Cannes: Ad trade show superbe

According to the opinions of many in our industry, I have just spent an entire week wasting my time.I apparently learned very little.I lay around on the beach pretending not to be looking at bare-breasted women. I drank and ate to...

According to the opinions of many in our industry, I have just spent an entire week wasting my time.

I apparently learned very little.

I lay around on the beach pretending not to be looking at bare-breasted women. I drank and ate to excess. Then I burped my way back to Canada.

Yes, ladies and gentlemen, I (along with 4,499 others from the advertising world) was seduced by that good-for-nothing Cannes advertising awards festival.

Why is it that so many people from this country view Cannes that way, when so many people from the rest of the world do not?

Let me offer a few thoughts on the subject.

The ‘boondoggle’ theory probably tops the list. The ‘How-on-earth-does-this-make-a-difference-to-my-business-in-Canada?’ theory comes in second. Bunched in close behind is ‘Life is about selling product, not winning awards,’ ‘too many posers,’ ‘too expensive,’ and so on.

As a veteran of six Cannes orgies, let me try to counter some of these widely held beliefs.

The most illogical is probably the ‘boondoggle.’

This, in all likelihood, is inspired by stories of attendees being kidnapped from the plane on arrival, bound and gagged, deposited on the beach for a week where they are force-fed fois gras, periodically rolled into the ocean, then stuffed into a cab and whisked back to the airport mumbling something about what a great show it was.

No doubt about it, if you’re a boondoggler, this is a truly religious occasion.

However, for the rest of us, the sights and sounds of the festival are a little more mundane.

Crowded theatres on sunny days. Throngs in and around the steps of the Palais des Festivals grabbing a sandwich between screenings. Heated debates about the work.

Well-attended seminars on the effectiveness of award-winning advertising (this deserves a lot more coverage), the annual new talent showcase (gifted new commercial directors), a presentation on new Kodak technology (exciting trends in post-production) and an exhibit of some of the world’s finest print and post advertising.

And, yes, I admit it, the beach. (Why do we feel apologetic about Cannes as a location when our clients have been holding conferences in places like this for years?)

Second theory on my list is the ‘How-on-earth-does-this-make-a-difference-to-my-business-in-Canada?’

(Judging by the numbers of imported campaigns running in Canada right now, it is already making a difference.)

Keep in mind, this is the only festival of its kind in which attendees are able to view every commercial entered, product category by product category.

Maybe you’re not going to view each and every commercial, however, you are going to focus on the categories that most interest you – from automotive and alcoholic beverages to dairy products and fast food.

There are 28 categories. As a delegate, you’re going to get an annual snapshot of the world’s most current concepts and strategies from around the globe.

Moreover, the week culminates in a screening of the ‘short-list.’ (This best-of-all categories selection is not available on any reel.)

And, if you ad agency types believe for a second that the world’s largest advertisers aren’t watching, you’ve been seeing the wrong hairdresser.

The fastest growing group of shoppers at Cannes are from client ranks. What’s more, they’re being impressed by the great American and British work (as always.)

And, now, the Spanish, the Australians and the Norwegians have their attention. Don’t be surprised if your multinational client selects a Norwegian agency for its next global effort.

If you’re from a production company, Cannes week is one of the most important marketing opportunities of the year. Here are three facts for your consideration.

Fact No. 1. The Canadian production pie is shrinking. Fact No. 2. There’s a lot of interest in Canada and Canadian directors. Fact No. 3. Cannes offers an international captive audience for an entire week.

Now, I’d like to take on my all-time favorite belief – ‘Life is about selling product, not winning awards.’ Every year, Cannes organizers present an award that is absent from every other awards show around the world; they honor the client of the year.

If my memory serves me correctly, this began about four years ago. The first recipient was Volkswagen, the second Pepsi, the third, Levi, and, this year, Nike.

What do they all have in common? Without a doubt, award-winning advertising and a history of phenomenal sales.

Leo Burnett’s Donald Gunn presented his conclusions on the subject this year.

Among his findings, 86% of all award-winning work proved to be above-average performers in terms of improved sales. (The average for non-award winning work is about 30%.)

Someone, somewhere started the ugly rumor that consumers do not relate to award-winning advertising. Who do we really have to convince about the folly of this thought, consumers or ourselves?

Finally, we’re left with ‘too many posers’ and ‘too expensive.’ On the subject of posers, I concede.

But when it comes to ‘too expensive,’ let’s pause for a moment.

Unlike our clients, we spend next to nothing on r&d. Here we are hoping to be taken as seriously as some of our clients’ most valued marketing advisors, and we’re investing nothing in our future.

Yes, we’re good at doing lunches and designing T-shirts for ourselves, and, yes, dare I say it, we even use advertising – occasionally.

Cannes week is the world’s most important advertising trade show. The Russians (a recent member of the free enterprise society) sent 50 delegates.

European ad agencies club together and sponsor the attendance of their brightest young talent. (You see them everywhere wearing ‘Young Turk’ T-shirts specially designed for the occasion).

Why is it that they believe they can learn so much, and we believe we can learn so little?

It was, as usual, an exciting week at Cannes. British and American creativity dominated. The Norwegians (a fraction of our size) won two golds and six bronzes. The Brazilians, the Spanish, the Australians and the Italians did very well.

And we didn’t do so badly either, garnering one gold, one silver, one bronze and 10 merits in this, the world’s toughest contest.

About 4,500 delegates descended on Cannes the week of June 20. Unfortunately, only 12 of them were Canadian.

Boris Damast is a founding partner and director with Toronto commercial production company Damast Gordon & Associates.