Cannes Lions

British Airways' 'Magic' Billboards Win Direct Grand Prix at Cannes

Charming Message Masked Complex Behind-the-Scenes Work

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British Airways: Look Up Billboards
British Airways: Look Up Billboards

One of the pre-festival favorites, British Airways' "Magic of Flying" by OgilvyOne, London, took home the Grand Prix in the direct category at the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity.

What it is: The campaign helped British Airways highlight the breadth of its destinations. Digital billboards in key London locations featured creative that encouraged passers by to look up and spot the aircraft flying overhead. A message on the board pointed out the flight's city of origination.

The charming execution, which featured adorable children on the digital boards pointing at overhead planes, masked a technologically complex backend. It involved mounting an antennae on the roof of a building near each board. The antennae picked up data from the transponders of British Airways aircrafts within 200 kilometers and fed that information into to an application that identified the flights. The application then sent the information to a server that served the messages about the plane's destination or origination. A "trigger zone" acted as a trip wire to determine when a plane should instigate a message and cloud altitude data determined if the plane could actually be seen.

Why it won: Jury President James McGrath hailed it as an "extraordinary" piece of direct communication that doesn't require any extra explanation. He also praised the "salesmanship of the moment" -- essentially, the way British Airways connected the billboard creative to its key objectives and its call to action: getting people to go to its "Look Up"-branded site. "Look up" also lived as a hashtag (#LookUp). He noted that British Airways surrounded the ad with a series of clever engagements that ensured it was massively shared.

Juror Liz Ross, president of North America for BPN, said the ultimate question the jury tried to answer was "What is work we're going to remember in 10 years? We didn't want to pick something fleeting or flavor of the month."

The jury: The 26-person jury was helmed by Mr. McGrath, creative chairman of Clemenger BBDO Melbourne. Mr. McGrath told journalists during the press conference that a decade ago seeing a plane in the sky over a city was a deeply concerning image, but this campaign turned it into a source of joy.

Controversy or clear winner: Despite the fact the jury deliberated until 1 a.m. to pick a winner, Mr. McGrath described the decision as a "clear and unanimous" one. The closest contender for the Grand Prix was "Sound of Honda," from Dentsu, Tokyo, a sound-and-light installation that recreated Ayrton Senna's 1989 world-record-setting lap on the Japanese F1 circuit.

Total Lions awarded: The jury awarded 18 gold Lions, 17 silvers and 39 bronzes. The only gold Lion snagged by a U.S. campaign was the Bob Dylan "Like a Rolling Stone" box set release by Interlude, New York for Sony Music.

For more Cannes work highlights, tune into Creativity's "The Best of Cannes."