Creative Cannes: Lionhearted

Marcello Serpa presides over the 47th International Ad Fest
The last time Marcello Serpa participated in the judging of the International Advertising Festival at Cannes, he wanted more. More Lions, that is. It was the unforgettable year, 1995, when Frank Lowe was jury president and decided that no ad, print or film, was worthy of a Grand Prix award. Both the press and poster and film juries withheld the festival’s top honors and Serpa, who judged press and poster, was dismayed.
“It didn’t enjoy it at all,” admits Serpa, the 37-year-old creative director of Almap BBDO in S-o Paulo, Brazil. “We didn’t have any communication. It was a difficult and controversial year.”
Yet Serpa, who presides over the press and poster and film juries as jury president this year, says ’95 was a valuable experience. He learned how people behave in the jury room, but says he “disagreed with the concept of the jury,” which awarded few gold Lions that year. “You don’t need to break a world record. We have to apply the Olympic concept.”
To ensure his juries will reward rather than punish creativity, Serpa shared his thoughts about how the work should be evaluated in a letter to each jury member. “I discussed the positive feeling the jury member should have when looking at the work, not only to kill work,” he says. “We have to look for the good ones.”
The good ones, explains the Rio de Janeiro native, put ideas over production and selling over art. “Good advertising has to work. It has to have a fresh idea and a strong link to the consumer and the product,” says Serpa, who served as art director on a 1993 Grand Prix-winning press and poster ad for diet juice drink Gaurana Antarctic Light. The ad featured a shot of a lean stomach with the bottle cap over the belly button. “I see a lot of marvelous work, but what’s the product? In the end it’s just a joke, a marvelous, well-produced joke–and the client is the joke sponsor.”
Nationality, he warned, shouldn’t be considered or play into voting. “It is a very difficult part of Cannes,” he says. “Many see the festival like a World Cup game. No matter how they win, they have to win.”
The first Latin American jury president at Cannes, Serpa will have his hands full, not only with the task of setting standards and keeping order in the jury rooms, but with his fellow Brazilians, some of the most vocal delegates inside and outside the jury rooms. DM9 DDB, one of the most highly awarded agencies at Cannes–the S-o Paulo-based shop won two Agency of the Year honors at Cannes in a row–did not enter this year. Rumors circling before the festival suggested the agency elected not to enter because Serpa, who joined Almap BBDO in 1993 after working at DM9 for two and half years, would prevent the Almap rival from racking up awards.
“DM9 always does something like this,” dismisses Serpa. “They participate one year, another year they don’t. If they feel like that, that’s their point of view. I don’t care.”
Suzane Veloso, a DM9 representative, says the agency decision wasn’t based on who the jury president is, but the shop’s need to focus on its clients and work following the departure of CEO Nizan Guanaes, who left to join an Internet startup.
“[Marcello] is one of the best professionals in the Brazilian market,” says Veloso. “We’re sure he’ll do a good job.”
Despite DM9’s absence, Brazil has entered 1,400 ads, “far too much,” says Serpa, who has won 31 Lions in his career. He works in a country where advertising is as revered as popular TV shows. “Even if a campaign is wildly successful in its country of origin, it doesn’t mean it will cross international borders.”
Almap BBDO is hedging its bets on ads for Pepsi, Audi, Volkswagen and Cesar, among others. TV entries include an Audi spot emphasizing power over cuteness with footage of a lynx hunting a white rabbit in the snow. An ad for Mizuno features a race in which the competitor’s sneaker gets a flat tire. Print entries include a Cesar campaign illustrating the resemblance between dog owners and their pets.
While seeing the winners at the gala ceremonies is a must, Serpa notes the advantage of viewing every ad at the category screenings. “You have to see the bad to make the comparison.”
As the keeper of objectivity, creativity and ultimately Lions, Serpa says this year in Cannes will be like no other he’s attended. “I know it is tough,” he says, but “I live in a country that is very emotional.
I don’t get surprised.”