Droga5’s work for the New York Times was undoubtedly one of the big winners of the week, taking home two Grand Prix – one for its editing in Film Craft and another in Film. The work, across all its platforms has done a powerful job. Not only has it reframed the brand in the era of fake news and democracy-distorting platforms, reminding the public of the importance of the Fourth Estate, it appears to have spoken to the wider advertising and creative community too. Remember those intrepid newshounds who built the media that fuelled the ad industry? They still have a job to do.
The New York Times work led the vanguard of a tranche of work across categories that celebrated news brands making a stand against a background of inert institutions, populist politicians and dodgy digital landscapes. After receiving enthusiastic coverage in the trades as well as performing well on the awards circuit, I suspect it has focused the minds of this years’ jurors.
In Print and Publishing, the Grand Prix winning project was The Blank Edition for Lebanese newspaper An-Nahar by ImpactBBDO. In response to political stalemate – and the way in which politicians use the press to snipe at each other – An-Nahar effectively went on strike, putting out a blank newspaper. And remember, that’s giving up its ad revenue too. Spontaneously, the people of Lebanon started writing their own messages to politicians in the blank pages.
For context, An-Nahar has suffered tremendous losses for its uncompromising stance. In 2005 its editor in chief Gebran Tueni was assassinated in a car bomb attack.
Print and Publishing juror Fouad Abdel Malak at TBWA\RAAD spoke of the project’s on-the-ground impact. “I was lucky to be in the jury and it was my country of origin so I was getting my mum and her friends writing statements like ‘give us electricity you bastards’,” he said.
But despite the local texture, it’s an idea that could have easily played out in a number of countries that are currently facing a paradoxically inert-yet-toxic political atmosphere, where public frustration is boiling over, from the UK to Hong Kong. “It was incredibly powerful for democracy,” said Print and Publishing juror Suzanne Donaldson of Nike.
Another project that popped up was The Fake News Stand from TBWA\Chiat\Day New York for the Columbia Journalism Review. It took Silver in Print and Publishing for highlighting the role that trusted news brands can play in the era of ‘fake news’.
That truth and transparency might be big talking points of the week hadn’t necessarily filtered upwards to the Cannes content organisers, mind you. When it was announced that the erstwhile Cambridge Analytica CEO Alexander Nix would be speaking at Cannes on the morality of data, I spluttered tea all over my keyboard. Talk about reading the room. But after some high-profile pressure from the likes of the Guardian’s Carole Cadwalladr (who surely should have been on stage instead, given her rousing TED Talk on big tech and democracy) and a full-on protest in the Palais, Nix stepped down. The Cambridge Analytica scandal, in which data was exploited to manipulate the Brexit vote, exposed the ways in which data can distort truth and democracy.
So, it was interesting to see the sort of projects that the Creative Data awarded were those that elevated transparency (Volvo’s Gold-winning E.V.A initiative that released all its data on car safety and women passengers) and accessibility. And, in particular one campaign that threw up a finger to the Russian propaganda machine, which has been alleged to have played a role in the Cambridge Analytica scandal. AI Versus took Bronze in the category for training two identical AI bots on the state-approved news of Russia 1 and the independent journalism of online broadcaster TV Rain. It’s a highly unusual and gleefully rule-breaking collaboration between Russian creative agency Voskhod and Ukrainian digital agency ISD Group. In recent years, the war between the two countries has rendered any such collaboration verboten, adding an extra layer of risk to a project that already brings a degree of risk, prodding at Putin’s propaganda machine. Voskhod co-founder and ECD Andrey Gubaydullin was inspired by his young son who, after being looked after by his grandmother (an avid Russia 1 watcher) would return home spouting Moscow-fed lines.
The platforms were in Cannes en masse, taking over beaches with elaborate feats of not-so-on-message temporary construction, but for agencies, which have long been on the back foot, the Cambridge Analytica scandal and growing calls for some form of regulation meant that Facebook in particular had somewhat lost its sheen. The conversation around creativity and data was no less enthusiastic but conversations with global level network leaders indicated a growing frustration in the platforms willingness to engage sincerely in self-regulation. And so juries chose to champion the traditional media businesses that have stood behind the principles of openness, plurality and truth.