One man’s Cannes mission

Everyone gets something different out of Cannes. In strategy's ongoing efforts to curate the POVs of disparate ad fest attendees, we bring you a very different Cannes professional development experience.

My experience of the 2010 Cannes Advertising Festival can be summed up by two questions. First, in keeping with the nature of the event, everyone asks me, ‘Are you going into advertising?’ My answer seems to surprise. ‘No.’ I’m not at Cannes to network, woo clients or attend seminars profiling the year’s best work. I came to Cannes with my dad, Taxi chief creative officer Steve Mykolyn, to play bingo.

This isn’t any regular game of bingo, however. Instead of numbers, the card features the faces of some of the world’s top creative talent – Dave Droga, Rick Boyko, Nick Law, John Kamen, Jeff Benjamin and Canada’s Judy John, just to name a few. I’ve been spending my days and nights attempting to hunt down these creatives and elicit their signatures as well as an interesting fact about them.

It’s an exercise in futility and humiliation to say the least, but even so, it’s been fun and I’ve learned quite a bit. For example, Ty Montague once held the prestigious title of auto mechanic. At the formative age of 14, Rob Rasmussen was bitten by a zebra. And, on a dare, Lars Bastholm jumped out of a plane in a full Batman costume. Colourful histories to say the least.

At the tail-end of most of my discussions, someone inevitably asks the second question, ‘What do you get?’ This requires a bit more of an explanation.

I began this project with no clear goal in mind, other than the experience of meeting a ton of interesting people. The first participants (see: victims) – Rick Boyko, Jose Molla and Jeff Goodby – were quick to sign and gave helpful tips on where to find many of the other faces on the card. Still, they all asked, ‘What do you get?’ My answers were consistently, amusingly and truthfully negative. ‘Nothing. Permanently humiliated. Banned from Cannes.’ These statements remained true until my most difficult encounter.

I cornered Judy John, CCO of Leo Burnett Toronto, at the Globe and Mail’s Canada Party. She refused to sign my card. Based on the willingness of the participants up to that point, I have to say I was surprised. Perhaps it was fitting, as her signature would have given me bingo and allowed my tragically misguided adventure to come to an end.

Maybe that thought became my driving force, but for whatever reason, I would not be content until I had that signature. It was refreshing to be snubbed, especially by someone doing so much for Canada at Cannes. I explained my plight to anyone that would listen, and there was an incredible groundswell of support. People suggested deals I could cut, benign threats to conjure up and everything in between. Make no mistake; Ms. John didn’t refuse my request for any malicious reason. On the contrary, she was adamant that she was really doing it for my benefit. She would not sign it unless I gained from the exercise. For that, I owe her.

Enter Mary Maddever, from Strategy magazine. Arising from both the staunch refusals of Judy John, and the support given to me by Mary, a deal was brokered and this article was born. Judy signed on the condition that whatever I wrote, based on my bingo experiences, would be published by Strategy. I even scored a dinner invite out of it.

Technically, I guess I won. I had a full row of signatures, but it didn’t seem right to stop there. I felt like the card had become something more than just a means to introduce myself, even if it remained a novelty. This was affirmed later the same night. Just after collecting Nick Law’s signature (turns out he was ‘raised by wolves’), Droga appeared with a most impressive retinue: Bob Greenberg, Jeff Benjamin and Nick Worthington, all of whom are on the card. All Droga said to me was, “Just because I like you.” The elite seem to run in tight circles, and I quickly collected the signatures of Jens Mortier and Taxi chairman Paul Lavoie as well.

Dauntingly, Mr. Lavoie turned the whole process on its head by suggesting that he interview me. Luckily, I ducked out of the situation before it could be discussed any further. As an added bonus, David Lubars drew a minimalist likeness of himself (also known as a smiley face) in the margins of the card and signed it. Then I went to bed.

The card isn’t complete. Out of the original 24, there are still seven faces lacking signatures, but I’m at Cannes for another two days and every interaction gives me renewed energy to continue. Thank you to everyone who participated, gave support or pointed me in the right direction. Of course, a big thanks to my dad, who brought me here, introduced me to an inconceivable amount of people and, if the rumours are true, coordinated the massively difficult time I had at the Canada Party. One way or the other, it’s been a wonderfully unique experience.