Yes, We Cannes: a week of celebration and hope for an industry that will never be the same again

By Eleftheria Parpis

Flags

Cannes does not do recession well. The sun-drenched French Riviera, grand hotels along the Croissette and yachts bobbing in the harbor provided an incongruous backdrop for last week's gathering of an industry battered by a brutal year. Attendance was down 40 percent. Award entries were down 20 percent. Still, hope springs eternal in ad land, as executives expressed faith that the worst is over and celebrated work they hoped would show the way forward, including an inspirational presidential campaign and a scrappy effort for a small tourism account that became a global phenomenon.
  Talk of the recession gave way to what Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer and Procter & Gamble CMO Marc Pritchard called a "reset." The message: The boom years are finished, expectations for growth need a new baseline, and the industry needs to rethink its traditional practices. The spirit of renewal was best captured by the selection of Barack Obama's presidential campaign for both the Titanium and the Integrated Grand Prix. In large part, the effort won because it was able to ignite a groundswell among voters formerly blasé to politics. In the words of Titanium Jury chair David Droga, chairman of Droga5, the campaign "created a movement that was more than advertising."
  The other big winner, CumminsNitro's "Best Job in the World" campaign for Tourism Queensland, advertising an island caretaker job on the Great Barrier Reef, won an unprecedented three Grand Prix (in Direct, PR and Cyber) by taking a tiny budget of $1.2 million and building a global phenomenon, spread virally online. "It's the conversations they generate that's important," said Lars Bastholm, chief digital creative officer at Ogilvy and Cyber Jury chair.

  For a festival that has long revolved around television, Cannes continued its own reset to adjust to new media realities. Nearly half of the seminars covered digital topics, and Grand Prix winners in most categories featured prominent digital elements. Internet executives like Twitter co-founder Biz Stone, Microsoft's Ballmer and Google's Eric Schmidt all had high-profile speaking slots. Even TV commercials themselves are undeniably changing, as evidenced by the decision of the Film jury to award its Grand Prix to a digital agency, Tribal DDB, for an interactive video that appeared only online.
  "The work we create has to be a magnet where you voluntarily come to it," said David Lubars, Film jury president and chairman and chief creative officer of BBDO North America, who commended the film as a brilliant piece of content that works across multiple screens and gives viewers a deeper interactive experience. "That's where it is going," he said.
  Even Obama's use of TV veered from the typical course, including a 30-minute infomercial that aired across all the major networks two weeks before the election. Still, traditional TV is far from dead. Mary Dillon, the CMO of McDonald's, and Brian Perkins, corporate vp at Johnson & Johnson, both went to bat for TV, with Perkins calling its mass reach "phenomenal." Obama campaign manager David Plouffe said it was the cornerstone of Obama's ad efforts. "I know it's fashionable to suggest TV advertising is less and less important," he said. "In our campaign, it played a critical role."
  The new media landscape further highlighted the work that agencies and clients need to do to reset from approaches defined by discipline to integrated campaigns. Digital emerged as the glue that can hold far-flung efforts together. "Best Job in the World" won in Cyber, Direct and PR, and added a pair of PR Lions, two golds in Direct and a gold in Media. The campaign kicked off with perhaps the most challenged medium: newspaper classifieds. It added Internet video, seeding and PR to build out a campaign with global reach. None of it was an accident, said Sean Cummins, CEO of CumminsNitro in Brisbane, Australia. "There was no serendipity whatsoever," he said.
  The Obama campaign also left no area untouched, taking the ultimate in challenger brands—a relatively inexperienced junior senator from Illinois going up against the Clinton dynasty—and building his appeal by using social networking technology to power grassroots efforts and complement traditional media. "Our belief is we needed to be in every space," said Plouffe.