Why More Categories at Cannes Are a Good Thing

Doing so Rewards Best Thinking and Gives Smaller Shops and Markets an Edge

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The sun shone. The rose flowed. The Gutter Bar overflowed. And last orders from the bartender were oh-too-often heralded by the sight of the morning sunrise. In many ways it was business as usual at Cannes this year. But in other ways Cannes is changing -- especially when you consider the kind of ideas that are winning, and the categories those ideas are winning in.

This year, the work that took home trophies proved that the regimented days of a press ad being just a press ad and a TV commercial being nothing more than a TV ad are long gone. We are more inventive in how we use media channels and how we get them to play together as one idea. As a result the boundaries between categories are blurring.

A wonderfully clever packaging idea won two different Grands Prix this year. Neither Grand Prix had "packaging" in its title, of course. The outdoor Grand Prix was won by an idea that was as far as you can get from a standard poster. Hence, it also won the integrated Grand Prix. Both these winners had digital at their heart, driving the idea.

What does it mean? That nothing is as straightforward as it used to be. In the past, one piece of work winning in two different Cannes categories was a once-in-a-blue-moon thing. Today it's the norm.

This is the reality that agencies and clients should consider when thinking about entering award shows. Taken to its logical conclusion, there may be a day when there isn't any "Best Outdoor," "Best Commercial," "Best Media" -- but just one category: "Best Idea." This was a regular conversation piece at Cannes this year. And many argued for it.

At the same time, there are people who will argue that often the right answer is a straightforward, funny-as-hell, 30-second radio commercial. And they are right, too.

But another inarguable truth is that awarding inventive thinking encourages inventive thinking. We have more categories at Cannes now because of the introduction of Lions like the Cyber Lion and the titanium. Would we have such original and different ideas today if Cannes hadn't introduced these? I think not.

Looked at another way, more categories encourage more great work. And this is the ultimate argument for the award-show category. The discussion shouldn't be about how the boundaries are blurring but about how more winners means more work being celebrated.

More celebrated great work encourages and inspires. Perhaps, most important, the more categories we have today encourages the smaller agencies and previously overlooked ad markets of the world to believe they have a chance of winning. While those groups earlier didn't have as good of a chance against big network agencies with the biggest clients, technology today ensures that smaller budgets can be made into bigger and bigger ideas. Look back to the small agencies, like Special from New Zealand, which walked away with Grands Prix in 2010, or the markets like Romania and Korea that picked up Grands Prix in 2011.

Lessons for next year's Cannes? Make digital the heart of all big ideas. Enter great ideas into as many categories as possible. Know that awards shows today are anybody's game. And try to escape the Gutter Bar before 5 a.m. if you have an article to write the next day.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Ewan Paterson is the chief creative officer of Omnicom Group's DDB, Chicago.

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