Categories, Schmategories?

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Cannes Lions Integrated Grand Prix Trophy
Cannes Lions Integrated Grand Prix Trophy

Up and down the Croisette, there was one topic of conversation that came up again and again: are the categories for the industry's premiere awards show still valid?

The 58-year old festival has long given out hardware for categories such as press, direct and outdoor, but in the past decade the event has grown considerably--not only in terms of numbers of attendees--but also the number of award categories agencies and clients are eligible to enter. In 2005, the Integrated Lions were born for campaigns using three or more types of media; in 2006, the Promo & Activation category was launched; the PR lions were added in 2009, an independent agency of the year award was added in 2010, and this year a category was added for creative effectiveness. There was also a holding company award added to the mix in 2011.

Asked whether there are any more changes on the way--either more additions or a nixing of any categories--festival organizers last week were tight lipped. Said Philip Thomas, CEO of the Cannes International Festival of Creativity: "We find it best not to comment during the white heat of the festival, as usual we will talk to the juries and review over the coming months."

From inside the jury to standing amidst broken glass at the infamous Gutter bar, top creative minds had informal debates about whether Cannes has reached a point that it might be necessary to nix certain categories, or continue to add ones that are more relevant as the media landscape continually evolves.

One agency chief creative officer, while sitting on the terrace of the Majestic hotel, told me it doesn't make sense to dole out awards by discipline when the bulk of creative work demanded by clients today is integrated, and designed to live across the web, tv, direct mail, print, outdoor and beyond. He's of the view that there really only should be one single Grand Prix, not several across the various categories, and that there should only be a single Titanium award that should go to the best idea of the year. Others, meanwhile, wondered whether in an age whether everything is digital it makes sense to keep a separate category of Cannes Lions for digital creative work.

In the middle of the week, Omnicom Group's Goodby Silverstein & Partners Gareth Kay--who judged the festival's first creative effectiveness awards--tweeted this: "Is it just me or are there too many tv ads that have ran online picking up cyberlions? #timetoblowupthecategories."

During a press conference with journalists from around the world, Cyber jury president Nick Law, who serves as chief creative officer at Interpublic Group's R/GA was asked whether he believed the cyber category will become redundant given the digital integration that has been happening in the other categories. His response? "I don't think so. Everything else will be redundant."

He continued: "There are two ways to look at it. That either everything's becoming one thing, or things just keep getting added. And if we want to reward specific, idiosyncratic skillsets, which I think we do, I think it's sort of an additive environment. The whole network effect means that things change rapidly. Everything is connected and yet everything is different. We have people on our jury you'd call classic advertisers who are great narrative thinkers, we have other people on our jury who are more systematic or design people who understand how to connect technology. So if you look at the breadth of aptitudes that turn up here I think they represent the breadth of what's happening in the media and our relationship to media. So I don't think anything becomes redundant, I just think it becomes categorization-challenged. Because I think it would be horrible if it just came down to, 'Oh, all we're going to do is judge the best idea' because that's so fatuous when you get to that point. Because what constitutes an idea in social media is very different to what constitutes an idea in classic TV. I don't think anything becomes redundant. I just think we have to figure out how to categorize it and how to reward an ever-increasing set of aptitudes."

Many are of two minds; those who complain are often the same ones who are pleased when the plethora of categories means it gives them a better shot at taking home a trophy. Wrote DDB Chicago ad exec John Somerville on Twitter: "There are far too many Cannes categories. 'Best temporary in-store displays in a promotional campaign' Really? At least DDB won it!"

And not everyone thinks there's too many categories. Wrote marketing consultant Olivier Blanchard on Twitter: "2 categories I would like to see at the #Cannes Lions 2012:Digital Reputation Mgmt (PR), Digital Crisis Mgmt (PR) #SocialMedia"

Contributing: Ann Christine Diaz, Laurel Wentz

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