As 8,000 delegates from advertising villages around the globe descend on the Côte d'Azur this week for the annual celebration of advertising creativity, the 51st International Advertising Festival promises to enthrall, inspire and disappoint. In the course of a week, nearly 19,000 entries will be discussed, digested, derided and distinguished.
As usual, winners will celebrate and losers (or are they non-winners?) will console themselves with buckets of booze at the Gutter Bar. But this year, entries across the five competitions are up 14 percent, according to the festival, a significant improvement over last year, when submission numbers showed a 5 percent drop. The biggest spike was in the 7-year-old cyber contest, which saw an increase of 25 percent to 1,561 contenders.
The U.S. dominates the list of entries, with 2,660, followed by Brazil.
"The economy is getting better," says festival chairman Roger Hatchuel, noting that the U.S. delegation of about 600 is double of that of last year. "Some countries in Europe are lagging behind, but globally the economy is recovering."
While Cannes is a perennial favorite among creatives seeking a worldwide view of innovation in marketing, this year they will be joined on the Croisette by a larger client delegation than in years past. The London-based festival organization reports that more than 100 clients will attend—versus 64 last year—including executives from Allied Domecq, Coca-Cola, Ford, General Electric, Hewlett-Packard, Kellogg's, McDonald's, Procter & Gamble, Toyota, Verizon and Volkswagen.
"Let's not forget that the industry lives with clients' money," says Hatchuel, himself a former Procter & Gamble executive. "I suspect, gradually, all clients are understanding that creativity in all its forms has become vital to them." The upswing in client attendance, says Hatchuel, is a sign of the urgency both clients and agencies feel in finding novel ways to reach consumers. Next year, the festival will add a radio competition, as well as public relations and design contests.
"The idea is to tell them, at long last, 'Friend, we're speaking the same language,' " says Hatchuel. "The Berlin Wall existing between agency and client has been falling apart."
The client influx, inspired in large part by a big P&G showing last year, won't be limited to the parties, press conferences and seminar events: For the first time, the festival has added clients to the judging process. The media Lions competition, which was introduced in 1999, will be evaluated by a 16-member panel that includes three client executives, from Ikea, P&G and HP. "It is a challenge for the client and its agency to reach the consumer," says Hatchuel, "and that's why creativity in the sense of media is important to the client."
Media Lions juror Scott Berg, global media director at HP, says in addition to fulfilling his role as a judge, he hopes "to develop and expand" the company's contacts in the advertising community and "look at really unique [media] plans and learn from those."
Dean Barrett, svp of global brand business at McDonald's, says his company's delegation, which includes more than 40 executives from Oak Brook, Ill., headquarters, also considers the festival to be a "tremendous learning opportunity." Last year, a handful of McDonald's execs convened in Cannes to interview directors for the global "I'm lovin' it" campaign. This year, global chief marketing officer Larry Light will use the festival as the stage to unveil McDonald's Olympic advertising.
Attendance at Cannes "underscores the importance of cultivating and developing top creative talent," says Barrett. "It sends a message of how important creative is to McDonald's and how we are elevating the importance of creative in all that we are doing in marketing."
GE's Judy Hu, global executive director of advertising and branding, says she plans to attend as many seminars and screenings as she can and spend some time in brainstorming meetings with GE's agency, BBDO, New York. "As GE goes global with our advertising campaign, [Cannes is] a great opportunity to review the best of the best," she says.
While some creatives may privately moan that the last great escape from day-to-day business worries will soon disappear if the festival becomes a magnet for clients, most say their attendance is a good thing: a sign of stronger client/agency relationships and an interest in producing better work. "It's great for them to see what's going on around the world and maybe rethink the whole creative process," says U.S. film juror Linda Kaplan Thaler, CEO and chief creative officer of The Kaplan Thaler Group, an agency on the P&G roster. "To P&G's credit, they're always searching, always looking, always asking," she says.
While U.S. press and outdoor juror Kevin Roddy suggests creatives may feel more guarded being around their clients—and feel an obligation to take time out to entertain them—any awkwardness will be outweighed by the dose of creativity that clients will receive. "If it leads to clients having a better understanding of what makes great work and being inspired to want that themselves, it's a really positive thing," says the partner and executive creative director at Euro RSCG in New York.
"It's a good thing that clients get exposed to more award-winning work and have time to think about what makes the difference between great work and good work," adds Ann Hayden, executive creative director at Young & Rubicam in New York. "I don't think [Cannes] will ever become a client-focused show, but my attitude is, better clients better our chances."
Yet despite the current of optimism, some longtime Cannes attendees are skeptical about the benefits of client participation in the creative showcase. "The fact is that awards should merely be about creative chaps telling one another that they like the work; clients are and should be interested only in results," says Neil French, former worldwide creative director of Ogilvy & Mather and now a consultant to WPP Group. "Sometimes, award winners are spectacularly effective; sometimes they're not. A great client relies on his gut feel. Creative awards are no more a marvelous advance barometer of effectiveness than are research results."
French does add, however, that he likes the notion of clients sitting in the screening rooms and watching the ads. "Most of the work is stunningly, stultifyingly boring—and this is the work that some client, somewhere, approved and paid for," he says. "Nobody was ever persuaded by boredom. If a piece of communication entertains in some way, it has a chance of being recalled positively. It's not a big task, but it should be top of mind for us all—clients included, but not exclusively so." creative editor's pick
With 5,081 ads to watch, will this year's film jury give the Cannes delegation something to talk about? Of course. It always does.
Will the Grand Prix go to an epic production like TBWA London's "Mountain" for PlayStation 2? An electric, design-driven idea like the iPod work from TBWA\Chiat\Day in Los Angeles? A copy-driven effort like Citibank's personality swap from Fallon in New York? Performance-based office comedy like FedEx's "Doomed" out of BBDO New York?
Or it could go to a hilarious product demo, such as the spot for Soken from BBDO Bangkok in which film buffs start stuttering like their faulty DVD players as they talk about movies. Then there's perennial favorite Nike, which has "Musical Chairs" from Wieden + Kennedy in Amsterdam. Adidas also has a good chance, with TBWA\180's boxing match between Muhammad Ali and daughter Laila.
Judging from the entries I've seen, "Mountain" has the best shot at the Grand Prix. Like many winners before it, the Frank Budgen-directed spot has a grand scope—it's an impressive 60-second piece of film from a director with a track record of racking up Cannes gold. Set to Shirley Temple's "Get on Board," it tracks people running through a city, trampling over each other to get onto a chaotic, sweaty, growing mountain of bodies. Each has a brief moment of glory at the top. The tag: "Fun, anyone?" It's an inventive metaphor for the communal spirit of the gaming community and the emotional thrill of winning. Yet ultimately I'm more intrigued with the production than the message.
My vote goes to TBWA\C\D's work for Apple, which should perform well in press and outdoor. The iPod TV doesn't have the spectacular effects of "Mountain" and isn't as cerebral. Maybe its simplicity will work against it. But it's pure product enjoyment, wrapped in an iconic package that says as much about the gizmo and its users as the PlayStation spot. Actually, more—much more. It's powerful advertising that, whether you're a digital-music fan or not, feels infectious.
But the beauty of Cannes—getting 22 creative minds from all corners of the globe together for six days—is that anything can happen. Last year, the unexpected Grand Prix winner was Crispin Porter + Bogusky's wry take on furniture shopping, the Spike Jonze-directed "Lamp" for Ikea. Many attendees had been rooting for the Honda "Cog" spot from Wieden. ("Cog" copywriter Ben Walker addresses the controversy in "On the Spot" on page 27.)
As usual, the U.S. dominates the film competition with 1,177 entries. But as Mark Tutssel notes, "It's not a vintage year." There's a lot of good work, but "how much great work there is remains to be seen," says the Leo Burnett chairman and deputy chief creative officer. (Burnett has compiled a Cannes predictions reel since 1987.) Film juror Gary Goldsmith, U.S. chairman and chief creative officer of Lowe New York, concurs: "I don't believe there's one spot or campaign that's changed advertising this year."
The U.S. has plenty of potential winners, however, from DDB Chicago's TV version of Bud Light's "Real Men of Genius" radio campaign to Saatchi & Saatchi L.A.'s "Girlfriend" for the Toyota Tacoma. And another PlayStation 2 entry, from TBWA\C\D in L.A., showing the mayhem that ensues when videogame gadgets are used in real life, will compete with "Mountain" for gold.