Was too much of an effort made to calm the waters at Cannes?
The rowdy heckling of ’95 was replaced by polite applause in ’96, just
as Frank Lowe was succeeded by Michael Conrad in the role of jury
president this year. The Cannes Advertising Festival became a sedate
event based on consensus and team work among the judges and delegates.
Did all this politeness make for a lacklustre festival? On the closing
night, at the film awards ceremony, the work spoke for itself, and
although it was generally agreed that this was not a vintage year for
advertising, the calibre of commercials on show was consistently high.
When 38 gold lions were awarded in the press and poster categories in
the middle of the week, it looked as though standards were slipping, and
a Cannes lion had become almost meaningless. But the film jurors used
the same points system when judging their section, in which the number
of lions handed out was considerably less.
In film, Conrad was harsher than Lowe, who handed out more film lions
last year, although 1996 produced more golds - 17 this year as opposed
to 11 in 1995.
Conrad had vowed to stick to an ‘Olympic Games’ system of judging, where
a gold, silver and bronze was handed out to the top three in each
category, regardless of whether or not they qualified as world-record-
However, although the judges wanted to hand out as many lions as
possible, rather than dish out worthless awards, this Olympic principle
was violated in weaker categories. Conrad conceded: ‘We planned to hand
out a gold, silver and bronze in every category, but in the end we had
to live with some empty spots.’
Seven press and four poster categories were also without golds,
including two in high-profile sectors - alcoholic drinks (posters) and
non-alcoholic drinks (press). In the film judging, 11 out of 28
categories were not considered strong enough to merit a gold.
Among the 11 were some big- spending sectors, such as banking, and the
Unilever/Procter and Gamble strongholds of household maintenance and pet
products, cosmetics and beauty, and toiletries and pharmaceuticals.
The Olympic system found favour among delegates, many of whom used the
Cannes platform to express resentment about the ‘closed shop’ nature of
the D&AD awards, which are seemingly shared out between a small number
of elite agencies.
Gerry Moira, the creative director of Publicis, said: ‘D&AD judging
reflects totally on the jury, and how elevated their standards are. It
is good to hand out lots of awards if they’re to encourage excellence,
but not if they are just to take back to the office and ask for a pay
rise. There has to be a balance.’
Mark Wnek, the executive creative director of Euro RSCG Wnek Gosper,
agreed: ‘You wouldn’t bother competing in the Olympics if you weren’t
going to get a medal when you won.’
As promised by Conrad, a Grand Prix was awarded in both the film and
press categories. Dentsu Young and Rubicam in Japan scooped the top
poster prize for a Volvo ad, and Ammirati Puris Lintas in the
Netherlands won the film Grand Prix for a Rolo spot.
Noticeably, neither winner was a triumph of production or post-
production. In fact, in the last round of film judging, Rolo was in a
head-to-head against Wieden and Kennedy’s ‘good versus evil’ spot for
Nike to carry off the Grand Prix, and the latter finally lost the award
precisely because of its lavish production.
Mike Cozens, the creative director of Young and Rubicam, and a member of
the film jury, revealed: ‘The Nike film had a big budget and a once-in-
Rolo won because of its simplicity and the hope it offers - it came out
of the kind of brief that lands on a creative director’s desk every
week, and is a commercial that any agency can aspire to.’
Michelle Stapleton, a producer at Brave Films, defended her business,
saying: ‘Of course the idea comes first, but a lot of the award-winning
spots could be even better with improved production and a director who
really knows how to tell a story.’
Conrad guided the jury towards picking out ‘fresh’ ideas as the only
criteria for success at Cannes ’96.
This worked in favour of some of advertising’s emerging countries, which
are forced to rely on ideas with small budgets and unsophisticated
techniques. Japan and the Netherlands triumphed with two Grand Prix, and
other countries such as Sweden, Denmark and Norway also came away from
Cannes feeling pleased.
Nationalism was officially discouraged this year by the organisers’
refusal to reveal shortlists and prize winners by country. The politics
of last year, when Lowe Howard-Spink won what some considered to be more
than its fair share of awards, was avoided.
‘We focused on the work and nothing but the work,’ Conrad insisted. The
rigorously democratic judging process was exhausting for the jurors, but
produced a winners’ list that everyone was happy to defend. And although
the standard of entries was not considered a noticeable improvement on
last year, the commitment to handing out awards was applauded by most
Conrad was candid about his mission to compensate for the controversy
and bitterness surrounding Frank Lowe’s presidency last year. He said:
‘We set out to overcome a bad 1995 and I am convinced we did it.’ A
round of applause for the jury president.