An unexpected region of the world caused major chatter at the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity last week: Oceania. That's because an outsize number of Australian and New Zealand agencies were among the winners at the ad festival in the South of France.
The trend was clear by Wednesday night. With 12 of the 16 categories decided, the two countries collectively had picked up 144 Lions, among them three Grands Prix for Metro's "Dumb Ways to Die" safety PSA, created out of McCann Melbourne. The animated film did well not only in PR and Direct categories, but also cyber and radio.
Other work originating Down Under that took home honors included "Driving Dogs," created by DraftFCB New Zealand for the SPCA and Mini Cooper, which pushed puppy adoption by actually teaching pooches to drive, and "Small World Machines," created for Coca-Cola by Leo Burnett, Sydney and New York.
"It's a fantastic testament that the New Zealand and Australian agencies are punching above their weight," said Jonathan Mildenhall, VP-global advertising strategy and creative excellence at Coca-Cola.
"For a comparatively minute industry, we have more Black Pencils and Grands Prix per ad-head than anywhere on Earth," said David Nobay, creative chairman at Droga5 Sydney.
Slim production budgets have created a culture of "canny innovation and rat-cunning that has typically played out well on the fast-emerging new Cannes categories," like promo/activation, cyber and media, Mr. Nobay said. Marketing budgets also tend to be smaller, and media is relatively more expensive. John Mescall, executive creative director at one of this year's most talked-about shops, McCann Australia, credited tight budgets with spawning more interesting integrated work. Russ Mitchinson, planning partner at DDB Australia and a Cannes juror, said there is also more opportunity to take risk because it's a smaller market. "If [a creative risk] doesn't work out in America or Europe, that could be a massive, massive business issue."
Mr. Mescall said agencies also tend to be less hierarchical and structured, which he suspects allows for a greater flow of ideas. Mr. Mitchinson noted that both Australian and New Zealand agencies pride themselves on work that produces business results and a heritage of quality, putting a premium on strategic planning and better creative output.
And of course, there's the economy. According to the World Bank, Australian GDP per capita was just over $61,000 in 2011, the latest year for which figures are available. Compare that to the U.S., whose GDP per capita was just over $48,000. That "helps advertisers buy into brave work," said Mr. Mescall.
Or, perhaps, as Mr. Mescall finally conceded, maybe "it's just our turn this year."