Feature

Cannes: Wish you were here?

Cannes is receiving many more entrants from developing economies - and some of them could be ready to give UK agencies a run for their money. Representatives of four overseas shops offer their global perspective of the festival.

- Alexandre Peralta, Chief executive and partner StrawberryFrog, Sao Paulo

We have started seeing the Cannes festival much less as technicians, great film- or ad-makers, but as brand strategists - marketing men. The distance between us and the real marketing men, our clients, has decreased. It seems that, for the first time, we are both interested in airing the same thing.

In the time of dinosaurs, we would take our clients to Cannes to see our commercials. Now, we are the ones who have to attend their lectures. Last year, there weren't enough chairs in the auditorium for those who wanted to see the Virgin chief executive, Richard Branson. This year, we shall hear lectures by Daniela Riccardi, the president of Procter & Gamble in China; Laura Klauberg, the global media vice-president of Unilever; the advertising director of Visa, Elyssa Gray, and Jay Stevens, the vice-president of sales and operations (EMEA) at Fox Interactive Media.

The wall between us and clients has collapsed. Agencies are no longer the only source of ideas. There are companies with more innovative ideas than agencies, and chief executives who are more modern than many editors and art directors. Who is cooler, you or Sergey Brin?

Historically, Brazil has always been among the five most-awarded countries in the festival. It won the Agency of the Year award several times. It won the press Grand Prix in 1993. In 2000, it was clever enough to realise the great opportunity in the newly created Cyber category and, when few people cared about it, it brought home a Grand Prix. Five years later, it got the second Grand Prix in the same category.

What has changed for Brazilians about Cannes is exactly what has changed for the world. The best view of the festival, in addition to that from the Carlton window, is now that which portrays the holistic actions of brands. The Brazilian market is going through a moment of change: just like in Europe and the US, advertisers are leaving the old models behind and seeking innovation more than ever.

- Natalia Stepanuk, Founder, IQ Marketing, Moscow

How do Russians view Cannes? Like Mount Everest. There are a few conquerors of the peak, a handful of shy novice climbers, and a mass of cynics. Thank goodness that, for all of Russia's characteristic suspicion and negativism, the stature of Mount Cannes and the complexity of ascending it are undisputed. But so few have actually visited. Those who have ascended the heights are far fewer - only six Lions have been awarded to Russian companies. Either the sherpas are drunk and don't know the way, or the many guises the festival takes in the Russian mind, which is so inclined to myth-making, discourage potential visitors.

After talking to more than 100 Russians from both agencies and clients, I can boldly assert that the festival is underestimated in Russia as the greatest professional forum, as a valuable source of inspiration and know-how. And the problems, of course, run far deeper than a limited knowledge of English and the meagre coverage the festival gets in the Russian media. In Russia, where media expenses grow as fast as the cost of a barrel of oil, the creative industry languishes in a lethargic slumber. In BRIC's most promising market, products simply do not need advertising. The global corporations that dominate here prefer to adapt the bluntest branding strategies for developing markets. The industry sluggishly brushes aside the proponents of festival-standard ideas, who attempt to introduce innovations and top-level quality. "Russia's not ready; it may work over there, but here it won't fly ..." is the most common reaction to Cannes-winning work.

But despite the feeling of a train rapidly receding from Russia, Cannes is the only driver that can inevitably change the situation for the better. With their history of high adaptability, the phenomenally interesting Russian people can digest the Cannes diet more quickly than those who are obliged to do it by their profession. The more gold-standard campaigns that are rewarded by the consumer's rouble, the faster that good taste, bold solutions and great ideas will be diffused. But, for now, Russia has to be educated at Cannes, and a maximum number of missionaries need to be inspired.

- Piyush Pandey, Executive chairman and national creative director, Ogilvy & Mather, Mumbai

I remember, way back in 1994, there was just Kailash Surendranath, myself and a couple of other people from India who went to Cannes. Today, it's extremely heartening to see more than 100 Indians at the festival, learning, mingling with people from around the world and also getting some good results. Almost every Indian I meet at Cannes seems to be bubbling with energy, watching nearly every category with passion, and debating about - and sometimes even betting on - ads that they like.

The influence of looking at great work can be seen most significantly in print campaigns. Not that people are aping the West, but they are enthusiastically gearing themselves up to compete with the best. I recall getting on to the print shortlist in 1994: how we celebrated, as if we had won a gold. Today, many young people win every year with far greater confidence. Networking and exchanging thoughts are a part and parcel of Cannes. With thousands of creative people from around the world, there is no better place than where a young person can walk up to the likes of Marcello Serpa (the general creative director of Brazil's Almap BBDO) and request five minutes of his time. That, I guess, is the magic of Cannes.

And now to the partying bit. Yes, there are multiple parties every day, and those who are able to last them all normally take a few days afterwards to catch up on their sleep. Mind you, there's no limit to which creativity gets enhanced over a glass of wine or two or three or more. Cheers!

Ogilvy & Mather India probably sends one of the biggest contingents every year. A number of them have learned at Cannes, and gone back there to win. I guess being with the best encourages everyone to be the best some day.

Andrew Lok, Creative director, Ogilvy, Hong Kong

Undoubtedly, the Western ad world is fascinated with China. Take a look at the Cannes itinerary this year. "Asian Diversity: Behind The Great Wall", "Building Lovemarks In China", "So You Want To Know About Chinese Advertising".

But how does a mainland Chinese creative feel about a largely occidental event like Cannes?

Let's face it: in days of yore, the Chinese practically invented everything. With current double-digit economic growth and a booming fine-arts and design industry, you'll understand the resurgent Chinese pride in everything Chinese. So, naturally, there's an itch to see how it holds up against the rest of the ad world, creatively. Just examine the past five years of Cannes entries from mainland China - they've ballooned.

That said, a major reason for Cannes enthusiasm is the proliferation of "Lao Wai" (foreign) creative directors who've imported their fetish. Imagine being a young creative in a patriarchal society like China: your highly paid/awarded foreign boss says the south of France is the gold standard of advertising. Who's to argue? Furthermore, in ironic contrast to their nationalistic streak, the Chinese are enamoured of all things perceived of as possessing an "international quality". For a Chinese ad exec, it's just easier to get the next job in a "prestigious" agency if the word "Cannes" appears on the CV.

But, a reality check. In China, a Cannes Lion is still a "nice to have". The "must-have" for all marketers and agencies - and rightly so - is the sacred bottom-line. Sending entries and delegates to Cannes is prohibitively expensive for almost all agencies. And most Chinese marketers have yet to see the value in celebrating category-busting work.

Given cultural and language constraints, China's holy grail will be a Titanium Lion. Any marketer and agency who can create an integrated campaign that moves the one billion-plus souls of the second-largest ad market will truly be worth their weight in jade. Vive la Chine!

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