You might expect a festival celebrating the world’s best advertising to rate the importance of its own communication quite highly. Obviously not in the case of the organisers of this year’s Cannes Advertising Festival, which has just taken place.
The festival was chaotic, cost delegates an extortionate sum of money and only just redeemed itself by the quality of work on show.
Such was the shambles that president of the festival Roger Hatchuel was booed off stage at the press and poster awards part of the festival after none of the mechanics of the event worked, leaving winners and audience alike in absolute bewilderment.
The film awards section was no better, with delegates being screamed at by “helpers”. Then there was the grotesque, pointless Lions Village, a scruffy assortment of sponsors’ stands with nothing very interesting to show, shoved into the dingy basement of the Palais des Festivals.
However, the quality of the work was high, which made the UK triumph this year all the more of an accomplishment.
Litany, the TV ad for The Independent by Lowe Howard-Spink, which features punk poet John Cooper Clarke reciting a series of admonishments over stark, grainy footage, not only won the Grand Prix as best ad in the festival but also picked up the journalists’ award. Not the expected winner by any means, given that the ad is so very British and positively downbeat in its outlook, but it is without question a powerful, persuasive commercial which stands up well to repeated viewing.
Lowe also won a gold Lion (top category award) for the hilarious Scalextric campaign for Hornby Hobbies which stars desperately over-excited new fathers. Once again, the decision was a bit of a surprise because the ad is so eccentrically “British”.
On the other hand, Double Life, the ad for PlayStation from TBWA which was widely predicted before the festival to be in the running for the Grand Prix, was only awarded a silver Lion. Similar in structure to Litany, and likewise shot in black and white, it powerfully conveys the passion of gamers while at the same time subtly suggesting the enormous range of people who get involved with the brand. Perhaps in this case, the latent suggestions of sexual depravity and violence put off the international judging panel from awarding it any higher honour.
TBWA made up for its film disappointment by scooping the Grand Prix in the press and poster awards. Once again an ad for PlayStation, Nipples, shows a young couple staring proudly into the camera with their erect nipples shaped in the four logos associated with the brand. Simple and extremely effective, the ad pipped to the post another ad in the same campaign which depicts a young man with logoed acne.
Yes, sex still sells, as does humour which was present in a high percentage of the winners. One ad which managed to combine the two and picked up a silver Lion in the process, was Captain Pecker from Young & Rubicam in Australia. Promoting Free FM, a gay and lesbian radio station, the ad stars a singing penis which dances about to music. It sounds ridiculous – it is ridiculous – but you certainly don’t forget it once you’ve seen it.
Simple ideas were held in highest esteem by the judges. Of the gold winners in the film category, only one – Surfer for Guinness, devised by Abbott Mead Vickers.BBDO – really traded on special effects.
But Double Checked for Volkswagen from Almap/BBDO in Brazil had the audience sighing in appreciation at its clever effectiveness. The basic concept behind the ad is that car companies have to check everything about their product rigorously: the viewer sees a hand ticking off points on a checklist. The difference with this car company is that after its initial check it goes back and repeats the exercise: the hand moves back up to the top of the list to start ticking again, only in doing so it creates the VW logo.
For the second year running, DM9DDB in Sao Paulo picked up the agency of the year award, based on its strong showing at the press and poster awards, while Propaganda/ Satellite Films from the US won the Palme d’Or for best production company.
There was the odd turkey too, notably from Fame Line Company in Thailand, which managed to make 90 seconds feel like eternity with a nonsensical, complicated script.
But all in all, the level of work was high. All that needs to be done is to strong-arm the co-ordinators into organising a festival which adequately reflects the high quality of work on show.