Show Times

Lion king

Mary Nagle

Since 1996, Ross Chowles, executive creative director, The Jupiter Drawing Room in South Africa, has attended the Cannes festival seven times; eight years ago he judged the print category. Chowles, who returned as a judge this year, believes the process is the most sophisticated and efficient he's come across. Medal selection is filled with passion and heated debate, with a two-hour deadlock on deciding the grand prix.

“I had such a migraine after that session,” Chowles said. “The best thing about judging at Cannes is it's truly international. While D&AD and One Show have international panels, they still have a 50 per cent local flavour, while Cannes has no real national dominance, except a bias towards Europe. For this same reason, walking the stage at Cannes is a festive and glorious moment. Your ad is understood and loved by so many nations.”

More than the ads, the presentations, the awards, the connecting with friends, Chowles thinks the best part of Cannes is the fireworks display on the final night. The spectacle really brings the little boy out in him. He admits that he does not know much about award shows staged in the Far East but he is confident they will become more important as advertising in that part of the world grows and starts to flex its creative muscles.
In the current economic climate, many agencies feel that they can't afford the investment of time and money that entering awards like the Sharks invariably means. Chowles says that agencies should only enter work they really love. It is the best indicator of a great piece of communication. It's that simple. Playing the awards game doesn't yield results.
Agencies should look at the work they are entering through the eyes of a judge who doesn't know or understand the impact an ad had locally. The campaigns that still stand out are the ones that should be entered. The old chestnut, that advertising is the first thing to be cut in tough times is holding true of some brands and he has strong views on this.
“Now's the time for bolder, more engaging, more inspiring communication,” Chowles said. “Apart from competitors withdrawing into themselves, the consumer is crying out for some light relief from their bleak world. Now's the time to make friends with consumers and get more media for your money – to steal market share. You can even cut the budget, just make sure that what's left is used to do amazing, bold communication.”
Chowles says beers seem to be alive and kicking. It may be explained by the fact that alcohol hasn't felt the full affect of the recession and people are still confident enough to have some fun. Sadly, cars are moving in the opposite direction and Chowles says panic has made a traditionally ‘image' category produce retail ‘deal' style ads.

Not surprisingly, this trend was apparent in Cannes with a shift from lavish budgets. The move should force creatives to come up with more simple, clever solutions instead of throwing money at a director to save a mediocre idea. Also, with the shift away from South American creative dominance toward the emerging South East Asia, there are new styles, new directors, new insights popping up which made judging interesting.
How does one win a Lion at Cannes? Well, obviously ideas that are universal truths are needed. Work that is only understood in Ireland, no matter how funny or emotional, will be ignored at Cannes if they don't cop it. Chowles says global brands do better than local ones as the judges are familiar with them and their positioning and personality.
For instance, McDonald's will score better than an unknown local burger chain. The anomaly to this rule is when the ‘product' matters and not the brand. A window cleaner is internationally understood, the brand of window cleaner is not important.

But if an ad is for a local fashion label, sports shoe or soft drink, the ad must be genius to break through. A sexy brand will score higher than an ‘un-sexy' brand. A mediocre idea for Honda or Mini will do better than one for Hyundai. Sad but true. Judges are human.


'Now's the time for bolder, more engaging communication' – Chowles

Chowles believes that if a client is a strange product or service (a funeral parlor) agencies have a chance of a higher score than a boring, familiar product or service – like insurance. Insurance and financial services are scored down just because they are so boring.
Impact is essential as the judges have to wade through 5000 ads and only the boldest, simplest but powerful ideas get through.A judge has to make a decision in three seconds. Agencies should ask themselves – is our ad understood and loved in three seconds?

Mary Nagle ( has worked with top agencies in Ireland and South Africa

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