Hunting For Lions

Many thought seeing McDonald’s in full force at Cannes was surprising. Maybe it shouldn’t have been.

Choosing a global campaign idea from Unterhaching, Germany, was just the beginning of a braver, bolder brand than we knew several years ago. “I’m lovin’ it,” the five notes, freedom within a framework and, most recently, brand journalism—all these things were introduced to build a new awareness and global discipline for the longtime icon brand that most would agree had become a little tired. A trip to the South of France to be part of the most prestigious global advertising festival seemed very much in line with the behavior of the new McDonald’s.

So off we all went. I believe the creatives were intrigued, yet skeptical (you have to be a bit skeptical or cynical if you’re a creative going to Cannes). The account folks seemed up for it, yet a little nervous, and the McDonald’s folks generally seemed psyched. After all, for many it was the first time in the South of France and, hey, it was summertime. They partied, they seminared, they went on boat trips, but they paid very close attention to the shortlist, and they did study the work that was winning. And if we take it to heart, this can be good news for the agencies. Think about it: McDonald’s employs the most creative, award-winning networks in the world, so to send the signal that these awards are important and McDonald’s does want to win them is bold and a great opportunity for their agencies.

Having said this, I do believe a real commitment to winning at Cannes, not just visiting Cannes, will definitely change behavior. It will force all of us, including McDonald’s, to embrace raw creativity and pure ideas. It will force us to value simplicity. It will make us more competitive, more globally in-tune. It will scare owner-operators. It will raise the bar. And make no mistake, it must all coincide with positive business results.

We hosted a seminar several years ago at Cannes titled “Does Award-Winning Advertising Sell?” The answer, based on many global quantitative studies, was a resounding yes. You look at Nike, Budweiser or Levi’s. They have proved that award-winning advertising sells. So, no more excuses. Now it’s the agencies’ turn to sell McDonald’s some award-winning advertising. Larry Light and Charlie Bell have told us that a good idea doesn’t care where it comes from. It’s time for us agencies to get our global creative resources charged up to compete on this new playing field. And it will be time for McDonald’s to take some risks.

My first trip to Cannes was eight years ago, and our McDonald’s “Sign” commercial with the baby in a swing came away with a gold Lion. I thought I had it all figured out. We would win only with pure image spots. Then, two years ago, a series of 10-second McDonald’s price-point commercials from our U.K. office won gold as well.

So, anything can happen at Cannes, although I can assure you humor will have a better chance than heartfelt emotion. But at the end of the day, it’s hard to always know what will connect with a jury, other than that it will be surprising in some way, shape or form.

When the agency creatives and the McDonald’s team met at Cannes, Charlie Bell made it very clear: We’re here to win. Even though this year was still regarded as a visit or a learning experience, next year, in the spirit of the new McDonald’s, I truly believe we’ll all be Lion hunting.