Cannes 2016 - the lion that roared and showed its paws

Cannes Lions showcases creative excellence. Most years – much to the chagrin of most of Europe - the best advertising is usually British born and bred.

Annually the event reflects social trends of the previous ten months. (What with Brexit, it will be interesting to see what 2017 has in store not just in Cannes, but Ukraine which will host the Eurovision Song Contest). In the meantime, 2016 was no exception to the traditional glitzing ‘n’ bitchin’.

In decked-out halls Creatives and Suits kept fingers crossed, trouser zips in check, tightened their elasticated ‘clip-on’ Dickies, wiped away bodily fluid stains and refreshed lipstick.

Pretty girls dressed in online purchased non-descript little black dresses (reportedly sourced in India and China at discounts which give a sombre interpretation to the sentiment ‘boo-hoo’) patted down the seams of their M&S knickers and waited for the results.

...And why not? Other than free biscuits, bubble gum from ‘cool retro’ gum machines in an open-plan agency kitchen, or the chance to actually score a winning goal playing mock Euro 2016 on table top football in a room covered in art as featured in the average kindergarten, underpaid ad people rarely receive genuine recognition for late nights spent rewriting plans, long-days massaging egos, endless weeks typing banal click-bait messages on brand sponsored social media sites and hard months feigning polite smiles at sales executives owning either audio or large print editions of “The Art of the Deal’.

[Ooh the Cannes bitchin’ really is catchy – but si amusant …]

It pays to play

In the long lead up to the annual circus, word of mouth campaigns perpetuated the well-tested warning that ‘you’ve got to be in it to win it’. Having hedged their chances that more paid nominations would be entered than under Twenties wanting to see some old bloke with dark glasses and perm; Jeff Lynn play at Glastonbury, and that groupies would happily pay for tickets in Euros via a variety of options :

• Cash (Euros only).

• Visa (1.5% handling fee per payment).

• MasterCard (1.5% handling fee per payment).

• American Express (3.05 % handling fee per payment).

• Travellers’ Cheques (Euros only).

organisers could enjoy a Martini knowing the income covered food, guest appearances, judge ‘expenses’, photography, staging, hotels and even a well-deserved personal executive stress upgrade at hotels booked via outsourced body-shops like Capita or online discount buckets such as

For employers of Suits and Creatives, compared to providing decent salary increases, the business upside of award ceremonies such as Cannes keeps hives buzzing and – any trophies afford sales-bait for dinosaur brands programmed to offer creative campaigns to the lowest hanging fruit with the shiniest accolades and youngest fodder.

Authentic winners

Ultimately the real winners of the Cannes were neither brands nor agencies picking up coveted gongs to display in drab offices (beyond reception areas) or feature as power-play resume points to claim higher salaries. Valiant victors had the guts to produce work that resonated with people rather than ticked audited boxes calculated by numbers rather than deeply felt gut instinct.

As Brexit proved, we live in a fear-oriented society where even those with mettle to say what they want - in or out of Europe - easily melt under the fear of self-made consequences. In terms of Cannes, edgy didn’t inevitably equate to winning. (Ask any Creative Director out of fear, most original work rarely gets published).

Painting over the floral wallpaper

“The codfish lays ten thousand eggs,

The homely hen lays one.

The codfish never cackles

To tell you what she’s done—

And so we scorn the codfish

While the humble hen we prize.

It only goes to show you

That it pays to advertise!”

In recent years Cannes contenders have submitted ‘disruptive advertising’ touted as breaking the rules through interrupting advertising wallpapered banality. But surely all great advertising, marketing and PR has to stand above the crowd?

Even traditionally sober business-to-business advertising crammed with platitudinous headlines and visual soundbites aimed to tug the purse strings of the least creative link in most legal organisations - CFOs - require a modicum of originality beyond run of the mill creative mulch such as “tools to orchestrate your network, or “end-to-end solutions” “Inspirational innovation” “Leading digital transformation”….(blah, blah,blah, handshaking people painted with Joker grins as featured in photo stock pictures, yada, yada, yada …).

Overkilling the messenger

The irony of ballyhooed disrupted advertising is its junkie-like dependence on integrated campaigns traversing cross platform online and offline channels. Without serious management, rather than allowing for evolution of a concept, reinterpretation after constant adaption on an idea simply to fit a particular channel decimates any initial impact of authentic disruptive advertising.

Through crossing so many platforms, what may at first been an original idea gets passed round like a hooker in an orgy of viral spreading intent. A once seductive, witty, insightful, charming, curious… concept can too easily degenerate into yet another example of an over-cooked idea, so digitally dilapidated, even its core message gets reduced to a couple of words skewered on a hashtag for the BBQ of brand vanities.

This year’s mercenaries

As in previous years, many of Cannes 2016 campaigns featured storytelling. Great stories are simple. But this year, in what felt like as a validation of insecurity in a story’s message and substance, many were given the added spurious endorsement of having claims verified by a mix of social media feedback, trumped up algorithms and - new for 2016 - Kickstarter styled demonstrations films shown at half-empty cinemas to out of work extras who appeared to have got the gig via sites like Star Now.

Kill the cute kittens, this brand needs the terminally ill kid

In an act of self-flagellation over brand insecuirity, a common theme this year exploited otherwise horrendous, often terminal illnesses. Presumably the idea was to suggest that brands in ivory towers are in truth, on the side of victims in tenement blocks - e.g. the objectified woman, the insecure teenager, and most cynical of all, children with terminal diseases… [Watching such material in the name of this article was particularly odious].

Mes premiers nominations

So what pretentious goodies did 2016 Cannes Lions deliver? Here are my top personal choices - in no particular order of merit:

… For blatant rather than modest evidence of how wonderfully charitable a brand is, whilst simultaneously managing to callously exploit children suffering with cancer in a desperate attempt to promote otherwise dwindling print media advertising sales:


For exploiting the Rent Generation jacked up with useless marketing degrees and mounting university debts, willing to do anything to get a job in a pretentious advertising agency with aforementioned table football games:


For ratifying that the middle-class suppress sexual thoughts whilst driving

very cramped cars.


For algorithm supplemented wax-induced 1960s psychedelic hallucinations

from a toilet air freshener in a pop-up tent:


For attempting to distract consumer attention away from

Will Smith’s movie about NFL head trauma - ‘Concussion’:


For demonstrating infographics are dead; long-live edible pie charts for the consumer prepared to swallow political facts about how awful lives are for the poor sods who remain in Europe - as long as they get a shoutout on Facebook:


For I neither understand nor care what this actually means:


For a timely tribute to the outrageous Orlando nightclub massacre that has a much chance of moving the National Rifle Association as a bunch of overweight American politicians singing Kum Ba Yah whilst conducting a sit-in at the House of Representatives:


Oh Lord Kum Ba Yah

Special mention goes to ASB Bank for attempting to explain the concept of real money to a generation never destined to see nor touch physical coinage in their lifetime:


In conclusion, once again Cannes proves the difference between art imitating life, and life imitating art is difficult to separate. In both cases it’s never a pretty picture - unless shot in Hi-Def, preferably in black and white featuring a sick child, lie-tester machine, racial reference throughout the script, screen grabs of social media testimonials, clips from Spaghetti Westerns, and a Seal soundtrack sung by the progeny of sloshed parents after a night of watching the Super Bowl on a smelly couch bought at Ikea.

Jonathan Gabay

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