The Old And The New Guards Meet In Cannes

CANNES, FRANCE Last week’s big winners at the 53rd International Advertising Festival here illustrate that this award show still basks in celebrating the industry’s historical glory, while struggling with the challenging realities of the new, broader media world.

During a week when talk of achievement on the Web was drowned out by laments about the lack of it; when the rise of “new media” was praised as loudly as the crowd’s insistence that the term was already obsolete; and when young creatives spoke of overthrowing the old guard while kissing up to it at the Carlton, it was an elaborate 60-second spot and a simple but “game-changing” design concept that stole the closing ceremony on Saturday night.

Getting back to its original roots of honoring a “forward-thinking” idea, Tokyo-based agency Design Barcode won the Titanium award for turning its anonymous namesake and ubiquitous, everyday image into a fresh branding element. The Japanese firm won for a design that customizes bar codes to fit any clients’ product or message. A tiny surfer rides the familiar black bars like a wave for a surfboard company, for example, and a bold white stripe cuts through a bar code for an eraser manufacturer.

“They took an everyday thing in life that is, at best, tedious and made it fresh and interesting,” said Titanium judge Chuck Porter of Crispin Porter + Bogusky.

But what many considered the week’s highest honor, the Film Grand Prix, was bestowed upon Abbott Mead Vickers BBDO, London, for “noitulovE,” a rapid-fire, effects-heavy spot showing the entirety of human evolution in reverse to position Guinness as the pinnacle of human achievement. The tagline, “Good things come to those who wait,” appears after three prehistoric creatures who opened the spot as men drinking the Irish beer sip from a pond of distasteful primordial ooze.

The captivating production bested two other gold Lion winners for the top prize: Sony’s “Balls” from Fallon in London, which features a lyrical display of color with balls bouncing around the hilly landscape of San Francisco, and Carlton Draught’s “Big Ad” from George Patterson/Y&R in Melbourne, a satirical ode to over-the-top commercial productions featuring Monty Python-like dancers in red and gold robes forming the image of a human body as it is gleefully ingesting the beer.

Press and Film jury president David Droga of Publicis Groupe-backed Droga5 in New York said he and most of the 21-member Film jury would have been happy if any of the three took the Grand Prix. “It came down to the top three ads, which were all excellent,” said Droga, who added he was thankful he didn’t have to break the deadlock with his own vote—which happened in the Press category, where the Grand Prix went to Lego’s “Periscope” out of FCB Johannesburg. It took about five rounds of votes in order to get the majority vote needed for the Grand Prix, but in the end, consensus was reached after a couple of hours of “emotional and heated” debate. “Everybody loved all the ads,” Droga said. “No one felt compromised.”

Droga added that Guinness’ ad also marked “a good return to a fantastic campaign.”

Film judges credited Droga—whose new agency walked away with an interactive Grand Prix of its own for the Marc Ecko viral “Still Free” on Wednesday night—with maintaining a sense of civility and international neutrality throughout the six-day process. “There were virtually no politics,” said U.S. juror David Apicella of Ogilvy & Mather. “It was absolutely exhausting, but I’d do it again in a minute.”

Titanium jury president David Lubars of BBDO declared that 2006 would mark a return to the controversial Titanium’s origins after its brief stint as an “integrated” award last year. Lubars and other Titanium jurors noted that integrated or multimedia campaigns are now the price of entry.

In 2003, the year Lubars won the prize for the second round of BMW Films, after the work failed to be recognized by Cannes juries the prior year because the online series did not neatly fit into any of the existing competitions at the time, the award was introduced by then-jury president Dan Wieden of Wieden + Kennedy as a way to honor an industry-changing, groundbreaking idea.

According to the Titanium jurors, the primary idea in this case was forming a new media channel from an existing property. Although the barcode design could have been introduced 15 years ago, said Lubars, the winning Japanese shop found a way to take something that was “depressing, brain-fogging and 1984-ish” and turn it into something “fun and friendly.” He added, “This is a new way to communicate to your customer.”

An added argument for the Titanium Grand Prix was ownership, the Holy Grail for agencies tired of selling away their concepts by the billable hour. Design Barcode has trademarked the idea and licenses its work to clients.

“We talk about owning content—here is [something] that is propriety,” said juror Craig Davis of JWT. “I think people feel fantastic and inspired by that. If they understand that ideas can have a much higher value, they’ll get it.”

“It opened up my whole perspective,” added juror Scott Goodson of StrawberryFrog. “They took something that was really quite ugly and turned it into an aesthetically beautiful communications channel. It had me thinking about the boring plastic tags on clothes.”

As is becoming customary here, the Titanium was a source of griping and confusion among the more than 10,000 attendees before it was even awarded. Some questioned whether bestowing a separate honor for “the big idea” dilutes the significance of the other categories, considering the adage that all good advertising is based on a big idea.

Davis refuted the complaint, saying the Titanium “is not a best of show; it doesn’t devalue those other things at all. This is something else. It would be a mistake to line up all the Grand Prix awards and ask, ‘What’s the best idea here?’ It’s about finding something of a higher order.”

The Titanium jury also acknowledged two other entries at the awards ceremony Saturday night, Droga5’s “Still Free” for Marc Ecko and Tribal DDB London’s “Monopoly Live” for Hasbro. But Lubars and the jurors said though they were strong ideas, they did not represent an “original and game-changing idea.” And he added that the work was also acknowledged in other Cannes awards shows earlier in the week.

Controversies also touched the week’s first and newest category, Sales Promotion. CP+B—still the industry’s most admired—took the award for its Volkswagen “Fast” campaign, which offered a new take on Web-based customization with an injection of humor and an interactive “test drive” with a character from the campaign’s TV spots.

Jury president Lor Gold of Draft Chicago conceded that “fast” challenged the standard notion of sales promotion—a practice more associated with coupons and two-for-one deals. But he defended the selection by pointing to its use of a demon-like icon named “Fast” that represented a young driver’s repressed desire for speed. “‘Fast’ was about branding the consumer, not the car,” the concept that informs all good sales promotion, said Gold.

Universal McCann nabbed a Media Grand Prix for its wide-ranging campaign for risqué body spray Lynx, marketed in the U.S. as Axe. The Sydney agency won for its airline-themed integrated campaign across TV, radio, print and the Web that tied together the brand promise of finding young men success with women and the coming-of-age passage of traveling abroad. In addition to traditional media, Universal McCann created “mostesses” for the airline.

Renetta McCann of StarcomMediaVest said the simple but powerful insight, combined with the localized aspect, made the campaign a clear choice. Jury members were disappointed that more entries did not involve a diverse array of digital channels. “I don’t think we saw as much interactive as we wanted to,” she said.

In the Cyber category, viral video ruled the day. CP+B cemented its reputation as masters of media-agnostic advertising, following up its Promo Grand Prix with another and three gold Lions for its Volkswagen and Burger King work. The Cyber jury gave CP+B top honors for interactive campaign, awarding its Volkswagen GTI work that featured several viral videos and a Web site.

In Outdoor, Fallon London scored a Grand Prix for Tate Britain. A dozen other agencies received gold Lions, including awards to Saatchi & Saatchi offices in Petaling Jaya, Malaysia, New York, Buenos Aires and Sydney.

In Radio, DDB Chicago took home the Grand Prix for its “Real Men of Genius” campaign on behalf of Anheuser-Busch’s Bud Light. While some jury members expressed concern about awarding a campaign that won last year, Josh Rabinowitz at Grey Worldwide said it was the obvious choice. “It’s simply piss-in-your-pants funny,” he said. “It’s been around a long time, but they’ve taken it to the next level.” Twelve gold lions were awarded in the category, two of which went to U.S. agencies.