Questions from Cannes: Should cause ads have their own awards show, how to find value in VR, and how to embrace genuine storytelling?

Grant HunterIn this guest post, Grant Hunter looks back at a week at Cannes in which cause related work dominated, Asia performed meekly, virtual worlds showed potential, and a film contest with a difference provided inspiration for agencies to take risks without resorting to scam to win awards.

It’s been a couple of years since I’ve visited the festival and it’s bigger than ever with dedicated shows for innovation, health and entertainment. It resulted in over 42,000 entries and the Cannes Lions balance sheet must be looking healthier than ever.

There still seems to be a tendency to award the cause related work. The shortlisted work across categories felt like it was 70% cause related (now this might be my own reality distortion field at play, but that’s how it felt).

It’s the type of work that makes juries feel better about the “positive” role our industry plays in society that still seems to win through.

Of course there’s real work that does bubble to the surface. Ed, Iris Singapore CD, pointed out the Gold winning Pantene #Daddo work from the US.

As a father of a 5 year-old daughter, I love the positive role Pantene is playing. It’s actively leaning in to culture but in a 100% relevant way for the brand. I need to get some hair do tips to surprise Jia and by doing that we’ll both benefit from spending quality Father-Daughter time together. They have hit the sweet spot of a human truth linked to a product truth to define a clear role for the brand.

I SeaThe I Sea app has already had its fair share of publicity. Ironically that’s probably what the agency were craving, but not of the variety they harvested. I’m sure the pressure from the network to add to the awards table was intense but just as our client, Winston Phua from Philips, pointed out scam is not a victimless crime.

To turn a humanitarian disaster into a shiny award for your shelf should be consigned to room 101. And maybe the festival organisers should split out all cause related work into a category/show of its own? Then we might actually get to see how creative agencies are really being creative with real work and how they are adding real value to their real clients.

Ogilvy Bangkok's work for PETABeyond the scandal there seemed a distinct lack of recognition for Asian agencies. They were far and few between, the most notable being the “Behind the leather” pop up shop from Thailand. But yet again it’s cause related. Yes, it’s highlighting a real issue and doing it in a creative way but I’d argue that it’s an easier task than creating powerful creative that actually impacts the bottom line for a multi-national.

I checked out a few talks one of which shared how to do terrible work. The joint presentation by BBDO and Mars stated that clients should test the hell out of everything and by doing that they’ll get terrible work. Terrible = work that’s been diluted of all originality and risk. A bland blend of what’s been done before. To hear the CMO of a large multi-national berate the testing of creative ideas was a breath of fresh air and one I’d love clients in the region to breathe in deeply.

In the innovation arena there was a lot of chat around VR and AI. As well as various start ups pitching their wares in The Foundry. Talks from production shops such as Unit 9 and Mediamonks talked about the importance of presence in the new virtual worlds. Just as Chris Milk has previously stated in his TED talk we are just at the start of the VR journey. A new grammar has to be constructed to make the most of this new medium. One Lions winning example The Field Trip to Mars transformed the windows of a US bus into a VR experience showcasing a Martian vista. In real-time the windows updated the view to reflect the twists and turns the bus was taking on the normal school trip journey in the real world.

But for all the chat around new virtual worlds I want to end on highlighting a good old-fashioned analogue experience. It was the one session that I enjoyed the most and it wasn’t part of the main programme.

Film director Ed Sayers created a short film contest way back in 1999 called Straight 8. It’s a super simple idea – take one cartridge of unexposed 8mm film give it out to filmmakers and challenge them to shoot a film on it. The catch – they have to shoot on the cartridge given and send it back to the straight 8 team for processing with no editing.

The first time they get to see the film is up on the big screen at the straight 8 screenings. All entrants are allowed to submit an original soundtrack along with their exposed film. It’s a scary but brilliant process to focus the mind and to really interrogate the narrative structure of story telling.

We entered the Straight 8 Industry Shoot Out along with 17 other agencies and production companies. The final screening was on the Thursday and we all gathered at 11am at a cinema just off La Croisette.

From portraits of shame, to kids kidnapping parents, to awkward answer phone messages to Singapore’s oldest skydiver to love tattooed druids – the stories where eclectic. But all entrants had embraced the risk and walked into the unknown.

Our effort from Singapore (the only Asian entry) stood up against entries from London’s best. Straight 8 is an adventure in film which I’d love to see come to this part of the world. So instead of wasting efforts on scamming I hope more creatives will take some artistic risks on the fringe where the real storytellers play.

Grant Hunter is the Asia Pacific creative director of Iris


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