Cannes 07

Cannes Titanium Pick Raises the Bar (Code) for Creativity

Turning a Mundane Graphic Utility Into a Whimsical Marketing Communications Channel

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David Lubars was nervous.

On the surface, this is an unremarkable observation. Tall and lean, Lubars vibrates with the intensity of a plucked guitar string in the best
Barcode Design, the small Japanese shop whose name is also its specialty service, won this year's Cannes Titanium Lion for graphically enhancing barcodes in a way that makes them a new kind of marketing communication channel. | ALSO: Comment on this column in the 'Your Opinion' box below.
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of circumstances, his constant worrying of details conjuring endearing images of a Jewish mother from Brooklyn as seen through the eyes of Neil Simon or Woody Allen.

You'd be nervous, too
But on this night, Lubars had reason to fret. He was soon to mount the stage at Cannes during an awards ceremony that remains a long drumroll, please, to the unveiling of the world's best TV commercial. He was to present an award to a bar code. You'd be nervous, too.

The audience at the Cannes ad fest comprises several thousand mostly young art directors, copywriters and the like from around the world, along with their bosses and a few client types. They tend to pass vocal judgment on winning work when they disagree with the selection, filling the auditorium with whistles -- sometimes, in a stunningly rude way, even as the winning agency accepts its award. Lubars' fear was that these folks would miss the point of the award he was announcing.

They didn't.

They finally get it
It wasn't so much the applause that greeted his prize as the absence of even a lone whistle of contempt that convinced me of something that had been taking shape in my mind: The creatives get it. Finally, they get it.

For the agencies that employ them, there's hope yet.

The award Lubars was handing out was the Titanium Lion, which has had several incarnations in its brief history. Its original purpose was repentant; it was given to the BMW Film series a year after that breakthrough in branded entertainment was snubbed by a Cannes jury that couldn't decide how to categorize it and decided instead to ignore it. Dan Wieden envisioned the Titanium as an award suited to changing times, one that would recognize ideas that pointed the way forward.

Defining the Titanium Lion
An attempt to better define the Titanium turned it briefly into an award for best integrated campaign. When Lubars -- who was involved with BMW Films and sees himself as a change agent -- became chairman of the Titanium jury this year, he decided to return the award to its roots. In that spirit, his jury picked the bar code.

The choice itself is debatable. Had Lubars not explained what he saw as the significance of the idea, I doubt I'd have seen it on my own (admittedly, perhaps my shortcoming). And it's clear the concept is not really new, despite several Titanium jurors stressing its originality as a deciding factor in their choice. My interest is more in the symbolic significance of the award.

An agency that owns its work
Design Barcode, the tiny Japanese agency that won the Titanium, didn't send anyone to Cannes, probably because it didn't think it had any chance of winning. The agency designs functional universal product codes -- those lines on the side of the soup can that contain price and other information-that are often whimsical takes on the personality of brands. So the bar code on Jenny Craig products takes the shape of an expanded waist line spilling over pinstriped pants. The agency also owns its work, a prospect that causes shop CEOs to salivate.

To Lubars, the custom bar codes reimagine the most industrial, impersonal symbols of the digital age as witty brand commentaries. In a small way, he said, they make the world a better place -- an achievement advertising can rarely claim.

It's a bit of hyperbole, perhaps. Then again, any evidence that agency creatives truly embrace the notion that everything communicates, and that the boundaries of their imaginations are no longer defined by the limits of a 30-second spot or a printed page, is cause for celebration.
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