Cannes Lions 2018: An evo­lu­tion­ary year

Sig­nif­i­cant changes were made to this year’s Cannes Lions In­ter­na­tional Fes­ti­val of Cre­ativ­ity, with the awards stream­lined and cat­e­gories re­moved. So what to make of the re­gion’s per­for­mance in south­ern France?

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What to make of this year’s Cannes Lions In­ter­na­tional Fes­ti­val of Cre­ativ­ity? The event was re­duced from eight days to five, more than 120 sub-cat­e­gories were re­moved, Lions Entertainm­ent and Lions In­no­va­tion were in­te­grated into the main fes­ti­val, and the awards them­selves were stream­lined into nine ‘tracks’. As evo­lu­tions go, it was fairly sig­nif­i­cant.

Most of the changes could be at­trib­uted to a per­sis­tent and ris­ing dis­il­lu­sion­ment with the fes­ti­val it­self. Why else did Publi­cis Groupe ab­stain from this year’s fes­ti­val, just as it had at the Dubai Lynx? An ex­ces­sive pro­lif­er­a­tion of cat­e­gories, in­creas­ing costs, and a sense that organisers were tak­ing the industry for a ride had left a bit­ter taste in the mouth.

Last year Bechara Mouzan­nar, chief cre­ative of­fi­cer at Publi­cis Com­mu­ni­ca­tions MEA, had re­ferred to the Cannes Lions In­ter­na­tional Fes­ti­val of Cre­ativ­ity as ‘Dis­ney­land-sur-mer’, re­plete with “four dif­fer­ent magic worlds and at­trac­tions, ho­tels and fast tracks, shops that sell teddy Lions, and a Snapchat yel­low wheel”. He was not alone in his views. Some­thing had gone

dras­ti­cally wrong with the fes­ti­val.

Organisers in­sisted that this year’s event was more stream­lined, more fo­cussed, with the cy­ber, in­te­grated and promo & ac­ti­va­tion cat­e­gories done away with. What were left were the nine tracks – com­mu­ni­ca­tion, craft, entertainm­ent, ex­pe­ri­ence, good, health & well­ness, in­no­va­tion, im­pact and reach – while each piece of work was only al­lowed to be en­tered into a max­i­mum of six Lions.

Philip Thomas, CEO of As­cen­tial Events and chair­man-elect of Cannes Lions, said the changes had been made “know­ing that this would mean a smaller vol­ume of en­tries, but it was the right de­ci­sion for the long term”. In­deed, en­tries were down 13 per cent. The ques­tion, how­ever, is whether the changes have worked.

“This year’s edi­tion was more fo­cused and more in­spir­ing,” says Walid Kanaan, chief cre­ative of­fi­cer at TBWA\RAAD. “It’s def­i­nitely a step for­ward. The new tracks sys­tem is a clear im­prove­ment. How­ever, it didn’t have a ma­jor fi­nan­cial im­pact on the ex­penses. En­tries, badges and ac­com­mo­da­tion were still highly ex­pen­sive. I in­vite the fes­ti­val to be even more gen­er­ous, more ac­ces­si­ble, more fo­cused, and to keep en­cour­ag­ing at­ten­dance, es­pe­cially from young cre­ative tal­ent.”

Still, if it was any­body’s year at Cannes it was TBWA\RAAD’S. With two golds for Nis­san’s #Shedrives and the Lou­vre Abu Dhabi’s ‘High­way Gallery’, it picked up a to­tal of six Lions, mak­ing it the most awarded MENA agency at the fes­ti­val. It was TBWA\RAAD’S best ever per­for­mance at Cannes and “a tes­ti­mony to the hunger, the pas­sion and the sac­ri­fices our team showed dur­ing the past cou­ple of years,” says Kanaan. “It con­firmed that brave and coura­geous clients can take the agency to the high­est podi­ums.”

Yet this was not an ex­cep­tional year for the re­gion. With a to­tal of 17 Lions spread across seven agen­cies, in­clud­ing a gold apiece for J.wal­ter Thomp­son Casablanca, Y&R Dubai and The Clas­sic Part­ner­ship Ad­ver­tis­ing, the awards haul was well down on last year’s 39. Even if the gold tally was higher than 2017 and 2016, you can’t es­cape the fact that re­gional agen­cies brought home less than half of the pre­vi­ous year’s Lions.

You can par­tially ex­plain this through num­bers – the UAE, for ex­am­ple, en­tered 456 pieces of work this year com­pared with 865 last year – but it’s hard to shake off a nag­ging sense of dis­ap­point­ment. The Publi­cis boy­cott, a fal­ter­ing econ­omy and lead­er­ship changes at var­i­ous agen­cies may have con­trib­uted to the de­cline in en­try num­bers, but drops in en­try num­bers don’t im­pact the qual­ity of cam­paigns.

“I don’t think we’re fail­ing or stag­nat­ing,” as­serts Mo­hamed Ou­daha, cre­ative di­rec­tor at JWT Casablanca,

This year’s edi­tion was more fo­cused and more LQVSLULQJ ,W·V GHÀQLWHO\ D step for­ward… Walid Kanaan, chief cre­ative of­fi­cer at TBWA\RAAD

which won a gold, sil­ver and bronze for Kit Kat’s ‘Break the speed’. “The num­bers don’t re­flect the re­al­i­ties. Also, just like agen­cies have on and off sea­sons, so must re­gions. It’s a cy­cle – part of life – but con­sider how far the re­gion has pro­gressed as a whole and mar­ket­ing com­mu­ni­ca­tions with it. More­over, if I’m not mis­taken, didn’t we – as a re­gion – win more golds this year than last year? So it’s not all bad news. I believe that this re­gion punches way above its weight and I truly believe the work gets bet­ter ev­ery year.”

“Hav­ing judged a few times at Cannes my­self, I know how hard it is to win at Cannes,” adds Ali Shabaz, chief cre­ative of­fi­cer at Grey MENA, which won a sil­ver for Lego’s ‘Never gets old’. “The com­pe­ti­tion is tough and the jury is very hard to please. It takes pow­er­ful ideas, good craft­ing and clients who believe in the power of the idea to win a Lion.

“This is a re­gion with mas­sive cre­ative po­ten­tial and it should have more suc­cess at Cannes. While ev­ery re­gion has a good year and a not-so-good one, it’s im­por­tant for us to lift our game.

I believe that this re­gion punches way above its weight and I truly believe the work gets bet­ter ev­ery year. Mo­hamed Ou­daha, cre­ative di­rec­tor at JWT Casablanca

Al­though I’ve spent just over a year in this re­gion, I’ve re­alised that there are many pow­er­ful cul­tural in­sights and sto­ries in the re­gion that need to be told. Tapping into these will help us cre­ate great work for our clients.”

For Shabaz, im­prove­ment is likely to come from “fo­cus­ing on fu­turefac­ing ar­eas like dig­i­tal, tech­nol­ogy, e-com­merce and ex­pe­ri­en­tial ad­ver­tis­ing”.

“A Lion is a Lion,” adds Kalpesh Patankar, ex­ec­u­tive cre­ative di­rec­tor at Y&R Dubai, which won a gold and two bronzes. “Whether it is gold or a bronze, or even a short­list, ev­ery win should be cel­e­brated. It’s very easy to forget how dif­fi­cult it is to be among the best work in the world. Es­pe­cially this year when you see a lot of good work from across the globe.

“With the re­sults this year, one thing we can no­tice is that a lot of dif­fer­ent ideas were cel­e­brated. Ev­ery jury comes with their ex­per­tise and per­spec­tive, which makes them see ev­ery piece dif­fer­ently. I feel it’s al­ways best to fo­cus on the work and let the jury do the judg­ing. But we surely need more global PR around our work for ju­ries to un­der­stand the lo­cal rel­e­vance which they may oth­er­wise miss.”

As al­ways, there re­mains a hefty amount of sus­pi­cion around print and July 2018 out­door. John He­garty, co-founder of Bar­tle Bogle He­garty, told Ad­week that a sig­nif­i­cant num­ber of the ads at Cannes were “ob­vi­ously com­pletely fake”. Not only were they not part of a larger cam­paign, they may never have run any­where at all, he said, adding that even clients are now in­volved in the gen­er­a­tion of fake ads.

Whether this means all print and out­door cam­paigns should be looked at scep­ti­cally de­pends on your out­look, says Patankar. “Print and out­door today com­pletely de­pend on which lens you see them through,” he says. “For ex­am­ple, the ‘FCK’ ad for KFC, which started as print but went beyond the medium. Also Ikea’s ‘Pee on this ad’. For out­door, we have great ex­am­ples from the re­gion, [such as TBWA\RAAD’S] ‘High­way Gallery’, which brought tech­nol­ogy, in­no­va­tion and out­door to­gether to tell a story and make an im­pact.”

No mat­ter how you look at this year’s fes­ti­val, there are rea­sons to be un­happy. What hap­pened to Im­pact BBDO and Memac Ogilvy? Even FP7 had a dis­ap­point­ing year, as did DDB. Where, af­ter the suc­cess of FP7/CAI’S ‘The lineup song’ for Coca-cola last year, was the joy of gold in film? Dis­ap­point­ingly, some agen­cies have all but dis­ap­peared from public con­scious­ness. As for coun­tries, Le­banon and Egypt, two his­tor­i­cal cen­tres of Arab cre­ativ­ity, won noth­ing.

“In order for the re­gion to get back to its win­ning ways ev­ery agency needs to treat ev­ery sin­gle brief as an award-win­ning op­por­tu­nity,” in­sists Kanaan, who was also a mem­ber of the entertainm­ent jury. “In our agency we fo­cus our cre­ative ex­cel­lence on real work, for real clients, based on real busi­ness ob­jec­tives and briefs. As a re­sult, our ma­jor cam­paigns were fully en­dorsed and paid for by our clients.

“Un­for­tu­nately, this was not al­ways the case in other net­works. Most of the pre­vi­ous win­ning work was based on NGOS, char­ity, and pro-ac­tive ideas fully funded and spon­sored by the agen­cies. This is cost­ing them a lot of money to pro­duce, prop­a­gate and en­ter award shows. In dif­fi­cult eco­nomic times, this be­comes harder to jus­tify.” -

This is a re­gion with mas­sive cre­ative po­ten­tial and it should have more suc­cess at Cannes. Ali Shabaz, chief cre­ative of­fi­cer at Grey MENA A Lion is a Lion. Whether it is gold or a bronze, or even a short­list, ev­ery win should be cel­e­brated. Kalpesh Patankar, ex­ec­u­tive cre­ative di­rec­tor at Y&R Dubai

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