"It was such a brave idea." That's how Bartle Bogle Hegarty founder John Hegarty described the #OptOutside campaign from outdoor retailer REI, which won the Grand Prix in the Titanium category at the Cannes Lions International Advertising Festival on Saturday. "You should not be able to see where the advertising stops and the brand starts." The Venables Bell & Partners campaign, a favorite at the festival that already won the promo and activation Grand Prix, also snagged a Gold Lion in the Integrated category Saturday.
The Integrated Grand Prix, though, went to the campaign for Netflix's "House of Cards," which was created by Mr. Hegarty's own BBH, so he recused himself from talking about the effort at the press conference, turning over the mic to his fellow judges.
WHAT THEY ARE: REI last year took the shocking step of closing its stores on Black Friday, all but a holiday for shopping in the United States, and encouraged people to go outside instead of chase deals. REI paid employees, moreover, to take the day off and go outdoors. According to the case study, social media impressions rose 7,000%, hundreds of national parks opened for free, and 1.4 million people opted to stay outside rather than go shopping on retail's biggest day.
The "House of Cards" campaign cleverly played off the current American election but instead ran the show's fictional frontman, Kevin Spacey's Frank Underwood, for president. The effort made great use of the country's division over and fascination with candidate Donald Trump by, according to the case study, "hijacking the debate." The shop ran a commercial floating Underwood the candidate during one of the most-watched presidential debates and let the hasthtag and tagline "FU 2016" fly. The case study said the result was 6.6 billion impressions to date.
WHY THEY WON: The Titanium category is meant to honor "game-changers," according to the festival. Honorees are meant to break new ground, cross boundaries and move the industry forward.
When asked whether REI was more about the idea than execution, jury member Kevin Jones, exec creative director at CP&B Los Angeles, cited "the way they rolled it out and took the retail website and turned it into a place where you can discover parks." Big banners on the stores were also part of the successful execution, he said. "It grabbed you emotionally."
Deutsch North American Chief Creative Officer Pete Favat said the "House of Cards" campaign used great marketing to make the most of what he called the "shitstorm" of a presidential election. (Britain's vote Thursday to exit the EU may have surpassed the U.S. spectacle, he noted, adding, "Thank you to the U.K.")
CONTROVERSY OR CLEAR WINNER: "My jury was without question the most horrible jury anybody ever had to work with," Mr. Hegarty joked by way of opening. "They were viscous, nasty, backstabbing and they even fired a Champagne cork at me." He then went on to lampoon as a potential close contender for Titanium a campaign in which a seagull drones "fly across the beach and shit suntan cream from Nivea" on children. "This is the cutting edge of technology and brand integration," he deadpanned, "and I think they are teaming up with the Royal National Institute of the Blind because if you get it in your eyes you need special attention."
Not letting up, he called the Nivea ad the most stupid thing he had ever seen in his life. "I thought the Monty Python team had gotten together and entered it."
In actuality, the other close contender for the Grand Prix in Titanium was INGO Stockholm's The Swedish Number effort for the Swedish Tourist Association, which won the Grand Prix in the direct category earlier in the festival
As for Integrated, Mr. Favat said there was absolutely no debate. "It was by far a slam dunk as far as communication," he said.
HOT TOPIC AT PRESS CONFERENCE: Mr. Hegarty said that, while it might be controversial, his belief is that "in the rush to communicate, we are forgetting how to create things that genuinely move people." He said that "the value of what we do is not being appreciated by the audience -- that is not my opinion, it is that of the audience -- and we need to move the value of the advertising and communication onward."
WHAT THE JURY LIKED: "We awarded work in both categories that is trying to become part of the cultural zeitgeist," said Mr. Hegarty. Good advertising, he said, needs to consider "How can I make my brand part of what is happening in the world?"
There was also discussion about craft. "Advertising is 80% idea and also 80% execution," said Mr. Hegarty. "When I looked for a Grand Prix, good craft played a very important part of them. The idea that it doesn't matter how it is executed is something you have to fight against." He added: "We are all artists, but some of us shouldn't exhibit, and you get the feeling some of us shouldn't be exhibiting. It is a sad thing when you see great ideas badly executed. Hopefully we are seeing a rise of craft. "
OTHER DISCUSSION: Mr. Hegarty was asked about trends and responded, "That is the brutal question where you say 'Oh my God, I have to think of a trend.'" He then followed up with a made up one: Millennials are over -- "They are now getting very old."