Countdown to cannes

The Cannes International Advertising Festival is the undisputed highlight of the global advertising calendar. And a handful of Middle East creatives will be travelling to France to represent their region, and hopefully bring home a Lion. Tim Burrowes previews the event

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By  Tim Burrowes Published  June 11, 2006

Countdown to cannes|~|wonderbra200.jpg|~|Tonic’s Wonderbra ‘censor’ ad|~|If there’s a World Cup for creativity, then this is it. Creatives and industry power brokers from across the region — and indeed from across the world — will be converging on the French town of Cannes next week for the 53rd annual International Advertising Festival. Earnestly presented seminars on important topics like return on investment in communications planning, the death of modern advertising or building your brand in developing markets take place against a gruelling backdrop of constant late night socialising. But the real attraction is the work —gruelling screenings and huge displays of the 124,862 entries that the event has received this year. It is possible to spend every day of the week-long festival sitting in darkness watching the TVC entries alone. And the culmination of all this comes at the awards ceremonies, where the prizes that can define any creative’s career — Cannes Lions — are handed over. Claire Beale, editor of the UK edition of Campaign, sums up the experience: “A session in one of the Palais des Festivals’ theatres is like an out-of-body experience, a hallucinatory trip through the popular culture of cultures you’ve never heard of. It’s a booing, baying, whistling, clapping fest, a dazzling tour of world advertising through the lens of its greatest champions and fiercest critics.” Liam Marshall, general manager of Motivate Val Morgan, which represents the Cannes Festival in the Middle East, estimates that between 45 and 60 representatives of the region will be travelling to the event this year. Motivate Val Morgan’s official delegation will include the likes of The Holding Group boss Joseph Ghossoub, who is currently the Inernational Advertising Association’s world president; Mohammed Al Mulla, director of Dubai Media City; and other senior IAA representatives. And a duo from Team Y&R Dubai — Shaun-Dean Thomas and Keshav Naidu — will be the representatives of the region in the Young Creatives Competition, which involves working on a live brief. Also attending will be sisters Sophie and Fiona Clark, copywriter and art director from Memac Ogilvy in Dubai, who were narrowly beaten by Thomas and Naidu for the right to compete in the competition. But the region’s representatives are outnumbered by the actual Lions entries coming out of the region — nearly 300 from across the Middle East. Yet that figure only represents about 1% of the total number of entries from around the world. The level of support makes it all the more impressive that Dubai-based Tonic picked up the region’s first creative gold Lion last year for its “Paperclip” Sony print ad. It was one of just over 30 print gold Lions given last year. According to Marshall: “It’s the creative event of the year internationally, and everybody knows it. There’s not really another event that has the respect that Cannes has. A lot of countries have tried to emulate Cannes and nobody else has succeeded.” Small wonder it cost Emap nearly US$100 million when it bought the event from Roger Hatchuel in 2004. Cannes veteran Ed Jones, creative director of Saatchi & Saatchi Dubai, says: “There’s no other way of getting that kind of intensity and saturated exposure to the world’s best work.” Marshall adds: “You get the big guys from all of the big agencies worldwide and they are happy to talk about all of their experiences. The contacts you make there are incredible.” Marshall believes that participating in the event is a necessity if the region is to start competing on the world stage. He says: “The work’s good here, but it’s not excellent. And it’s not going to get excellent until the agencies start taking people.” Jones warns for those coming along: “It’s a gruelling effort. There are screenings from nine to six every day. But it’s genuinely good fun.” His key tip?: “Hangover management.” He adds: “You need to plan and you need comfortable shoes. Plus a shoulder bag for all the freebies and CDs and magazines you’ll be given from all around the world.” He describes a typical Cannes day. “You wake up with a hangover between nine and ten and go to the Palais du Festivals and watch as many commercials as you can stand. If you’re very lucky you’ll watch three solid hours of car commercials. “The interesting thing is that you start seeing the commercials more and more like a consumer where they turn you off instantly. Seeing stuff in that context reminds us that 98% of advertising is fantastically ineffective. And that’s supposedly the best stuff from around the world.” Jones continues his typical Cannes day: “Ideally one meets up with colleagues for a spot of lunch, then get back to see as much more as you can bear. It’s important, because all of the conversation in the evening will revolve around ‘Did you see so-and-so?’ “Then the critical question of where you are having dinner arises. I have entire groups of friends that I only ever see at Cannes. “Then there are awards to go to where you can go and express contempt at the results, before going on to the Gutter bar and drinking for as long as you are able. On a bad night you’ll be in bed at three or four in the morning. Some people hate it, but I always enjoy it.” So will any agencies bring back a gold Lion this time round? Last year, most predicted not, but Tonic proved them wrong, bringing back a print gold. Among the most sought after trophies are the film Lions for TVCs, and the titanium Lion to recognise the very best of the best. Motivate Val Morgan’s Marshall says: “If someone were to bring back a film lion, that would be incredible as that’s one of the biggest honours. As for titanium, that’s going to take a while. It’s going to take a number of years.” Among the commercials being tipped for a titanium this time round is Fallon London’s Sony Bravia work, featuring thousands of coloured balls bouncing down hills. Marshall is also pessimistic about hopes for the region to win a media Lion, citing the lack of supporting data in the market as a major obstacle. He says: “It’s about proving how effective a campaign was and we’re a league behind on the data. I don’t think we’ve got a chance in hell there.” However, this year there have been several entries for the media Lions from Cairo. Winning last year’s award clearly came as something of a surprise to Vincent Raffray, creative director of Tonic. Nobody from the agency had even attended the festival, although winning awards is a central plank of the agency’s business plan. Raffray says: “We have always devoted a huge part of the business to winning awards. You need to know what judges are looking for as they will see thousands of pieces of work.” He says: “First, it’s great PR for the agency. Second, it’s vital for recruitment. You are never going to reach people around the world if you are not in the award annuals. We now get three or four portfolios a day, so it has worked for us.” He’s careful not to predict another gold for the agency, although he is proud of the agency’s Microvault print work for Sony, which won the grand prix prize in the Campaign Awards earlier this year. “Maybe a bronze or silver. I don’t think we will pick up another gold.” Dani Richa, regional creative director for Impact BBDO, agrees that there is a solid business case for entering awards like the Lions — particularly if it helps move the network up the rankings in the Gunn Report, which charts major award wins around the world. He says: “As a Middle East agency, your financial contribution to the international group may not be that major. However, if in this part of the world you win even one award then it could bring up your network’s total in the Gunn Report, and huge importance is attached to that. “Just one bronze Lion could be the difference between BBDO being second in the world or first in the world.”||**||Countdown to Cannes|~|Exotica200.jpg|~|Leo Burnett Beirut’s outdoor execution for Exotica|~|Shehzad Yunus, creative director at TBWA\Raad in Dubai, says it is a dream for any creative director to win a Lion. He says: “Creative people see it as the ultimate recognition of creative excellence. Being very good is not enough. You have to be outstanding.” Richa adds: “What we really need to be taken seriously by the judges is five or six good agencies each entering 100 pieces.” And for those on their first trip to Cannes, how do they make the most of their time? The veterans agree that planning, a sturdy constitution and a willingness to go without sleep are the vital combination. The first place you’ll need to find is the Palais du Festivals. This is where delegates register and where all of the work is shown in an air-conditioned cinema offering a haven from the Cote D’Azur sun. And then, there’s where to stay. Those with the big budgets hire villas up in the hills. Or bring the company yacht. Only the foolhardy, or those who fancy a 20km commute, fail to book before they go. If you haven’t already made your reservation, then you’re in for a world of pain. Among the recommended hotels are the Majestic Barriere, seen as the best hotel in the town, with a correspondingly decent pool. The price matches the reputation. The Carlton Intercontinental, the “wedding cake”, is where the movers and shakers of New York’s Madison Avenue usually hang out. And the art deco Martinez tends to be the haunt of German and Scandinavian creatives. It’s also worth bearing in mind for its close proximity to the Gutter Bar. If the festival has a late night home, then the Gutter Bar is it — so named because everyone stands outside in the gutter; it doesn’t get going until midnight and is still doing a brisk trade come sunrise. Other options include 7 Carlton Terrace for an early evening Kir Royale, while the 70s-style Jimmy’z nightclub, near the Palais du Festivals, is another popular choice. But the real art of Cannes nights is to plan how to combine dinner with taking in an award ceremony, with picking the best party to go to. Delegates will often find themselves with 40 invitations to choose from just with the arrival pack. And all that free hospitality helps make up for the extremely expensive hotels and taxis. Motivate Val Morgan’s Marshall offers a further tip: “Talk to people. It’s a social event and it’s a relaxed atmosphere. You have to come out of your shell to get the most out of it. Everyone is so open to chatting, especially when you say you work in the Middle East. As soon as you say that they just want to know more and more.” Marshall says that the planning comes in trying to fit in as much as possible. The ceremonies can also be overbooked, particularly for the latter half of the week. And he adds a further warning for those used to Middle East time. “The events start on time. If you turn up late, you’ll miss it.” As for dress code, you’ll be among creatives, so anything goes, although most people wear a suit for the opening and closing ceremonies. Richa says that although he’d love his own agency to win, he would be nearly as pleased to see success from the region. “For the whole industry we will have to start winning at Cannes. We would love it to be us, but so long as it’s from the region, that’s what’s important.”||**||

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