CANNES (AdAge.com) -- In a clear admission that the age of interruption is over, the most coveted prize at the Cannes ad festival went to an ad that wasn't made for TV, while a PR campaign broke the record for winning the most Grand Prix in a single festival.
The film jury -- which since last year awards spots made for both TV and "other screens," such as computers and phones -- handed its sole Grand Prix to the Philips interactive film "Carousel," from Tribal DDB, Amsterdam. It's a gorgeous piece for a line of movie-theater-proportioned TVs unfolding in one long take that can be turned into a film-within-a-film with a flick of the cursor. Meanwhile, a simple tourism campaign for Queensland, Australia, nabbed the festival's first PR Grand Prix as well as the top prizes in the direct and cyber categories, an unparalleled Grand Prix hat trick that highlighted the importance of earned media attention.
"The way the world is heading is voluntary engagement," said David Lubars, chairman-chief creative officer of BBDO North America and president of the film and press juries. "The work has to be a magnet."
Mr. Lubars was speaking about the Philips film, but he may have been talking about most of the major winners. The Obama/Biden campaign, which won the titanium and integrated Grand Prix, was a decentralized, digital-savvy, open-source, grass-roots effort through and through -- and it also had massive TV spending thrown in for good measure. "Political advertising will never be the same," said jury president David Droga.
The other two cyber Grand Prix winners engaged consumers in different ways. 42 Entertainment's work for "The Dark Knight" movie was a complex alternative reality game, while AKQA's EcoDrive app for Fiat was a very functional tool that allowed drivers to see whether their driving habits were environmentally friendly.
All told, this is a list dominated by attempts to engage consumers and deeply involve them in brands -- or, in the Obama case, a movement -- rather than whack them over the head with canned message time and again. As such, the big winners at this year's Cannes were choices that reflected where the marketing business is going rather than a slavishness to tradition or an insistence on basking in what glory the creation of a Lion-winning 30-second spot will grant.
The fascination with big ideas and integration was all part of the reset conversation at the festival last week, as a much smaller crowd than in past years gathered to talk about how their industry will change in very different ways in the future, rather than simply rebound from a deep global recession. There were more questions than answers.
Cannes Lite, as some dubbed it, with 6,000 attendees rather than the usual 10,000 or more, was a quieter Cannes, sometimes refreshingly so. There were few lines or crowds, although the packed Carlton Terrace was still standing room only at 1 a.m. Agency execs who dined at the Colombe d'Or, without booking a table back in January, reported seeing actual French people there rather than a terrace full of familiar faces of agency folk from London and New York. The so-called Gutter Bar, which usually expands throughout the week in ever-more-concentric circles of debauchery, was blissfully free of broken bottles and fights.
With drastic agency cutbacks in numbers -- DraftFCB, for example, was down to about 35 attendees from 100 last year -- there was a sense for many of having earned their place at Cannes. In fact, Sergio Valente, CEO of Sao Paulo agency DDB Brasil, said most of his 19 people at Cannes this year had to pay their own way. He noted that instead of excursions to St. Tropez as in past years, they spent the day at the Palais des Festivals watching ads and attending seminars. And for the many left behind at agencies around the world, their luckier colleagues at Cannes blogged, videoed and tweeted the festival.
The widespread fear that there would be no parties this year turned out to be exaggerated, although there were more cocktail gatherings and lunches than big late-night beach bashes. Microsoft Corp., the biggest presence at the festival, swapped its yacht for a charming Microsoft Beach Lounge under a canvas with comfy sofas, meeting nooks and its own restaurant. It entertained relentlessly for a week, hosting seminars and meals for clients and prospects, including about 100 guests that Microsoft flew down to Cannes.
There wasn't, however, much in the way of sprawling, DJ'd parties that have been thrown by agencies like Leo Burnett and DDB in years past. In fact, DDB hopped on the high road by bringing one of the bigger outside names to the conference, Obama campaign manager David Plouffe, who gave a seminar that ended in an eruption of applause.
Although clients came in smaller groups, they were still all over the festival, being led through galleries of print work and watching Microsoft's product demos. Media jury president Nick Brien, president-CEO of Mediabrands, wrangled five of his jurors to present the best media winners to a group of his clients.
Throughout the week, different juries weighed the work against the perspective of a fast-changing world. In the outdoor category, for example, the Grand Prix went to The Zimbabwean newspaper's billboard campaign made out of local trillion dollar bills, but Bartle Bogle Hegarty's "Oasis Dig Out Your Soul" for NYC & Warner Brothers was preferred by some judges.
"The discussion for the Grand Prix reflects the larger discussions taking place in the industry," said outdoor juror Jose Molla, founder, exec creative director of La Comunidad. "The contenders were extremely different: one more traditional and the other more forward-thinking. ... The lines are blurry and this could be the last year that a traditional format wins over something that is groundbreaking. "
Much of the early-week buzz focused on the Titanium. Would the Obama campaign win it, or perhaps one of the offshoot nominees, like the "Great Schlep," Droga5's effort to get young people to convince their Jewish grandparents to vote Obama, with comedian Sarah Silverman? Would it be Saatchi & Saatchi's spontaneous-but-choreographed dance party for T-Mobile?
While there's plenty of reason to believe the Titanium Lion is set to take over for film as the most sought-after category, the real historical moment was a bit subtler. Last year, when the festival added "other screens," the jury diplomatically honored both traditional and non-traditional formats by handing out two Grand Prix.
But not this year.
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Contributing: Ann Christine Diaz