The Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity was historic in many aspects. It was certainly historic for Ogilvy, being named Network Of The Year again and winning an unprecedented 155 Lions across 29 offices. We won big this year; 4 Grand Prix, a first ever Effectiveness Lion and the most coveted of all accolades, an Integrated & Titanium Lion. Cannes was also buzzing, as usual, with a record number of attendees, clients and award entries.
Cannes matters. It matters to our clients, to people beyond the advertising world, to financial analysts, to the entertainment world and even to politics. I am also more and more convinced that aiming for fame in Cannes will make a better agency for its clients and for its staff. Aiming to win big in Cannes gives a clear and measurable focus for an agency on creativity. There is obviously the easy way of doing this, which is to develop work purely for awards, or there is the hard way, creating this kind of work for big brands and campaigns with the awards naturally following. It’s a process that agencies go through.
Ogilvy Brazil is a good example of this. They went from having a dream five years ago of being the most awarded agency in the world, to actually winning the Agency Of The Year award this year, naming them as the single most creative agency. They started with a dream, got their people behind it, involved their clients in making winning at Cannes important and now dominating in Cannes with major transformative work for big global brands. There must be something they’re doing right. I was lucky enough to ask some of our Brazilian colleagues what makes their work win big globally. Their two simple answers were: 1) changing from saying Brazil is different to realizing most insights are universal and the work should be too, and 2) the collective spirit of the whole agency wanting to win a gold in Cannes – it’s as simple as that.
It was also the first time China was majorly involved in the Cannes Festival. An official China Day was held, with the aim to celebrate and mark the arrival of China’s creativity on a world stage. I heard many speeches about the “Chinese Dream,” a phrase coined by the new Chinese leadership, but must honestly say I didn’t see Chinese creativity nor did I see a Chinese dream reflected in the work. While the thought of China getting involved in Cannes is fantastic, I feel this was a missed opportunity and a clear sign of what’s missing for China to become a country that truly embraces creativity. It made me even wonder if this is just a problem of our industry or a problem across the board?
This was a wonderful opportunity to showcase a new China to the world, show the Western world that creativity matters in our business and in China. I think the world is ready to learn more about China beyond the standing clichés. There is so much wonderful work happening in art, music, movies, the Internet, design, etc. – the modern China, the youthful China. These industries have started to develop a Chinese style and confidence that is appreciated by the rest of the world. Chinese advertising hasn’t found this yet. Chinese advertising has certainly made huge progress with the work getting better and better in comparison to the past, however it’s hard to see a Chinese style and confidence in advertising showing China is ready to take on the world.
China Day reinforced all existing clichés about China, red lanterns, dragon dancers and panda bears. Surely China has much more to offer than that.
The work by Chinese agencies certainly didn’t roar either. Brazil turned Cannes into a carnival, the Indians celebrated and made their presence felt, the Aussies dominated with ‘Dumb Ways to Die’, New York showed that massive work on big global brands can win gold. Yes, Chinese agencies won some awards and certainly should be proud of their wins, but lets be honest, none of this work was hugely influential in China or was talked about in Cannes.
China has come a long way, and I have seen the Chinese advertising world grow up over the last 15 years, but in my view the creativity gap in Cannes is widening rather than closing. I want China to do better, I want Chinese creativity to be recognized and appreciated. I know it’s not easy, but Cannes shows it can be done, in every part of the world. China can do it too.
Usually at this point the usual excuses come up, China is different, the culture is unique, clients don’t buy creative work, consumers don’t get it, the country is too big, media is too expensive, etc… To that I say, India is culturally different, Brazil is a fast growing country, media is expensive in the US, however all of these places produce amazing work which I’m certain can be done in China. Their work is universal and built on big insights. Dove ‘Real Beauty Sketches’ will work in China, IBM ‘A Boy And His Atom’ will work, so will ‘Dumb Ways to Die’ – the problem is these ideas don’t come from China.
I have two simple changes that could possibly do wonders.
First, lets have a collective ambition for big transformative ideas. Lets have a big dream. Most agencies and clients are content with “good enough” and “safe,” rather than pushing for something new and transformative. Why can’t we all have a big dream to put China on the map, to have a campaign win big in China and on the world stage? Brazil has shown it can be done.
The second thing I would encourage everyone to do is to get more of China to Cannes. I encourage all agencies and clients to send their young staff to Cannes or to at least get some of the spirit of Cannes to China. A week in Cannes can do wonders. It inspires, challenges, drives new thoughts, exposes one to the best work out there and broadens horizons. Everyone should see and care about the work that won and aim to do this kind of work. Ogilvy sends its young stars from around the world to Cannes every year, it’s amazing what energy they build up during Cannes and how motivated they come back to their daily jobs.
Allow your own staff and your agencies to dream big.
See China roaring loudly next year in Cannes.