A Few Final Observations on Cannes 2011

The Lines Between Categories Continue to Blur

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Ah, back in New York. While I know ad folks love to mock-complain about the week they have to spend every year in the south of France, I'm not one of those. Whether or not we're in Cannes, we'd be taking meetings and doing business, but the third week in June we get to do it in a beautiful setting (at least until the debauchery kicks in around midnight) with something else you don't get in New York, Chicago or Los Angeles: easy access to marketing and agency execs from around the world. In fact, we have an (occasionally violated) rule of thumb in that we don't take meetings that can be done just as easily in New York.

And as journalists, we have a unique perch for viewing the confab. We're talking to everybody from production companies to agencies to marketers, hearing directly from the awards juries about what they liked and didn't like, and often staying up long past our bedtimes trying to get the real story over a beer at the Carlton Terrace or Gutter Bar (or Butter Gar, as it's known to have been called, late into the evening). So after having a few days to debrief, here are some of my and my colleagues' observations on the 58th Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity .

After years of talk about how Google didn't really market itself -- despite raking in billions of dollars helping other companies match buyer to seller -- the company has become one of the world's most creative advertisers. At Cannes it rivaled only P&G in terms of number and scope of awards. Google is an interesting case, of course, because it works with a variety of agencies -- pretty much anyone it wants to -- and has its own impressive in-house team. It doesn't always make for the simplest agency-client relationships, but it sure seems to produce some stellar creative results.

The best ads at Cannes no longer fit into the boundaries of the categories in which they're entered. Take Romania's "American Rom" campaign, winner in promo/activation and direct, where the idea was really a packaging makeover, or Korea's Tesco subway story win in media, in which the media was a virtual store projected on the mass-transit system in Seoul. Neither adhered to what might have been considered "media" or "direct marketing" -- and yet both captured the attention of the consumers in their countries and the juries at Cannes. Of course, a lot of creatives actually need that "box" -- a 30-second time frame or 8-by -10.5-inch template -- to help them conceive ideas at scale. It's the rare breed that can dream up an idea without any limitations, which is why I found the Cannes winners so inspiring.

Further to that boundary blurring, I know I'm not the only one who noticed how many of the same ads were Lion winners in multiple categories, from Droga 5's "De-Code Jay -Z," which won the Grand Prix in outdoor and titanium/integrated plus golds in direct and media, to BV McCann's "American Rom," which won the Grand Prix in direct and promo/activation, even though several of us thought it was best suited to PR. What does that mean? Well, it probably indicates that these days it's a rare thing to find a campaign that isn't fluid across multiple disciplines. Some suggested ditching the integrated category or even categories like cyber, because isn't the world going all digital, anyway? And rare is the idea that doesn't somehow live online. But let's be honest: Organizers are more likely to add categories than trim them. I guess it only proves that , these days, doing integrated campaigns is no longer just good business sense, it also increases your odds of winning.

There's a shift in the geography of good ideas. This was our Ad Age cover story wrap-up of Cannes, and I think it's worth noting again here. As technology allows smaller countries with smaller marketing budgets to bring amazing ideas to life, I think we'll see more winners from outside the traditional powerhouses of the U.S., the U.K., Western Europe and Japan.

Finally, I'm not sure if it was because the industry had a relatively good year in 2010 or because it was ignoring many of the warning signs of 2011, but the magnums and even double magnums of French wine were flowing. (Do you know how much one of these costs at the Carlton Terrace? Let's not tell the folks who weren't there -- I have a feeling they'd be a bit sickened by it.) I have to say, I'm not one who considers going to Cannes a waste of time or money by any means; Ad Age has what I believe is a smart, globally focused presence at the event and we use it to meet with agencies, celebrate global creativity and get together with our licensees from around the world. But it's wise for companies to consider the ROI of what they're up to for a week in June in the south of France -- especially if it happens after 2 a.m. If done right, Cannes can be much more than simply a big party.

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