Grey creative chief Per Pedersen on Cannes: ‘It was like trying to win the Tour de France without doping’


Pedersen at Grey’s offices in Hong Kong

One of the top creatives behind one of the surprise contenders for network of the year at the Cannes Lions has questioned the legitimacy of this year’s winner, but said that Cannes is still better than most advertising awards shows at weeding out scam – work created purely to win awards.

Per Pedersen, deputy worldwide chief creative officer of Grey, which came third behind Ogilvy and BBDO to the accolade of the most awarded agency this year at Cannes, said in an interview with Mumbrella yesterday that he was “annoyed” when doubt was cast over an Ogilvy entry that was called out by a Singapore creative for passing off someone else’s idea as their own.

Cannes stood by the entry, Lucky Fish Project, by Geometry Dubai, although the agency later gave the award to the client.

“We found ourselves close to network of the year. I was annoyed. Ogilvy got points from a Geometry entry that was called into question. I thought, it seems to be scam to me, and I asked [the organisers] what’s going on.”

“Normally I don’t give a shit, but this year we were competing for network of the year. It felt like trying to win the Tour de France without doping. It’s kind of difficult when you realise that everyone around you is cheating. That was the feeling I got when saw those stories. It’s sad.”

“But I still celebrate our victory,” he said. “We do not define success by comparing ourselves with Ogilvy or BBDO. They’re much bigger and do things differently.”

Grey’s conversion rate of around 10 per cent, with 113 lions won from 1,100 entries, was way above the average for Cannes, which is around three per cent, Pedersen said.

Grey New York was the network’s most successful agency, winning 25 Lions, but the Singapore office won seven, including a Product Design and Innovation Lion for Life Saving Dot.

“Our goal was not to win a thousand lions, it was to have a high conversion rate,” said Pedersen, who was promoted from global ECD to his current role a year and a half ago.

Grey’s ambition, going by its “Famously effective” mantra, is to create work that enters popular culture, he said.

It is also what Pedersen calls ‘solvertising,’ ideas that solve real world problems with new services or utilities.

“We wanted to show that we’re not just an ad agency. We can come up with product and service ideas. This demands that you’re actually doing stuff. We’re not winning with print ads or fake stuff,” he said.

Pedersen rose to the notion that, as was suggested in the comment thread of a story on the campaign on Mumbrella, Grey Singapore’s ‘Life saving dot’ idea was created more with awards in mind than iodine deficiency among Indian women.

The idea – iodine-laced bindis – would become “a massive thing,” he said in response to the suggestion – raised two months ago by an Indian NGO group – that entries that win at Cannes for good causes often have little lasting value beyond awards season.

“I don’t care what the trolls are saying. I don’t care what they’re writing. I don’t even listen to that shit,” Pedersen said.

“We’re not in a world to please cynical advertising haters who are so mediocre that the only thing they spend their time on is slating other people’s work. You should not encourage that shit,” he said.

“Here’s the thing. When we produce these kinds of ideas, we always ask our people, please do not design them for Cannes. If you want to change the lives of malnutritioned Indian women, do it for the right reasons,” he said, referring to Grey for Good, the agency’s philanthropic arm, which uses agency resources towards good causes.

“If you go in pretending to save the world, you will do more harm than good.”

“Most of then time when people call out scam, they need to look into the details more. When we’re talking about an idea like Life saving dot, the subject is too important and involves real people in need. If someone wants to try and kill that by saying it didn’t happen well, what can you do?”

The introduction of categories that required proof of effectiveness had curbed scam at Cannes, Pedersen said.

Having sat on a Cannes jury before, he said that the first thing that jurors will look at is the possibility that an entry is dodgy, and spend a lot of time on the phone verifying entries with clients and suppliers.

“It’s really difficult to win with scam at Cannes,” he said, naming only D&AD and One Show as awards that didn’t “take a relaxed approach” to suspect entries.

The penalties for cheating at Cannes – a ban for three years from entering – have had an effect at stopping scam, he said.

“Cannes could be better, but it’s doing the right things,” said Pedersen, who has won one Titanium, three Gold, seven Silver and 10 Bronze Lions during a stellar career.

Pedersen’s brief at Grey is to “make the creative culture in our language stronger, and that comes with winning at Cannes,” he said.

His agency does not have a strong creative heritage – it wasn’t founded by a creative like DDB’s Bill Bernbach and has been “marketing focused” for decades, Pedersen said.

“Our image was not very creative. We were seen as just a solid partner. But across the world’s that’s now changing.”

“In 100 years of history, it’s hard to find traces of creative roots at Grey. We’re always been known as an efficient agency. The job – for me and Tor [Myhren, Grey’s worldwide creative director] – has been to reinvent the agency and build a creative brand.”

This year at Cannes, Grey offices in 18 countries won Lions. The WPP agency almost doubled its tally on last year in 20 categories from film, radio and outdoor to the newest disciplines of mobile, creative data and healthcare.

The agency won four grand prix awards with Grey London winning two for Volvo New York and won one for Volvo Interception. Grey Germany won for the Berlin Sound Cloud.


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