Aurora Magazine

Promoting excellence in advertising

Frenetic, expensive and wildly successful

Published in Jul-Aug 2012

The key themes at the Cannes Lions 2012.

Last year Cannes Lions changed from being a festival of advertising to a festival of creativity.

This was no minor tinkering, but an acknowledgement of a major change in strategy and focus. Cannes is no longer about creative people in the sense of copywriters and art directors, it

is about anyone and everyone involved in the process of creating communications. This year we saw that trend continued. In fact, chief marketing officers spoke more frequently in the programme of seminars than chief creative officers.

Cannes is no longer about creative output but about input. Many delegates come not to see the recent past, the award-winning work, but to discuss the future.

One of the big topics of the week was: big data and does it enhance or dilute creativity? Naturally, everyone said it should give creativity a sharper edge, the opportunity to make even more of a difference. The inspiring data-driven case histories, however, still remain elusive.

Still, media questions and media agencies are very much more prevalent on the Croisette than they were five years ago.

First theme Is Facebook over-hyped?

Perhaps the biggest debate of all was around Facebook. Ten days before the festival, General Motors issued a statement to the effect that they were pulling out of social media because it was expensive and wasteful.

So, what do we make of Joe Tripodi, CMO, Coca-Cola, who came to the festival to talk about ‘The new rules of marketing and consumer engagement?’

He said Facebook is so new as a phenomenon that marketers are still trying to figure out how to work it better. For Coca-Cola, it was about the power of the network. Not so much the Facebook friends you have, but what you can do with ‘their’ friends. For Coca-Cola, then, Facebook is about networking outwards from the 42 million friends they have on the site.

I had an opportunity to talk to Mr Tripodi after his seminar and asked him that if he puts so much store by Facebook, then (even if secretly) he must have some idea of the real, monetised value of a Facebook ‘like’.

His answer was that his company, like many others, is still trying to work out the metrics of social media. However, just as a brand building TV campaign does not always have a direct correlation to the bottom line, so Facebook was a platform for long term brand building rather than short term sales.

The great Hollywood screenwriter William Goldman of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, All the President’s Men, The Right Stuff, etc., fame wrote in his brilliant book Adventures in the Screen Trade that nobody knows anything. So true, so true! But Cannes was filled with number crunchers all trying to convince us they did know. As an unreconstructed creative, I find it heartening that there is still much room for the inspired hunch in advertising.

Second theme Long tail thinking

Another theme that inspired plenty of chat over a drink in the evenings was what I call ‘long tail communications’. In other words, an idea that does not live and die when the budget runs out, but is planted and expected to flourish independently.

The most obvious example of this is the Grand Prix winner in both Direct and Promo, Crispin Porter Bogusky’s campaign for American Express. The point about ‘Small Business Saturday’ – encouraging consumers to use their local shops at the weekend rather than the massive hypermarkets and malls – began life in 2010. It even won awards in 2011 but it took until 2012 for the idea to take root in America. In fact, that idea has taken root to such an extent that the US Senate has now passed a law recognising Small Business Saturday as an event in the national calendar.

This is an idea that is bigger than a message. It is an idea that changes how people do things. And it has at its heart a conscience because it is a campaign that sets out to make life better for small businesses.

These are ideas that become movements as people get involved, take up the cause and adapt it. For most marketers, ceding all control like this is too scary but for confident brands, mobilising communities in this way can be game changing.

It is no accident that President Obama’s re-election campaign is based on the idea of joining his movement for change. We will have to wait until November to see whether the strategy has worked.

Third theme Generous advertising

The Amex campaign was advertising with a conscience. Increasingly, brands are discovering that they don’t only need to have values, they need to share them. It seems that in a world of over-supply (certainly in first world markets anyway) people want to buy into a company before they buy its wares.

So brands are espousing noble causes; creating schemes to support the less well-off; getting communities involved in programmes to educate, build or help. Nowhere is this more evident than in the plethora of campaigns after the Japanese tsunami as brands set out to help the country get through the trauma.

Honda’s ‘Connecting Lifelines’ idea used its satellite navigation systems to alert Honda drivers about which roads were passable and which were not in the aftermath of the earthquake.

Elsewhere, and winner of a Gold PR Lion, was the Wimpy ‘Braille Burger’ from South Africa. Messages for blind people were spelled out in sesame seeds on the bun.

Fourth theme The product as advertising

Pro-bono campaigns are barred from winning a Grand Prix in any media-specific category. They all compete for the Grand Prix for Good.

My own belief is that ‘Integration Day’ from Saatchi & Saatchi, Italy for CoorDown, a charity that works with and for people with Down’s Syndrome, should have won. The campaign took over a year to implement as they reshot commercial after commercial with Downs’ actors to screen on World Down Syndrome Day. Like the American Express idea, this is a tribute to agency account management. The logistics of turning the idea into reality would have been formidable.

The Grand Prix for Good was instead awarded to Droga5 for ‘Help I Want to Save a Life’. This wasn’t a commercial or an activation, it was a product.

A box of plasters (they call them ‘bandages’ in the US) you could buy at the pharmacy, and when you cut yourself, you could take a swab of your blood, drop it in a reply-paid envelope and send it off to become a bone marrow donor.

The Titanium Grand Prix was similar. Not a message, not an ad, but a whole new way of doing things. Nike Fuelband is a technological tour de force, a wristband that measures the exercise you take, stores it online for you and allows you to compete against yourself – or friends.

Fifth theme Youth

There were two tribes clearly visible in Cannes this year. The old guard, muttering about the fact that there were few gasp-out-loud ideas, who drank in the bars of the five-star hotels and complained about how big the Festival has become.

And they have a point. 12,500 delegates. 1,000 Lions handed out.

Is that too many? Not if you won one!

But Cannes is going to have to manage its success very carefully if next year it isn’t going to become even more bewildering and frenetic than it was this year.

Not that the youngsters gave a damn. They were the other tribe and they thought the whole thing was brilliant. They were there to learn and to have fun and they did both with noisy energy. So here’s a special tribute to Jonathan Mak Long, who won the Outdoor Grand Prix for Ogilvy & Mather, Shanghai. He is still a student. Hasn’t even started his first job yet.

How wonderful is that?

In summary, Cannes is insanely expensive. Yet it is hard not to see value in the Festival’s 121 hours of seminars and workshops jammed into five days (119 different sessions, up from 87 in 2011). Nor in its ability to attract big name speakers like Alain de Botton, Arianna Huffington and Debbie Harry.

The big cahuna this year, though, was former president Bill Clinton, who came to urge the advertising industry to create the ideas that can change the world for the better. His pal, Bill Gates, is handing out 10 grants of $100,000 to help develop 10 of the best before next year’s Festival. (

That’s the best way to come to Cannes, of course. Not as a delegate or a speaker, but as a winner.

Patrick Collister is Editor, Directory magazine. He is former Executive Creative Director and Vice-Chairman, Ogilvy & Mather.