no fancy dressings. “I much prefer the stronger idea versus the lush production values. I’m not one for post-production pyrotechnics. Often, the more it goes that way, the more it leaves me cold,” he says. “I think most judges would agree. So, it’s more about size of idea rather than budget.”

The 50-year-old, founding partner of TBWA\Hunt\Lascaris in South Africa should know. Last year, TBWA was the most-awarded network at Cannes. The agency won 41 Lions across all competitions, including the Grand Prix in film, which went to TBWA London for PlayStation’s “Mountain.” “It’s gotta be relevant, but unexpectedly so,” says Hunt, who won two gold Lions for BMW in 1992, one for a spot about a mouse driving the car and another showing a mercury drop travelling over a naked body.

The right mix is what separates the good from the great. “If it’s too relevant, you’ll probably be putting us to sleep. If it’s unexpected, it’s really great to have a gorilla in a jockstrap bouncing around the screen-but if he’s not selling some related product … We try to navigate between the relevant and the unexpected.”

Born in Zambia and schooled in England and South Africa, Hunt has spent most of his career in South Africa, except for a recent stint in New York, where he was working at the agency’s headquarters following his appointment as global creative chief in April 2003. He still spends time in the New York office, most recently assisting on Nextel, but moved back to South Africa with his wife and three children late last year.

While Hunt is most excited these days by ideas that transcend media conventions, such as the live Adidas billboard from TBWA in Tokyo, his creative endeavors extend beyond advertising. An avid collector of African art, Hunt is also an accomplished screenwriter and playwright. Among his accolades, including an induction into the South African Advertising Hall of Fame in 1996, is a Playwright of the Year honor received for Vid Alex, a play condemning censorship during apartheid.

In fact, Hunt says his most rewarding experience in advertising was working on Nelson Mandela’s presidential election campaign in 1993. “I don’t know if he made my copywriting any better, but it maybe changed my views a little,” he says. “Maybe you reassess some values, and what’s important and what’s not-that sort of thing.”

In his global agency role, Hunt keeps tabs on creative from all corners of the world, but if he has any recent favorites, he’s not talking about them pre-Cannes. “If I had, I wouldn’t tell you,” says Hunt.

Winning a Cannes Lion is no small feat, when considering the average. “I’m afraid to say that I still think 85 percent of all advertising is crap,” he says. “What happens in the top 2 percent of that 15 is where the game is played, particularly in Cannes. The top 2 percent is, holy shit, I never saw that coming! That was clever.”

—Eleftheria Parpis