Aurora Magazine

Promoting excellence in advertising

Published in Jul-Aug 2018

The wow factor

Ali Rez, Regional CD, Middle East & Pakistan, BBDO Worldwide, on what happens when you are a Cannes Lions juror.
Ali Rez in the area dedicated to the Design Jury
Ali Rez in the area dedicated to the Design Jury

Milton Glaser once famously said that “there are three responses to a piece of design – yes, no and WOW! Wow is the one to aim for.”

This is probably as good as it gets. If you are in advertising, I doubt there is anything more soul-satisfying than being in a room for five days, with a dozen incredibly talented people looking for the wows within 1,300 pieces of well-crafted, intelligently-thought, visually stunning and smart design work.

And that too in the south of France where it rains Rosé.

The Cannes Lions Festival is the benchmark for creativity globally – it is the only award show even my mother is aware of. To win Gold here is more challenging than explaining to my mother what exactly it is that I do in the first place.

To be selected on the jury is even tougher. To start with, you must have won here (see difficulty level above). When you get the call, you must also not wonder if it’s a prank call. Because the words – “Congratulations, you’re on the Cannes Lions jury” might as well have been – “Congratulations, you have won the lottery.” The pupils dilate, the heart rate increases, the 2B pencil you were working with drops to the floor in slow motion.

Allow me to share what happens in the judging process to explain exactly why winning here is like scaling K2 with a running rickshaw on your back.

As a jury member, you are first directed to judge a large number of work online, culling it down to what is essentially a longlist. Once you are physically in Cannes, this longlist is further sliced down to a temporary shortlist. The shortlist is then reviewed by the jury collectively to agree on whether all the pieces on it deserve to be there or not. Sometimes some work is chucked out; sometimes a piece of work is added. This is mostly a brutal process; even at this stage, the jury is looking for incredible ideas and immaculate craft. When finalised, this shortlist is released to a waiting public.

It is from this very short shortlist that the metal pieces are determined: pretty Lions made out of Gold, Silver or Bronze. The Wows.


What I love about Cannes is the diversity it brings. Not only in terms of the jury itself – on the Design Jury this year, every single person was from a different country and background – but more importantly, in terms of the work that is submitted from practically every region in the world.


The jury then goes over each piece of work again and discusses it at great length; every single jury member shares what they think the work deserves. Sometimes there is unanimous agreement. Sometimes you are stuck for an hour discussing one piece of work. Sometimes there are arguments. Sometimes people get so emotional that they walk out. Designers, after all.

The room where the Golds, Silvers and Bronzes are decided upon
The room where the Golds, Silvers and Bronzes are decided upon

The Grand Prix discussion alone took a good three hours. But from what I hear from the other juries, this was nothing compared to the entire day they spent arguing.

There is not much sleep in this process. You start early, you are up late. But curiously, there is no burnout. It is a constant barrage of craft, beauty and intelligence that you are subjected to – and you somehow cope. Very happily.

What I love about Cannes is the diversity it brings. Not only in terms of the jury itself – on the Design Jury this year, every single person was from a different country and background – but more importantly, in terms of the work that is submitted from practically every region in the world.

The work this jury chose to award this year was nothing short of the Wow that Glaser talked about; only seven Golds were awarded to pieces that made everybody on the jury jealous. Projects like “Save our species” by BETC Paris for Lacoste, which replaced the famous crocodile on the shirt with endangered animals was a hit. As was the visual treat of “Obsession for smoothness” in which walls of continuously printing printers form the background for a music video by spitting out different coloured paper sheets.

“Destination Pride” by FCB/SIX Toronto showcased how powerful an informative design can be by using an adaptable Pride flag to demonstrate gay rights around the world. And packaging for “The Archaeologist,” a dry gin, in which a motorbike part was inserted into the gin bottle itself, was an example of utterly masterful craft.


While going through other Cannes Lions delegate blogs, I came across another interesting quote: “Life is like Sanskrit read to a pony.” This was said by Lou Reed. I don’t know what it means exactly, but it gave me a mental image of something incredible that I have never imagined before. The Cannes Lions judging experience was something like this.


But ah, the Grand Prix. AMV/BBDO London’s incredible take on the problem of plastics in our oceans got the biggest Wows of all. “Trash Isles” is a project that actually registered a country with the United Nations – a country made out of trash in the ocean. The agency designed amazingly detailed pieces of what a country would need: currency, a passport, postage stamps, even a flag. This had it all: conceptual strength, intelligent problem-solving, detailed craft and a fantastic case study wrapping it all up.

Judging the entries online.
Judging the entries online.

An eye for craft and detail is something that constantly seems missing from Pakistani advertising, sadly. Often this happens due to cost reasons, sometimes because a piece of work is not given its due time to be shaped, but mostly, it is because there is lack of understanding of how incredible and effective well-crafted work can be.

While going through other Cannes Lions delegate blogs, I came across another interesting quote: “Life is like Sanskrit read to a pony.” This was said by Lou Reed. I don’t know what it means exactly, but it gave me a mental image of something incredible that I have never imagined before. The Cannes Lions judging experience was something like this. I have been on nine other show juries, but never have I felt the exhilaration of being among the best as I did here.

It was, simply put, a Wow.

Ali Rez is Regional Creative Director for Middle East & Pakistan at BBDO Worldwide.
alimumtaz@mac.com