Five takeaways from Cannes 2016

  • Advertising
  • June 28, 2016
  • Damien Venuto
Five takeaways from Cannes 2016

Cannes has again buzzed by with the ferocity of a social media storm—which is only fitting, because there were a few social tornadoes thrown into the mix this year. We look at some of the highs and lows of another year in the French Riviera.      

1. Underdogs no more

The cliché of New Zealand agencies punching above their weight has been used year in, year out to describe the success of Kiwi agencies on the global stage. But this phrase has largely become redundant, because Kiwi agencies are very much among equals when it comes to creativity in advertising. Perhaps, instead of erring on the side of humbleness, Kiwis should follow Resn’s tongue-in-cheek example and become hyperbolic in their confidence. A recent release trumpeting the agency’s recent run of award wins turned the tables by saying: Resn did not attend any of the awards in person. Instead, the agency delivered a video taped acceptance speech on a VHS cassette. As managing director Rik Campbell explained: "Since technological change has been so rapid in recent years and we’re not sure if the rest of the world has kept pace with New Zealand, we used VHS to ensure that technology wasn’t a barrier to accessing the speech. Ironically, they didn’t have the equipment to play it. Last year, we tried laser disc and the same thing happened. I mean, how far back do we have to go? Stone tablets?"

This year, New Zealand finished sixth in terms of its overall haul of metal at the event. And if the quality of individual awards is taken into consideration, then this moves us into third place—which certainly suggests that no one else will be seeing the Kiwis as mere hopefuls next year.  

2. Unconscious but present

For all the success Kiwis had in Cannes this year, we also became directly embroiled in one of the big negative talking points of the year when equal rights campaigner Cindy Gallop pointed out that James Hurman’s book featured no female writers. Hurman did acknowledge the shortcoming immediately and admitted that his unconscious bias led to him overlooking this fact.

But Hurman wasn’t the only one who had to apologise during the week. VaynerMedia CEO Gary Vaynerchuk also had to do some damage control after an invitation for a party thrown by his agency and Thrillist requested "attractive females and models only".

What’s more is that Cannes came under criticism for awarding a Bronze Lion to Brazilian agency AlmapBBDO for a Bayer campaign that seemed to encourage rape culture. Subsequently, the BBDO network apologised, returned the Lion and pulled all Bayer’s work from the competition.


The issue here is not whether or not Hurman is sexist, whether Vaynerchuk knew what the invitation said before it went out or how Cannes could’ve allowed the Bayer campaign to be entered in the first place, but rather what the industry can do to ensure that issues such as these are eradicated.

If anything, the annual Cannes Festival puts the industry under a microscope and magnifies the issues agencies are dealing with. And, as a corollary, it presents an opportunity for executives to address them.      

3. Titanium Kiwis

The significance of New Zealand winning two of the five Titanium Lions at this year’s event should not be underestimated. These gongs are only awarded for ground-breaking pieces of work, the so-called inspirational entries. These pieces of work are not restricted to a specific category, and the entries are essentially up against the best of what Cannes has to offer.

The Titanium Lions are perhaps the best example of what The Goat Farm’s Vaughn Davis referred to when he recently compared the Cannes Festival of Creativity to high-end catwalk fashion.  

“It doesn’t have to be commercially viable,” Davis said. “It doesn’t matter if no one other than Lady Gaga will ever wear your dress made from meat, or your 15-inch heels or whatever. But when you push those boundaries, try new things, maybe tell some lies about how real your client or brief or media placement was, you break new ground. And next year in Glasson’s you see echoes of that catwalk craziness from Paris, or New York. And the world is a more interesting place for it.”

And the fact that Kiwi agencies are playing a major role in influencing the industry on a global level is pretty damn cool.    

4. Scammy as ever

Every year, advertising and media journalists point out the scammiest campaigns of this year—and 2016 was no different.

This year, most of the barbs were pointed at Grey Singapore’s ‘I Sea app’, which was kicked off the Apple App Store and completely rejected by the client. Cannes Lions chair Terry Savage has said that the organisation will investigate the campaign after the event, but the damage to Cannes’ reputation has already been done.

While there were no major scams in the local market, some StopPress commenters have over the past year criticised some of the creative efforts that have gone on to win awards (and this was again continued this year).     

Many of these criticisms are levelled at projects that come with the promise of a product that might take some time to materialise. If you say you’re going to do something, then you’d better do it. However, as anyone in the research and development department of an innovative company can attest, moving from the beta to actual sale phase can take time—and, sometimes, it’s a gap that can never be bridged.  

As the most innovative agencies continue to move beyond traditional campaigns and experiment by trying to develop more new products, there will inevitably be a few non-starters along the way. But this doesn’t mean that these campaigns are automatically scams. If they generate interest, shift the positioning of the brand, inspire creative admiration or lead to increase in sales of other products, then they would’ve still been successful in some of the key metrics important in advertising. 

5. Awards still matter

For all the talk about whether awards matter and whether agencies should enter them, Cannes always provides a reminder that we’re simple creatures and that we thrive on the admiration of our peers. The desire to win a Lion was again as great as ever in 2016. And while the type of work that wins awards is evolving, you can rest assured that none of the winners regret entering this year’s edition of the event (we're pretty sure the winning clients didn't mind too much, either). And there’s no doubt that a few late nights will be allocated to the 2017 schedule as the time comes for the next edition of the event.   

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