With its haul of 16 gongs (one gold, six silver and nine bronze), Colenso BBDO was the standout Kiwi performer at the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity. The agency's chief executive Nick Garrett was on the ground in the South of France and he recently got in touch to share his thoughts on the proceedings. And while he was pleased with the tally that Colenso accumulated over the course of the event, he says that the general consensus among attendees was that this was far from being a vintage edition of the awards event.
How did this year's event compare to previous years?
Being in Cannes is always a pleasure and I feel lucky to be there. Cannes continues to grow and while I am its biggest supporter because it believes in the power of creativity it does feel like we are seeing a dangerous split in why people are going. One one side it feels like there are a lot of people who are there for the work or at least to celebrate theirs and others. Let's call this inspiration and some insight. Then on the other hand, and more than ever before, it felt like there were as many people there to ‘make the deal’ or schmooze clients or Google. And while you'd be an idiot to think this side of Cannes wasn’t also important, it felt distant. More people I talked to than in the past were a bit oblivious to the work and that isn’t a good thing.
What were some of the standout talks that you attended? Were there any insights that really stuck out in your mind?
This year's talks were a little weaker than in the past and way too many agencies, media companies or vendors simply opted out of having to say anything important themselves by giving the stage to a celebrity or two and on the whole, while interesting, they were not generally relevant. Besides my previous point, Pharrell [Williams] was a real highlight and amazing. Such a humble guy who talked about how he collaborates by finding people better than him to work with – a good lesson for us in NZ because we are using the word collaboration but we are getting compromise instead.
CP+B held a great talk about building their own brands and the success as agencies you can have. Keith Weed from Unilever was a strong voice for consolidation of smarts into lead agencies and that too many specialist agencies working on big projects could have a negative impact on his brands. On the whole, I missed agencies sharing from their points of view and some of the greats of the past sharing their insight and wisdom.
What were ad people discussing most passionately behind the scenes? What trends and issues were they focused on?
Gender diversity was the hot topic of the festival and has already been covered a lot but something for all New Zealand agency leaders to have a another look at within our own companies and the work we produce to inspire it. Naturally the work, but there was less controversy this year until the end with the Ogilvy/Geometry thing, but lets not go there. Clients were very interested in ways of working and agency/client models. There is no silver bullet here but you do get the sense the smarter clients want more not less from their agencies and seek better work. Brands matter and creating purpose was still a hot topic. Another way of talking about it was letting brands ‘show their intentions’ which I liked the sound of. The spread of agencies and campaigns that won this year seemed broader, which is great and there wasn’t any one idea that swept the board like in years gone past. Probably the biggest question on everyone’s mind was around the lack of presence from a lot of the big brands this year. And overall most people I talked to felt this wasn’t a vintage year for Cannes. Great work yes and much it floated to the top but less work you would cut your right arm off to have been part of and made. Sadly, a lot of our best work as an industry was for charity and cause-related accounts, even more so than last year. And either there isn’t enough work from the brands or the jurors are letting their hearts do too much of the thinking. We were guilty of this as were others and while I am extremely proud of the work, it shouldn’t be anyone’s best in isolation.
Are you happy with Colenso's performance at the event or were you expecting a few more golds—especially from campaigns like Pedigree's 'Found' app and VW's 'Reduce Speed Dial'?
I am over the moon with 16 Lions and it is our best total ever so I am very proud of the team, the clients whose work was successful and everyone involved. It is also great to see the Lions spread across six different campaigns. Winning a Lion is real tough and most jurors gave us all the sense they were tougher this year (that doesn’t mean the winning work was better) than ever before. If you don’t have a brilliantly simple way to set your case study up in the first 15 seconds, forget it. We would have loved to see another gold or two in the mix, but who doesn’t and considering how tough other New Zealand and Aussie agencies had it, I am grateful for what we did win. Besides VW's 'Reduce Speed Dial' and Pedigree’s 'Found' are ideas still in motion and will get better as they grow and as results come in.
Kiwi agencies had a lower haul this year than last year. Why do you think are some of the reasons for that? Was the international standard just much higher?
Yes, the jurors were tougher but I think the work in New Zealand over the last 12 months hasn’t been as strong as in recent years and that showed. If you want to do well at Cannes your bar has to be international standards and too much of our work just aims to be good enough for here, and it doesn't translate. I am not sure how the other Kiwi agencies feel generally as I didn’t bump into too many of them and haven’t had a chance to chat to others yet, but talking to the Aussie guys, they were all very open and honest about the year they had. Disappointed yes, but well aware it was a poorer pool of creative work.