Cannes Lions 2015: the judges' verdict

Never mind those nine US Supreme Court justices, the judges making the really tough decisions were holed up in a bunker deep below the French Riviera. Breaking their code of omertà, those arbiters of creative excellence relive their experiences and hail the work that made it all worthwhile.

Direct Grand Prix: Volvo ‘interception’
Direct Grand Prix: Volvo ‘interception’

DIRECT

NICKY BULLARD EXECUTIVE CREATIVE DIRECTOR LIDA

The weird and the wonderful of Direct. Yep, there was plenty of weird. Not just odd stuff, but odd decisions on what was chucked into our category.

A bottle that had a top you could mend your skateboard with. A banana watch. Spinning salami platters. You get my drift. There was also plenty of wonderful. Volvo "interception".

Shitting the life out of your customers and giving them a discount on your horror film stock that’s comparable to their fear. And the most entertaining subscription form you are ever likely to fill in.

There were quite a few trends. Human ink: ink made using DNA, ink made from cancer patients’ lost hair and ink containing HIV-infected blood. (Not in one execution, by the way. That would have been super-weird.) Domestic violence. Walking for water. Missing letters in Tweets.

But there was also confusion about what Direct really is. It has become a category of ambiguity. Ironic given its title. Obviously, as the only Brit in the room – and a "Direct Nazi", as I was affectionately called by a fellow judge – I gobbed off. Because it’s up to us judges, this year, to select the work that we can hold up to the world and say: "This is not just a great bit of work, it’s a great bit of Direct work."

By the time you read this, you’ll know if all 26 of us have agreed.



DESIGN

NILS LEONARD CHAIRMAN AND CHIEF CREATIVE OFFICER GREY LONDON

The judging process was refreshing and inspiring because the jury wasn’t the usual mix of ad people. They were genuinely the best people in design – some of them are personal heroes. They had a different perspective on the work.

There’s always talk of politics in Cannes, but this was missing in our group. There were a lot of souls in that room who weren’t hardened or made cynical by ad festivals. They really believed in the power of design and what it could do.

At the start of the process, Andy Payne, the jury president, said he thought the role of design was to genuinely solve or address problems. I really bought that.

An ad agency will refer to design at the end of the chain – it’s the sprinkle, the gloss, the beautiful colour. But people still talk about great design such as Heatherwick’s torch, the Tate Modern or the iPhone. It can become part of people’s lives, whereas an ad is a passing piece of entertainment.

The jury was often split on work, but we outed anything that felt indulgent.

The work we awarded shows that design is about fundamental behaviour change. It is about people, not products.

Cannes is hard – but I loved my experience. You come away tired but inspired. The discussion about the purpose of design really affirmed my desire to make work that matters and people actually want around.

Glass Lion Grand Prix: Whisper ‘touch the pickle’

GLASS LION

LAURA JORDAN BAMBACH CREATIVE PARTNER MR PRESIDENT

I’m so privileged to have taken part in the inaugural Glass Lion. We had a stunningly good jury that extended well beyond the usual suspects. We were all in some way activists, disrupters and voices for a better future through gender equality. Women in leadership from the United Nations (HeForShe), The Representation Project, Lean In – and, yes, we had some amazing and passionate men on the jury too.

And we had work to match the jury’s ambition. It can be hard to sit through case after case around inequality – sometimes graphic and brutal – but every piece of work was created to change humanity for the better. It was serious work, with a lot to consider above the usual idea and craft.

The judging meant immersing ourselves in issues from many cultures, some familiar and some incredibly surprising. We had deep conversations and debates, and I finished feeling more enriched.

We hope that our choice of Lions and Grand Prix show the richness of the work being done to rectify gender inequality around the world, and will inspire young creatives and clients about the benefits of doing things in the right way. Brands are still (for the most part) struggling to keep up with the progressiveness in the NGO and not-for-profit sectors, but I think we were all surprised by what was entered this year, and where we ended up after many hours of heavy, but joyous, debate.

More, please!

Press Grands Prix: City of Buenos Aires ‘moths’, ‘dog’, ‘squirrel’ and ‘baby’

PRESS

BEN PRIEST CHIEF CREATIVE OFFICER ADAM & EVE/DDB

Awards are a funny old business. But they are not the business that we are in. That, of course, is the pursuit of great work for clients who pay our salaries. So it was dispiriting for myself and the rest of the Press jury to find ourselves, late last Monday night, looking at the potential golds. We realised all seven were for non-fee-paying clients. Charities and not-for-profit organisations abounded.

Fortunately, a lovely campaign for Coca-Cola and an equally nice one for Smart car migrated upwards to join the list of golds. But still the category felt off-balance. I wish we’d seen agencies putting as much effort into the real stuff, for things that people can buy in the shops.

On the plus side, my fellow jurors were wonderful. From the four corners of the planet, they gave their all, seeking out the best work they could find. And our jury president, Pablo Del Campo, guided the group with good humour and a lightness of touch.

Next year, I’d like to see print back with a bang. Big ideas, for big clients, being rewarded in a big way. Now, wouldn’t that be the business?



CREATIVE EFFECTIVENESS

CILLA SNOWBALL GROUP CHAIRMAN AND CHIEF EXECUTIVE ABBOTT MEAD VICKERS BBDO

Cilla Snowball group chairman and chief executive Abbott Mead Vickers bbdoThe heavy lifting for our jury was the pre-judging. Entries doubled over last year so, before we had even got to Cannes, all 16 of us had reviewed 160 entries.

Once in the jury room, the highest-scoring 80 papers were reduced to a shortlist of 27. There was a good mix of pro bono and for-profit work, where success metrics differed and robust disagreements were provoked. But we were 100 per cent aligned on what metal meant: great work, clear evidence of sustained and profound effect, category-busting, game-changing work. Work that made us jealous.

We liked work that displayed the courage to poke giants, to challenge a dull sector, to self-deprecate, to confront prejudice and inequality. We cheered for ugly vegetables, bears, hares and buried Bentleys. We were thrilled by trucks, crackers, repentant drivers and bald children. But we had no truck with verbose and pompous hyperbole. Bombastic claims on social media efficiency went down badly unless accompanied by hard evidence of commercial effect.

We had three great clients on the jury, all of whom spent a fair bit of time out of the jury room while their own entries were judged. Lars Terling from Volvo Trucks got one hell of a welcome back after the Grand Prix was voted – and what a worthy winner.



OUTDOOR

GERRY HUMAN CHIEF CREATIVE OFFICER OGILVY & MATHER LONDON

Ideas that make the world a better place are the ones that win.

Everything and nothing has changed since the first time I judged at Cannes 13 years ago.

Back then, it was a pretty humble show – you could win awards for a couple of old-school media and Cyber had just kicked off.

Nowadays, there are 20 categories, well over 40,000 entries and gazillions of sunburnt festival-goers running around like spaniels on methamphetamine. Sort of Glastonbury meets French Riviera.

The overriding theme at Cannes these days is of ideas hoping to make the world a better place.

The Outdoor category was no different. Our 17-strong jury chose gold winners that tackled issues such as gun crime, pollution, water shortage, football violence, road safety and the abuse of women.

And that’s not because this jury was an especially charitable lot (far from it), but more likely because ideas are simply more potent when they confront real problems and provide ingenious solutions.

That said, I noticed a campaign featuring an exposed ass-crack (to encourage checking for colon cancer) didn’t win a thing.

Most of the time, great ideas still win.



CYBER

JAMES NESTER CREATIVE DIRECTOR WE ARE SOCIAL

Right now, I’m an odd combination of tired-inspired. Cyber is one of the most demanding Lions categories to judge, attracting almost 4,000 entries. And each one often includes websites, games and products, which all need examining.

Then there’s the demands of engaging in lengthy debate for more than 12 hours a day in a dark room, knowing the stunning Croisette beaches are but 100 metres away. In the West, people love to talk – it’s taken as a sign of competence and strength. But jurors from the East were quiet unless directly invited for opinion. I’m told it’s a sign of etiquette and humility. This meant discussion was often dominated by a few key characters. But, despite our cultural differences, we remained happy, high-spirited and, by the end, friends.

Probably the biggest debate was around the Grand Prix. As Cyber is such a huge category, rules allowed us to select up to three Grand Prix awards to represent the diversity of the digital world. But, after voting, there was a clear front-runner. Droga5’s "I will what I want" made an empowering statement while encapsulating the potential of digital better than its contenders. Here was a campaign that seamlessly fused social thinking with digital experience and innovation.

Next year, expect to see yet more digital inventions as embodied this year by Optus’ "Clever Buoy", R/GA’s "Hammerhead" and Samsung’s "safety truck". And expect more debate around who should get the credit for this type of work.

These were the two most inspiring weeks of my career. I feel I have absorbed the perspectives of the other judges – their differing backgrounds, viewpoints and cultures. The experience also gave me insights into how the process works and how to best package work to impress a mind-boggled jury.

The taxi strike in protest of Uber as I struggled to leave Cannes was just another reminder: digital ideas have the power to change the world.



FILM

KATE STANNERS CHIEF CREATIVE DIRECTOR SAATCHI & SAATCHI LONDON

One of the most interesting things about judging Cannes is what doesn’t end up winning. Why, for example, did Beats by Dre, Always, Honda and Ikea – all amazing in their own way – fail to win Grands Prix? "#LikeAGirl" was one of the most influential things we saw, but was it a perfect piece of film? Honda was a strong contender, but was the story quite the best?

In the end, the Grand Prix for Leica was almost unanimous. Geico was different – it came from nowhere – but we loved it because it embraced the constraints of the medium and made them the idea.

By far the biggest debate was around "between two ferns" featuring Barack Obama and Zach Galifianakis. Undeniably fantastic, but what are you actually awarding? The use of an existing format to promote something? A clever piece of product placement? It got so heated that someone stole a couple of ferns from the Palais and gave them to the two judges on either side of the debate in an attempt to diffuse the tension.

I spent eight days in a cold, dark room judging 3,500 films with 23 people from 21 countries. It wasn’t my most rosé-tinted Cannes. But, ultimately, it was inspiring and so, so worth it.



FILM CRAFT

JAX OSTLE EVANS EXECUTIVE PRODUCER STINKDIGITAL

A theme was messages that have meaning. Brands are expressing their values through human insights. Online films are facilitating longer narratives, resulting in a stronger emotional connection. We saw a lot of this.

Six days and 2,500 entries later, work with exceptional execution that captured social relevance and the spirit of the times was awarded. A particular favourite of the jury was "everyone is gay" – if you haven’t already, watch it.

Inevitably, the craft vs technology debate happened. The jury agreed that, in an era when our audience has the power to choose what, when and how they consume content, it is crucial that exceptional ideas and craft live at the heart – the rest will follow. The final day of awarding the Lions was intense – I woke up with a severe case of butterflies.

I was originally looking for something more unexpected yet, ultimately, classic storytelling combined with flawless craft execution won our hearts and deservedly the top prize.

Film Craft is going to need to evolve in parallel with the industry. Adding more sub-categories won’t work, but rethinking the current ones will.

And, lastly, be forewarned, future jurors – if you don’t pack accordingly, you will be asking your new judging colleagues if you could wrap their spare T-shirt round your freezing feet.

TITANIUM AND INTEGRATED

JON WILKINS EXECUTIVE CHAIRMAN KARMARAMA

Judging the Titanium and Integrated category at Cannes has provoked a few thoughts. Breakthrough work is super-rare. This has always been the case but, this time around, it was scarcer than ever.

Bunching the work we saw into boxes is a bit tricky but, broadly, the first batch was lots of well-thought-through ideas dropped into the digital ocean. Stat blindness kicks in. Is ten million good? Is 100 million good? Is 20 billion good? You spend a bit of time being a private detective as well as a creative huntsman, and start judging the idea and the impact on culture and ignore the rest.

The second batch was perfectly crafted and integrated. Integration is now an art or science, depending on which day of the week it is. The big-budget, predominantly North American, brands have got this to near perfection. But there’s something a bit uncomfortable about perfection – you want things a bit rugged, and some of this stuff is way too smooth.

The third batch was the Wild West of ideas – the vast majority from South America, Africa and Asia. There was plenty of rough beauty but also a little bit scary. We kept having to ask: "Is this real? Is it an advanced scam? Are drug lords involved?" As a jury member, you have to know – the cream rises. You have to wade deep in the crap to get to it.

INNOVATION

FRANCES RALSTON-GOOD CHIEF STRATEGY AND INNOVATION OFFICER PHD

The great entrants focused on delivering enhanced user experience to build brands often by moving into product design. But we aren’t talking sporks and bottle-openers here. We saw sophisticated tech-enhanced tools that solved big practical or emotional issues for people – what’s more, these same tools were capturing data that had use cases way beyond the obvious.

The panel itself represented something of an innovation, being composed of creative, media, client and venture capitalist members, with live and public presentations for those shortlisted. The discussion that followed was always good-humoured and well-informed, thanks to the almost encyclopaedic knowledge of start-ups and tech in the group, and debate was rounded out with commerciality and creativity always considered.

The category was packed with brilliant work but, when it came to those that won, we focused on innovation that solved a real problem, had deep human understanding embedded in it and was not over-engineered or unnecessarily complicated.

There is no doubt that the industry is more than capable of innovating itself to a new business model based on the strength of the work I saw.

RADIO

PAM MYERS DIRECTOR RORSCHACH RADIO

It was a bumper year for the Radio category at Cannes, entries up by about 20 per cent to more than 1,700. So, for two days, it was beanbag heaven as we all hooked up our headphones and enjoyed the judging room sundeck while listening to the spots. Check out the Cannes Instagram account and you won’t feel a shred of sympathy.

We were a well-rounded mix this year, with jurors from the large international agency networks but also smaller indies. The key difference was the inclusion of a number of radio and sound design specialists, myself included. As we moved into the panel discussion phase, this made a very positive impact on the shortlist selections, with some eclectic viewpoints coming into play.

We heard a lot of robot voices and a heap of spots with men doing manly things (wrestling bears, for example). A lively discussion about sound effects was sparked by a spot based on farting – personally, I felt that, in the land that gave us Le Pétomane, nothing less than committed performance would be acceptable. I’d like to think this level of attention to detail is what happens when you get the sound anoraks in.

By the shortlist stage, we were starting to find our favourite pieces and get a sense of where they sat with the larger group. This was fascinating – some passionately held opinions and deeply differing viewpoints, but I’m proud of the fact that our discussions were objective, positive and respectful, chaired skilfully by Paul Reardon. It’s tough at this point, not least because the spots are very disparate in their content and intention. When the Dove spot played, there were tears from several of us. Bear wrestlers included. The UK presented some excellent work this year, winning a range of metal.

But one question kept coming up, and it’s relevant to the winner we picked. What is radio? In this landscape of shareable content, where does radio fit? The answer is: it fits beautifully. Whichever platform you put it on, the tenets of voice casting, storytelling and emotional connection hold good.

Sometimes you only see it in your head; other times, you click through to another layer – and, after many years of making radio, I’m loving the new definition. For me, the BBC 1Xtra mantra sums it up. Listen, watch, share.

Radio is not only alive and well, it’s quietly taking over the world.

BRANDED CONTENT & ENTERTAINMENT

MARK EAVES FOUNDING PARTNER GRAVITY ROAD

The boldest work this year was social cause-led. And the very best of it made us smile while punching our guts out. "Nazis Against Nazis" and "The Gun Shop" were funny, frightening and subversive. Elsewhere, ALS’s "Ice Bucket Challenge" wrote the book on making serious silly.

But what about brands? Monty waddled up to a gold for sheer exuberance. A loveable character brought to life across all kinds of magical moments. And Nike’s "House of Mamba" is basketball juiced up on LED steroids. A rare example of tech intervention making a sport better.

But no Grand Prix? Again? Two reasons. First, we are awarding not just for this year, but for all time. And the jury was unanimous: nothing quite reached the bar. There was no agitator. Nothing making that crazy break for the adland borders to escape as groundbreaking entertainment. (Apart from one thing. Type R. We adored it, but it wasn’t submitted. Rrrridiculous.)

The other thing – this is a young area. The industry is still working out the anatomy of a hit. But the ambition and energy are there. I’ll stick my neck out – next year will be the year. The narrative demands it.

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