Global Advertising: The Cannes contenders

Some of the world's best-known creative directors reveal which ads they think deserve to pick up a gold Lion at this year's Cannes Festival, Lucy Aitken writes. What do PlayStation, Honda, Levi's, Nike and Adidas have in common? Ads for those brands are being tipped by some of the world's best-known creative directors as the likely winners of gold Lions at this year's International Advertising Festival at Cannes.

As all of those brands are veteran Cannes winners, it perhaps comes as no surprise to see them named. But what about those less-publicised brands that are mooted as possible gold winners?

"The Grand Prix always comes from leftfield," John Hegarty, the chairman and worldwide creative director of Bartle Bogle Hegarty, says. "I hope Cannes will pick brave, relevant work that really does show how you can move business and creativity forwards."

The more obscure suggestions for gold Lion winners include the 118 118 campaign from WCRS in London. When the BT-owned 192 directory enquiries service was deregulated last year, a new advertising sector was born in the UK. The 118 118 campaign, fronted by those unforgettably mustachioed runners, achieved instant recognition in an otherwise lacklustre sector.

Steve Henry, the executive creative director at HHCL/Red Cell, comments: "Both 'Rocky' and 'retirement' were peaks in a fantastic campaign. They're both very funny and genuinely original. I love their oddness and their bravery."

Another brand that is hardly a Cannes regular is Uni President's green tea brand from Thailand. BBDO Bangkok's animated spot "worms", directed by Matching Studio's Suthon Petchsuwan, shows two caterpillars climbing a tea bush. The father is instructing his baby on how to find the best leaves only to find that a tea leaf picker has already selected them. It's cute, but also distinctly bizarre: at one point, the baby caterpillar tries to hypnotise the tea leaf picker into giving away the best leaves, but he will not succumb to mind games.

Linda Locke, the regional creative director at Leo Burnett Asia-Pacific, comments: "This is very quirky and has become a cult thing. The entire style of film looks Japanese; they have found a Japanese vernacular as they're trying to position the brand that way."

Locke also suggests that Dentsu's ad "the spy ninja" for UFJ Tsubasa Securities Co, directed by Yoshinari Kamiya, could fare well at Cannes too, judging by its success in Asia's recent AdFest Awards. She also likes a humorous campaign by Lowe Singapore for MediaCorp Radio in which people only "hear the good stuff" so they mentally edit conversations, hearing only what they want to hear.

She also champions an ad for Soken Electronics' DVD players from Euro RSCG in Bangkok. In the ads, again directed by Petchsuwan, office workers describe to their colleagues the films they've watched on DVD. Describing the action in Titanic and Kill Bill, they freeze or get stuck in an imitation of a poor quality DVD player. "Soken is one of the most wonderfully crafted things I've seen in a long time," Locke enthuses. All the aforementioned ads performed well at Media magazine's advertising awards, with the two Soken ads sharing the top prize.

If performance in other awards hints to what is likely to impress the judges at Cannes, then Adidas must be feeling pretty confident. Named the client of the year at New York's One Show awards on 14 May, the campaign by TBWA and 180 has been highly praised.

Maurizio Sala, the vice-president and creative director at Armando Testa in Milan, is a huge fan: "I love the Adidas campaign: the one with Muhammad Ali and his daughter and the one where he's jogging with other sportsmen. It's very poetic and delicate and puts Adidas at the heart of the history of sport."

Sala also tips the Nike "Brazil-Portugal" ad, although he is more guarded in his praise: "It's nothing new, but it's fantastic, as always. It's a classic Nike ad and will probably win something." He also likes the "Hispanic" campaign from BBH London for Levi's anti-fit jeans: "It's interesting as it doesn't look like a British campaign; it has an American street feel to it. It's simple and believable."

Hegarty is confident too: "Our Levi's work has a good chance, especially the 'Hispanic' spot. I think that's a great piece of advertising."

Last year was the year of the car ad at Cannes, with Saturn's "sheet metal" and Honda's "cog" winning golds. Many left the Palais des Festivals fuming that "cog" did not win the Grand Prix. So what are the expectations for its follow-up, "everyday", directed by Ivan Zacharias?

"I think 'cog' was the best ad of the past five years," Henry says. Although he shares the widely held opinion that "cog" should have won the top honour at Cannes last year, he doesn't dismiss the chances of "everyday", and thinks that it will win something, even if it isn't in the running for the Grand Prix.

Other car brands are likely to fare well too. As Dave Droga, the worldwide creative director for Publicis, points out, "VW is the benchmark" when it comes to car advertising. DDB Amsterdam's "welcome" spot, directed by Rogue's Sam Cadman, shows a new Golf driver being hugged at his every turn by other Golf drivers to the sounds of The Carpenters' Close to You.

The warm and funny ad has widespread appeal and a good chance of being noticed by the judges. In print work, DDB London's ad "cops" for the VW Polo, which picked up the top prize at Campaign's Press Awards, is also in with a strong chance.

On other car ads, Remi Babinet, the chief executive and creative director of BETC Euro RSCG in Paris, is hoping that his own agency's work for Peugeot, particularly the "toys" spot, directed by Philippe Andre through Wanda, will be recognised, although he believes creative standards have dropped in the sector. "Cars formed the dominant film category last year, but the sector has been in decline this year," he says.

Babinet predicts that other Parisian agencies that could be packing Lions in their luggage include Legg for its work on Eurostar and the newspaper L'Humanite, alongside BDDP et Fils' work for Mannix condoms.

The one ad that unites creatives across the globe is "mountain", TBWA's spot for PlayStation, directed by Frank Budgen at Gorgeous. In the 60-second ad, filmed in Brazil, 5,000 extras build a human mountain to the sound of Shirley Temple singing Get on Board. Sala says: "It's fantastic. It's much more than a commercial, it's an art form. It's a metaphor for many things. It's interesting because it's simple to understand, but it's also very deep."

Fred and Farid, creatives at Goodby, Silverstein & Partners in San Francisco, and the team behind BBH's "mosquito" ad for Xbox, which was a contender for the Grand Prix in 2002, are also fans of the ad. "It's certainly one the biggest commercials ever shot," they say. "It's very impressive."

Yet Andy Berlin, the chairman of WPP's Red Cell network and the creative director at Berlin Cameron Red Cell in New York, is underwhelmed by its titanic scale: "There's a difficulty factor with PlayStation. It's for a teenaged audience and there's an awful lot of great advertising for the video game world. I don't think this is as good as the brand has been historically."

Berlin is more enthusiastic, however, about Goodby's big production numbers for eBay, directed by Sam Mendes at RSA. The ads have a theatrical theme and are reminiscent of Broadway musicals. The lyrics are changed in well-known songs, so Do You Know the Way to San Jose? for instance becomes Do You Know the Way to Use eBay?

Berlin, who remains nonplussed by most ads, says: "I looked at Goodby's reel late last year and it really was, once again, a wonderful reel. EBay is a really good idea, it's fresh. In fact, it's probably the freshest stuff in the US."

And fresh work stands out in a year that was, by all accounts, largely unremarkable. Hegarty says: "I wouldn't describe it as a fantastic year. What's beautiful about film is that something happens between writing it and making it. It's alchemy. That's what you're always looking for - a little bit of magic that makes the hairs on your neck stand up. Not many hairs on my neck have stood up this year."

Droga agrees: "People always say 'it hasn't been a vintage year', but there's normally one or two that spring to mind that I wish I'd done. This has been the first year where that's not been the case. I'm a gambler, so most years I've had wagers on stuff. But not this year."

LIKELY LIONS - some of the famous and not-so-famous ads in the running

Ad: "Rocky"

Client: The Number 118 118

Agency: WCRS, London

Director: Jim Hosking

Production company: Partizan

Two lanky runners with an abundance of facial hair star in a hilarious spoof of the training scene in the 80s blockbuster Rocky. Thirty children, sporting 118 vests and moustaches, follow them and Keith Harris and Orville even put in a cameo. Pastiche at its finest and one of the nation's best-loved ventriloquists - what more could you possibly want from an ad?

Ad: "Worms"

Client: Uni President

Agency: BBDO Thailand, Bangkok

Director: Suthon Petchsuwan

Production company: Matching Studio

A sweet animated ad that is big on the "aahh!" factor. A baby caterpillar follows his dad up the stalk of a tea plant. The baby wants to stop and munch on a tea leaf en route, but the dad insists that the best leaves are higher up ... but a tea leaf picker from Uni President's green tea brand has got there first. A struggle between man and worm ensues.

Ad: "Kill Bill"

Client: Soken Electronics

Agency: Euro RSCG Flagship Thailand, Bangkok

Director: Suthon Petchsuwan

Production company: Matching Studio

Two office workers are on a tea break and one describes Kill Bill, which he watched on DVD. Enthusiastically, he describes one of the many killing scenes in the film, but as he saw the film on a poor-quality DVD player, he gets stuck when describing a stabbing scene. His co-worker looks on, alarmed as he repeats the stabbing gesture again and again.

Ad: "Hispanic"

Client: Levi's 501

Agency: Bartle Bogle Hegarty, London

Director: Speck Gordon

Production company: Omaha Pictures

Unusually for Levi's, this ad eschews a cool soundtrack in favour of dialogue in downtown LA. "Hispanic" follows two guys singing the praises of their respective leg-wear: one wears "anti-fit" Levi's 501s, while the other is clad in tight trousers. The ad has a distinct American look and runs as a 30-second spot, as well as in a ten-second version.

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