By Brian Morrissey, Eleftheria Parpis and Barbara Lippert
The hottest ticket in Cannes this year wasn't to a wild beach party, but a seat to hear the Media Person of the Year. It was fitting that, unlike previous years when Cannes honored titans like Viacom's Sumner Redstone and Yomiuri Shimbun's Tsuneo Watanabe, the crowds were there to gawk at a 26-year-old geek wearing a T-shirt and sneakers who started a Web site in his dorm room.
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg came to Cannes to spread his gospel of "making the world more connected" (and to have a late-night visit at Cannes institution the Gutter Bar). The message was given to an assembled ad world struggling to find its place in an emerging media world—marked by peer-to-peer sharing and interpersonal connections—while continuing to operate still-lucrative legacy businesses. The festival itself was palpably altered by social media. Once-cloistered jurors tweeted during their deliberations and a Leo Burnett creative recruiter, David Perez, let tweeters tell him what to do in a Truman Show-like social experiment broadcast live online.
Jury after jury rewarded work for its ability to get messages shared in digital and popular culture. Take the Titanium Grand Prix winner, Best Buy's "Twelpforce" effort from Crispin Porter + Bogusky. The campaign used Twitter to connect and service its customers. Another big winner was "Replay," the TBWA\Chiat\Day Los Angeles campaign for Gatorade that re-created a high-school football championship game between Easton, Pa., and Phillipsburg, N.J. It showed the training of the now-middle-aged participants and then the game, played in front of more than 10,000 fans. Cannes juries for Promo and PR gave "Replay" the Grand Prix; it won a gold Lion in Integrated and also snared a silver Lion in Media. It relied heavily on social media for people to share the remarkable story of the event with each other.
The Media Grand Prix winner, Leo Burnett Sydney's "EOS Photochains" work for Canon Australia, connected consumers through a Web experience that let users tag parts of their photos, which then became inspiration for new photos from others. The two Cyber Grand Prix winners, "Chalkbot" from Weiden + Kennedy for Nike and "The Fun Theory" from DDB Stockholm for Volkswagen Sweden, tapped into the real-time nature of the Web as well.
"Chalkbot"—which also won the Integrated Grand Prix—sprayed messages of hope on the roads of the Tour de France. "The Fun Theory" turned a stairwell in a subway into a keyboard to encourage people to take the stairs. Video of the project became a viral phenomenon, garnering 12 million views on YouTube since its October release.
Even the most traditional award categories stretched into interactive territory. The Grand Prix in Press went to the campaign for Billboard magazine from Almap/BBDO featuring outrageous portraits of rock stars that required readers to look close in order to see that they were made up of the tiny pixilated faces of each rocker's musical influences. In Outdoor, ambient executions dominated. The Grand Prix for Ambient went to Del Campo/Nazca Saatchi & Saatchi, Buenos Aires, for Andes Beer's "Teletransporter," a soundproof booth with a selection of sounds that allowed bar patrons to disguise their locations from significant others. "It's where digital meets life," said Outdoor juror Jon Williams, chief digital officer, EMEA at Grey.
Categories once in TV's rich and glamorous shadow are now at the center thanks to social media and consumer sharing. The Promo Lions saw an increase of 43 percent in entries this year. The newest category, the Grand Prix for Good, became the most hotly contested, as companies vied to impress consumers in a world where good deeds can travel at the speed of a click. Jaime Cohen Szulc, CMO of Levi Strauss & Co., explained the revolution this way in a film presented at the "Burning Question" seminar: "We no longer control the message. We manage the dialogue."
Keith Weed, CMO of Unilever, said the No. 2 global ad spender will double its digital outlays this year. Social media is a compelling opportunity for brands, he said. This shift to a transparent, connected world is a long-term trend, added Zuckerberg during his appearance. "We're going to look back at this and wonder why it wasn't always like that."
This bold future, of course, isn't without its challenges.
PricewaterhouseCoopers noted the deep recession would have lasting effects. It forecasts ad spending won't return to the levels of 2007 until 2014. Then there are the industry's infrastructure issues. One persistent theme was the struggle to integrate the outmoded distinctions between agency roles. Creatives and technologies need to work together, Crispin co-CCO and Cyber jury president Jeff Benjamin noted. Some even said the name of the festival itself was dated. Paul Taaffe, CEO of Hill & Knowlton and president of the PR jury, called for the excise of "Advertising" in its name as a variety of communications specialists are needed to build systems that connect with consumers.
Even the formation of publicly held ad holding companies was questioned. Brian Perkins, vp of corporate affairs at Johnson & Johnson, asked what he would do if he were CEO of Interpublic Group, said he would try to take the company private to avoid the short-term decision making that comes with meeting Wall Street expectations. "I'd argue it's a labor-intensive business," he said, "not a capital-intensive business."