Cannes Lions is beauty and the beast, says newbie

Sam Stutchbury, Founder and Creative Director of advertising agency Motion Sickness was at the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity for the first time this year. Here is part two his report on the trip. You can read part one here.

At Cannes, some industry craft work left its mark. The NBA and adverting agency Leo Burnett strengthened the NBA’s foothold in grassroots India with a stunning photography-led campaign, capturing genuine, unscripted moments of kids imitating the signature dunks of NBA MVPs. When you can’t tell whether it’s the art direction or the photography doing the magic, it’s a good sign.

Leo Burnett produced another masterpiece, Paper Organs, with the Taiwan Organ Sharing Registry. In collaboration with Taiwanese artist Chen Wen-Tai, traditional paper art was used to create replicas of organs like the heart, lungs, kidneys and the liver. Obtaining a paper copy of the donated organ(s) from the hospital or funeral home allows the donor’s family to perform a burning ritual after the donor’s passing, replicating the traditional afterlife ritual of burning paper offerings to provide for the deceased’s needs. It was stunning, raising awareness of the need for donors, while also solving the previously inescapable barrier of family support for organ donation.

Lastly, a B2B campaign for JCDecaux España by David. Marina Prieto, a 100-year-old grandma from Madrid with no Instagram followers, became an international sensation when JCDecaux posted her unseen Instagram posts on subway billboards. The posts, and the story behind it, went viral, proving the value and reach of the signage medium. A beautifully simple idea that doesn’t need much dressing up, because it’s so good.

Yet, I left Cannes with a split perspective: one as an agency owner, and another as a creative. As a creative, would I still like to win a Cannes Lion? Yes. It’s the world stage, and in our weird little universe a Lion means something. And, simply put, it would be a fun evening.

As a business owner, do I think the resources, time and money needed to give it a meaningfully good go are commercially worth it for an indie agency, marketer or brand in New Zealand? Maybe not. But is it still something in their careers that an agency, marketer and a creative would like to tick off? Sure. It’s complicated.

Awards are awards. They are a crucial way to prove that it’s not just you who likes your work. To me, other awards shows, such as the Effies or other local shows, have just as much commercial value to agencies and marketers operating in New Zealand. We’re so far separated from the hubbub of the rest of the world that I am not convinced a lot of people here actually care as much as they used to about winning in France, at least not any more than winning another award. That’s not easy to say as an agency, but you need to keep perspective.

On one of our last nights, we dived head-first into the Cannes hole, starting out by accepting an invitation to join the team from production company Finch – genuinely lovely people – aboard a yacht, before heading off to the Contagious Villa x WARC pool party. It, too, was fun, and the people great. There, we bumped into Matthew Herbert, CEO of Tracksuit, whose company is taking over the world with brand tracking. Through rosé-tinted glasses, we stood there at the top steps of the villa, watching the moving crowd of sweaty handshakes and just talked about New Zealand. We smiled as we chatted about the people we admire back home, the local industry we love and the local work we are proud of. And, with no forethought, this is where my two perspectives came together and settled in alongside each other.

It took us going to the other side of the world, surrounded by the world elite of Adland, to be reminded that we’ve already struck gold. A local industry and a career we love. There’s a beautiful purity to the industry in New Zealand — we don’t need the superyachts, the endless schmoozes, the million-dollar stages or Ludacris to make it good. Our home industry is already ambitious and globally talented, and, awards aside, simply doesn’t need, or have the appetite for, the ostentatious side-dishes and complications that often come with the global world of advertising.

In WGSM’s forecasting seminar, they had spoken about a new generation seeking ‘glimmers’ – micro moments of regular joy – instead of chasing long-winded monumental life milestones. It amounts to a rejection of anyone else’s pre-planned blueprint for ‘success’. Ironically, this observation from the stage of Cannes nailed the inherent dichotomy in taking part in the global awards race. There is no denying the seriousness, the prestige, the investment, the milestone of winning a coveted Cannes Lion, and, for many I spoke with, doing so was an all-consuming monumental quest. And yet it could also be a poisoned chalice: as one person confessed, due to the network pressure he faced to win, receiving awards was now simply a relief, not a cause for celebration. A life ambition now seemed to have become a burden for many of the elite and global agencies, a stressful pressure on top of the immense work they were already doing. In this light, the day-to-day glimmers now seem more important and considerably more attractive.

We should still celebrate when a New Zealand agency wins at Cannes, absolutely. They knocked the bastard off, in the words of the late Sir Edmund Hilary. When Kiwis win, it inspires the industry. New Zealand has a legacy of making some of the best work in the world, for some of the best businesses with some of the best humans. And winning a Cannes Lion is one way to keep building that legacy. If you somehow get offered a trip to Cannes, take it. You’ll leave with some inspiration, new LinkedIn connections and a hangover. The festival attracts an incredible concentration of the global industry all in one place. And with that scale comes many ways to skin the cat of Cannes, depending on what you want to get out of it.

Regarding the awards show itself, does every agency, marketer or creative need to conquer Cannes to be considered elite or, according to Cannes, ‘world-class’? Probably not. As I left Cannes I settled on this: don’t lock too much of your creative joy behind the fragile glass of the trophy cabinet. Potentially it’s not all about the pot of Lions gold at the end of the rainbow — while it would be nice to reach that pot one day, maybe it’s smart not to spend too much time, thought and energy chasing it. Instead, spend your time making work in the sun, using creativity in a way that makes sense for you and your brand, and, if a rainbow happens to appear from the happy tears of your success, see what you can find at the end of it.

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