Culture plays role at Cannes

Entrants to the Cannes ad festival from non-English speaking countries need to present their work in a more accessible way if they are to increase their chances of success

The Cannes international advertising festival is now just over six weeks away. Time enough to pack, but for many agencies – particularly those from non-English-speaking countries – time to review the work they will send to the festival, with a view to placing it in the best possible position to succeed.

On the evidence of recent years, delegates from countries such as Germany and Italy are again likely to go home empty-handed.

Yet though this outcome may seem inevitable, it does not engender complete resignation. As proof, two prominent Italian industry members have issued a timely call to arms.

In an ad in the trade press, Italian Art Directors Club president Milka Pogliani and Bozell executive creative director Enrico Chiarugi warn their compatriots that, unless attention is paid to certain details, their entries deserve to travel no further than the Italian border town of Ventimiglia.

Prominent among Pogliani and Chiarugi’s arguments is that work must be presented in English, accessibly and professionally, with a minimum of subtitling. In the past, they maintain, Italian agencies have made too few concessions to the practical demands of viewing and have been too ready to blame jury members’ unwillingness to understand for their failures.

Other factors might favour ads from one culture over another. Longstanding research, for example, maintains that the way communications are constructed and processed varies between “high context” and “low context” cultures.

“Low context” cultures, such as northern Europe and those whose native language is English, expect a high level of detail in their communications.

“High context” cultures, on the other hand, such as Italy and Spain, pay more attention to the details surrounding the message. Simple translation does not convert one to the other.

The 1999 festival was dominated by “low context” cultures – such as the UK, the US and South Africa – which took home 257 Lions between them, compared with the 77 claimed by “Latin” countries.

One might contend, given the concentrated setting in which ads are judged, that this favours “low context” communications. Indeed, one might maintain that traditional advertising formats themselves demand messages be constructed in this way.

Be that as it may, there is hope. Brazilian agencies earned last year’s third-highest awards tally, with advertising fusing the energy of their homeland with an executional simplicity that transcended culture. The advice issued by Pogliani and Chiarugi, both jury members at Cannes this year, is timely and well-judged.

If heeded, it should put Italian agencies in a stronger position to succeed and contribute towards raising expectations among other, similarly-placed countries.

John Shannon is President of Grey International

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