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Cannes is a Week-long Ride on an Emotional Rollercoaster

Advertising Agency
Berlin, Germany
INFLUENCER: DDB Hamburg ECD and MD Fabian Roser on the inspirations, disappointments and rays of hope from Cannes 2016

Honestly, every time I visit the International Festival of Creativity in Cannes, it’s like getting on an emotional rollercoaster, lurching from ‘wish I had done that’ to pure jealousy, to admiration and respect for the work of others and the clients’ courage to actually do what they did. 

This year, DDB Germany won 15 Lions and made the shortlists a couple of times, led the German Cannes ranking near the beginning of the week and came up second in the end. But aside from all of the celebrating, this year’s festival also made me think a lot. 

Do the Cannes awards really reflect the best work of our industry?

Is there something that all Cannes winners have in common?

Do I see a general trend in the industry?

Looking at many of the award-winning pieces work, it is apparent that many of them were aimed at doing good for mankind. Good causes were everywhere. By NGOs, by brands and some of the work we looked at didn’t even have a client. 

Don’t get me wrong: there is nothing wrong about clients wanting to use their capabilities and the impact of their brand to make the world a better place. It’s the ratio between work for a greater good and work that really wanted to sell something that I’m wondering about. 

Throughout the whole festival, I barely saw a single product or even price in the awarded communication. While ‘communicate price and product’ is the brief that most of us normally find on our desks, this didn’t seem to play a big role in Cannes. If that’s the case, do the awards in Cannes really reflect the best work of our industry? And, if not, what does it reflect then? I asked myself, ‘is it still possible to win a lion in Cannes for our actual daily work?’ Do the problems that we solve for our clients day-to-day still matter in Cannes… or are do-gooding projects the only way to touch the hearts and minds of the judges? 

And then the rollercoaster started to climb. My mood brightened when I realised that some of this year’s big winners must have actually been day to day work! REI’s ‘OptOutside’ by Venables Bell & Partners, ING’s ‘The Next Rembrandt’ by JWT Amsterdam, ‘Field Trip to Mars’ by McCann or Burger King’s ‘McWhopper’ by Y&R – all of these are absolutely great pieces of work, amazingly executed in the scale and the reality of the day to day. 

But they also had one thing in common, one thing that was absolutely necessary to turn these ideas into reality. Surprisingly enough, this crucial component came from the clients, not the agencies: bravery! To close your retail stores on the very day that the whole of the US goes ballistic with consumption! To feed data about Rembrandt into a computer and let that computer create its own masterpiece! To embrace your biggest competitor and invite them to create a joint product to build the foundation of your campaign, not knowing what would happen next... In all three cases mentioned above, it would seem that, when the initial idea was approved, the ending of the campaign would have been quite ambiguous.

And while we’re talking about bravery, Cannes also highlighted another vital leap of faith that clients and agencies need to make. The so called “brandhub” or “campaign-site” is over. You know that microsite that brings all (digital) elements together in one destination owned by the brand? It’s just not relevant anymore! Campaign websites are dead!

Why do I feel I can say this?

In all of the Cyber and Mobile categories there was not a single (!) custom-made web- or microsite! Can you believe that? 

I do miss them a bit though. 

I recall classics from years past: “Killing Kennedy”, “Halo 3 Diorama”, “24hoursofhappyness” and many more ... but we didn’t see any of these this year. At least not in the fields of Cyber or Mobile. The work in Cyber used existing platforms, apps and systems, and creatives used them in very unusual ways to make their ideas come alive. Mass appeal was achieved through socially, creatively relevant ideas and stories, supported by a clever mechanic and a deep understanding of how the digital ecosystem functions. Technology and destination do not play a role anymore. With the introduction of the category ‘digital craft’, this trend might have even intensified, but at least we can find some custom-made websites or apps in this category.

Overall, however, and especially in Cyber, it was about ideas and digital storytelling, using the channels and platforms that we already have. Chloe Gottlieb, president of the Cyber jury and ECD at R/GA, even said that now we are truly seeing the “the rise of Cyber”. There are so many platforms and opportunities out there that creatives can play around with, without having to actually build heavy tech applications themselves. 

Now, with all these thoughts, results and insights, what do we do? 

For me, it all boils down to an obvious, old and (still) imperative question that all the winning work answered brilliantly: “Are you creating something that people actually care about?”

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