Frannes in Cannes

Missed The Cannes Lions Festival of Creativity 2019? Worry not. Simply read Fran Luckin’s uncensored daily reflections from fest to get the big picture. Tag along as she ferreted out the good and bad of the once quiet French coastal community now overrun with creative industry catchphrases, spray tan and yacht parties. While sharing some personal musings on Cannes exclusively with iDidTht, Fran, the CCO of Grey Africa, also served up some South African realness on the official festival judging panel for Film this year. Yeah, we’re luckin to have her! Thank you to our official Cannes partners, the team that showcases great moments at their greatest, Ster-Kinekor Sales, for enabling us to bring you all the SA at Cannes news! 

Day 1 at Cannes Lions 2019: DEFCON FIVE

17 June 2019

There’s a lot to be said for arriving in Cannes on the Sunday before the Cannes Lions Festival of Creativity starts. It’s relatively quiet and you can probably get a table at De Laura for lunch without having to loiter on the pavement for an hour giving the people eating the world’s best burrata the Begging Dog Eyes, trying to hypnotise them into getting on with it and getting the bill so you can attempt to seat seven of you at a table for four between someone’s Vespa and a manhole (believe me, the burrata alone is worth it).

The other thing about being there just before it all kicks off, is the sense you get of being on a stage set under construction. The 2km strip of beach front where it all happens  (think Margate but with Gucci and Prada stores) is basically a construction site, with beachfront bars being transformed into corporate-sponsored fantasy party lounges for networking, with bespoke lighting, flown-in décor and stages for guest speakers.

Cannes on the Sunday before is a liminal space where you get the sense anything could happen. Like the year Snapchat erected a full-size, fully operational Ferris wheel on the lawn in front of the Palais, just for the Festival. (And then took it down and carted it off again when it was all over). By the end of this week, careers will have been made. Hearts will have been broken. New jobs will have been negotiated (the recruiters come to Cannes in force, and the coffee shops are full of people meeting for “coffee”). The whole world can change between the start of Cannes and the end, and it very often does.

Speaking of change, it’s probably fitting that the headline on Page One of today’s “Lions Daily News” reads “Gender, diversity and poverty: a Lions agenda hungry for change.”

The trend towards using creativity for good social change, which began a couple of years ago, shows no signs of abating and I have no doubt we’ll see this coming through strongly across the spectrum of the winners.  (Cynics might observe that given the sheer volume of “goodvertising” work coming out of Cannes in the last five years or so, the world should be a profoundly better place than it is and should be virtually free of oppression, violence and poverty.  But there’s always a cynic at every party, hogging the free foie gras and raining on everybody’s parade, right?)

Before I go, a shout out to the unsung heroes of the week.

See these three people on the walkway at the very back of the Palais, where everything is made of concrete and no-one goes? They are judges. And while everyone else is having fun here, they are stuck in a dark room all the daylight hours, viewing literally thousands of ads so we can have Lions to applaud. These three are getting some much-needed vitamin D on the walkway between the judging room and the marquee where the judges get their lunch. They may even be having a smoke.  It’s not for sissies, judging.

Day 2 at Cannes Lions 2019: DEFCON FOUR

18 June 2019

Right, maggots. Situation today is at Defcon Four: “A slightly heightened sense of awareness and tension, and increased levels of intelligence-gathering.”
The Festival is officially underway. Shortlists are emerging. People who know people on juries are sending unsolicited WhatsApp messages, just to, you, know,  say “Hi.. how’s it going? (smiley face). Alas, mobile phones are banned from the jury rooms. So it’s on a need to know basis, maggot, and you don’t need to know. Wait until the official shortlist comes out. And give me twenty push-ups.

Shortlists are published first thing in the morning. So you awake each morning to the news of whether or not you might be in line for a shot at a Lion. Then it’s all about waiting. While you wait, though, there countless things to take your mind off your own personal Purgatory. Like a line-up of some of the best and most inspiring speakers in the world. Yesterday I saw Marie Kondo speak on stage at the Palais.

Marie Kondo! In case you’ve been living under a fynbos hedge for the last year (or a stately home full of clutter) and don’t know, here is Urban Dictionary on Marie Kondo: “The Japanese sensation of tidying and decluttering that’s sweeping the world. To Mariekondo is to lay everything out, thanking items for their service, discarding most of the stuff and then organizing the remaining ones. Eg. I finally made my boyfriend mariekondo his junk in my bedroom!”

Marie Kondo is a tiny Japanese woman whose philosophy regarding possessions, and the hold they have over us, is sweeping the world. One of her principle tenets is to discard anything that doesn’t “spark joy.” It does make me wonder whether the obsession with Marie Kondo is simply another symptom of our search for secular gods. But that’s a very deep question and it’s wine o’ clock right now as I write this. All I will say is that she is a person with an astonishing personal presence. And that her method of using self-knowledge and self-awareness to figure out why you’re holding on to stuff is a very good approach to solving the problem of why we have too much stuff, instead of just addressing it cosmetically.

After Marie Kondo, I went to watch the Innovation Lions presentations.

If you enter Innovation or Titanium Lions, and your entry is shortlisted, you have to present your case to the judges.
For many years, the most exciting and prestigious contest in the Cannes Lions was the Film Lions. Now, it’s the Titanium and Innovation Lions that are arguably the most exciting part of the show. This is where the real, hard-core change-the-world stuff is happening. This year’s Innovation shortlist includes a device that, when placed in urinals, can detect the presence of diabetes in urine, and a smart home hearing system for the hearing-impaired, which will pick up a sound in the home, recognise it, and send a message to the home owner’s phone “sounds like something has fallen over in the kitchen.”

While it may seem at times that the Cannes Lions are all about novelty, it’s worth noting that a classic billboard took home the Grand Prix in last night’s Outdoor Lions ceremony. Just an arresting picture and a beautifully crafted headline. At its highest level, Cannes is still all about the great idea, flawlessly executed.

Day 3 at Cannes Lions 2019: DEFCON THREE

19 June 2019

Prepare to mobilise, troops. Stuff’s getting real.

What must it feel like to be a “normal” tourist in Cannes this week? You arrive, kids in tow, innocently expecting a nice quiet beach holiday, only to find the place overrun with bleary-eyed people wearing lanyards, most of the beaches taken over by corporate sponsors, and the usually serene Boulevard De La Croisette littered with frankly bizarre promotional stands like this one.

There is water dripping from the roof above the suspended umbrella. You can stand under the umbrella and someone will take your photograph, which you can then presumably send to your family and friends so they can see what you look like standing under an umbrella.
There’s a lot of this kind of stuff: ad tech companies and media owners putting up stalls to promote their wares and covering the 2 kilometres of beachfront with posters and billboards. They’re typically all quite terrible too (like, in-your-face punny), which is deeply ironic given that we’re at a festival that celebrates great creativity.

There’s also a frankly astonishing number of adults riding on scooters, without any apparent sense of embarrassment. Which means that even once you’ve mastered the art of crossing the street and remembering that the oncoming traffic is coming at you from a different direction than it does in South Africa, you still stand a strong chance of getting run over on the pavement.

Anyway, I digress. Let’s get back to Lions. Yesterday’s hot ticket was the interview with David Droga and Brian Whipple, CEO of Accenture Interactive. In April this year the announcement that Droga Five was being acquired by Accenture Interactive sent shock waves through the industry. One of the most awarded creative agencies in the world selling to a consultancy? Surely, this was the beginning of the end of advertising. So I was expecting there to be a fair amount of interest. Gentle reader, this was the queue to get in.

It went all the way back up two flights of stairs, almost to the top level of the Palais. Two months into the most controversial deal of the year, everybody wanted to hear why Droga did it and how it was all working out. And to be honest, the way Droga and Whipple spoke about it, it seemed the most self-evidently sensible thing to do. (Of course it did. Let’s not forget that David Droga is one of the best people in the world at selling things.) Cynicism aside though, on paper the move makes sense. As Droga puts it “It makes my canvas five times bigger.”  He says he no longer just wants to be a storyteller: “We’ve celebrated the storytelling part but there’s so much more.” Increasingly, brands are being built through customer experience and for Droga, there’s a chance to take creativity “all the way through.” Consultancies like Accenture Interactive have relationships that ad agencies don’t have – like direct access to the CEO and the chief decision-makers within an organisation. They also have the kinds of deep tech skillsets that ad agencies typically have battled to attract or retain. Which means they have the power to realise, to make real, ideas that might otherwise perhaps have only had a brief existence as stunts or PR exercises. Advertising awards shows are full of those – brilliant ideas to solve cancer or hunger or domestic violence, that often have a lifespan of a couple of months or maybe a year, because ad agencies are great at ideas but not at building real-world solutions. But if an ad agency merged with the kind of people who CAN make those things and DO have the kind of influence to sell them in at the highest level.. well. That might just change everything. The naysayers are saying “The cultures are too different. This marriage will never work” but I say, let’s give it time and see what kind of kids they have.

That’s all for now. It is time for me to head to the Palais and grab a copy of the Cannes Daily, to have a look at the shortlists. You can hear the blood pumping in your ears as you scan the tiny print, desperately looking to see if your work made it through, but trying not to look desperate, obviously. Semper Fi, Marines. Over and out.

Day 4 at Cannes Lions 2019: DEFCON TWO

20 June 2019

Thursday. Situation is at Defcon Two. Agency networks and adtech companies have hunkered down in positions on all the beaches and stand ready to defend them with lethal force if necessary. More than one rescue mission has been witnessed getting underway at the Gutter bar as loyal soldiers band together, chanting “No man left behind!” before attempting to navigate the hazardous journey back to headquarters at 4am. Extreme vigilance is required. And hydration. Lots of it. Mostly in the form of crisp, ice cold rosé – the official energy drink of Cannes.

Breaking news from the front this morning (well, from Ad Age, anyway) is that Alexander Nix, founder of Cambridge Analytica, has backed out of panel discussion he was due to take part in on the Cannes stage today, following protests and threats to disrupt the panel with a “guerrilla screening” of Netflix’s new documentary about the Cambridge Analytica data privacy scandal.

I can’t resist a small grin when people tell me about all the free food and coffee on tap, all the time, on the Facebook beach. I can’t resist thinking “Er, you probably have paid for it.”

Moving swiftly on. Sometimes the most interesting stuff in Cannes happens outside the official borders of the festival. This band is called “The Client Said No.”

They set themselves up on a boat in front of a row of some of the busiest restaurants in Cannes last night and gave an impromptu concert. They were pretty good. Turns out they’re music producers and all the songs they were performing were original pieces that have all been bombed by clients. (Except, presumably, for “What the World Needs Now is Love, Sweet Love” which they performed twice). It was a lot of fun, even if at times they did have to compete against the Europop being pumped out of the far more expensive speakers of the yacht moored four bays down. War is hell.

Back to the work: the Entertainment Lions Grand Prix this year was won by a film called “5B.”

It’s a documentary about the very early days of AIDS in San Francisco. Back when AIDS was new and no-one knew yet what caused it, patients were being kept in what amounted to isolation wards, treated by doctors and nurses who were practically wearing Hazmat suits. A team of courageous doctors and nurses set up a ward called 5B, where they broke all the rules in order to treat these ostracized patients humanely. They refused to wear gloves or masks, allowed visits from pets and spouses and made a point of making physical contact with patients – hugging them, brushing their hair. I watched this film when I was doing my online judging and it was riveting. I think I gave it my highest mark and I remember hoping it would do well. Find it and watch it. That is an order, maggots.

I finished my day yesterday with a seminar from Rory Sutherland, who’s a behavioural economist, Chairman of Ogilvy UK and a raconteur of note.

I never miss an opportunity to hear Rory speak and neither should you. I’ve never seen him use notes – ever. He just pulls all this wonderful knowledge and these great stories from out of his prodigious brain. He argues that we have plenty of rational arguments for creativity. There is a wealth of data that shows that great creativity works. Somehow, though, it’s still difficult to convince clients to do something original and brave creatively. He argues, therefore, that we need an emotional argument for creativity. And that we shouldn’t conflate efficiency with effectiveness. “In everything that’s distinctive,” he says, “there’s something absurd.” It’s why most people choose to make their marriage vows in the most inefficient way possible – in front of loads of people, in a ceremony that costs both time and money, when in fact just signing the legal document in court is a far more efficient way of getting the same job done. “It’s the stuff people do that they don’t have to do that conveys meaning”. In most businesses, efficiency and effectiveness are the same thing. But not when it comes to anything involving people. “In messaging,” he says, “you have to deliberately do something weird,” because people don’t operate rationally, the way economists always thought we did.

I’ll leave you with this magnificent Rory quote:

It’s the cause of the inherent bias in business, and why businesses so often default to the expected. Worth mulling over. Oh, and go and read everything Rory’s ever written. He writes a column in The Spectator and he’s also written a book called The Wiki Man, which I think is a free downloadable .pdf

I’m off to the Palais to see the Saatchi Young Directors’ Showreel (now called the Young Creator’s Showcase, apparently). It’s my must-see in Cannes.

Day 5 at Cannes Lions 2019: DEFCON ONE

21 June 2019

Friday. Defcon One. The festival has built up to its full, frenzied, feverish pitch. Even the veterans who’ve seen combat plenty times before, whose first rodeo this is not, are taking strain. There is talk of afternoon naps. These seldom if ever happen though, because on your way back to the hotel you invariably run into someone you haven’t seen in years and duck into a coffee shop to catch up, and the next thing you know it’s 10 minutes to go before that evening’s awards show.

Yesterday I watched the Saatchi and Saatchi New Creators Showcase, which is a must-see for me. It used to be called the Saatchi and Saatchi Young Directors’ Showcase, which is basically what it is. It’s a curated reel of some of the hottest young talent working in film. They changed the name this year to reflect the fact that storytelling has changed and everyone is always on their phones, or something. Or because millennials. It wasn’t terribly clear to be honest, but at least two of the films played out on phone screens, so there you have it. I also noted that the new name doesn’t include an apostrophe, possibly because storytelling is now storydoing, or post-storydoing. It doesn’t matter what they call it, it’s always worth seeing, although it’s also a bit of an onslaught. The films tend towards the avant-garde, the surreal and the frankly bizarre, and I did find myself thinking “Doesn’t anyone do comedy anymore?”

Later on I met Rahul Sabnis from IHeartMedia, who’d just taken part in R/GA’s Innovation Exchange Showcase. This is an event where female-led startups are connected with global business, tech and marketing leaders who can give them guidance on how to market and grow their businesses. He said it had been the most inspiring part of the Festival for him so far. There’s a lot of emphasis on female leadership and on growing female-led businesses. I may sometimes miss the old days where the Lions were simpler somehow, and more focussed on advertising, and I may make facetious comments about unnecessary name changes that seem to reflect more of a concern for being “relevant” than being accurate (and don’t have apostrophes) but there are some great initiatives happening and the Lions are giving young creatives (and old ones) more access to an array of inspiring people. Earlier in the week I went to a Young Lions Week seminar, where five female creative leaders shared frank and often very funny stories about their experiences of growing into leadership in an industry that’s traditionally been male-dominated. Everyone spoke about imposter syndrome – that feeling of deep-seated doubt in your own ability and the consequent fear that you’ll suddenly get found out and exposed as a fraud. (So it’s not just me, then?)

On to last night’s ceremony, where the Innovation Grand Prix was won by a software start-up founded by hearing-impaired people.

This was for the idea I spoke about earlier in the week, where they’ve created a listening device for the homes of the hearing-impaired and taught it to recognise and classify different sounds so it can send a text alert to the owner if it hears water running, or the sound of glass breaking, for example. This is a very practical example of how AI and machine learning can be used for good. They literally fed the device thousands of hours of Youtube videos until it learnt the difference between a child yelling with happiness and a child yelling because it fell over.

Artificial Intelligence was a bit of a theme in last night’s ceremony because Burger King won Gold for a radio campaign written by an AI. This campaign was a cheerful antidote to the tech worship you sometimes find in Cannes, featuring lines of sublimely tortured dialogue like “Greetings, Friend Two. What do you have near your mouth?” and finishing with the payoff line “Burger King. Have it Norway.”

The highlight of the evening for me was South Africa taking home a Gold Lion for Radio for Town Lodge’s ‘The Real Cost / Nothing for Mahala‘.

It’s always good to see our flag on the stage. Well done TBWA Hunt Lascaris and Produce Sound. The camapaign’s in English and in Zulu and I think it would have been fantastic to hear one of the Zulu ads played as the team went up on stage (just for the thrill of having a massive Zulu voice dominating the Lions stage) but apparently although the jury argued strongly for the Zulu being played, they were overruled because it’s Cannes and English is the lingua franca, or something. Or because millennials and storydoing, and apostrophes. Still, it’s a great campaign and a great win. And here, you can listen to all the ads: EnglishZulu.

I’m now going to the Palais to judge the Young Lions Film. These young teams got a brief on Tuesday or something and they’ve had 48 hours to come up with an idea and shoot an ad. So just another normal day in advertising then. You know, LOL.

Day 5 at Cannes Lions 2019: Last Dispatch from the Front.

21 June 2019

Friday. Last dispatch from the front. The beachheads are being dismantled and the troops are starting to demob.

One last ceremony to go: Film and Titanium. The Titanium Lion was invented by Dan Wieden in about 2002 to honour work that “breaks new ground in branded communications; that is, provocative, boundary-busting, envy-inspiring work that marks a new direction for the industry and moves it forward.” It’s arguably the most coveted Lion to win these days. It’s fitting that the Jury President this year is BBDO’s David Lubars, who was the first ever winner of a Titanium Lion for BMW Films in 2002.

Before I go and start queueing to get into the ceremony (this is the one EVERYONE wants to attend), I’m going to leave you with two things. One is a picture of the team who won the Young Lions Film competition I judged earlier. This is them hearing that they’ve just won. And secondly, a pic of the best T-shirt I saw all week. It’s the Cannes Shirtlist and it sums this year up perfectly. Adios. You’ve been a wonderful audience.

Young Lions Film Competition Winners

Cannes Shirtlist

About Fran Luckin, CCO at Grey Africa

Fran Luckin began her career as a copywriter, moved to TBWA\Hunt\Lascaris in the late nineties, where she became a Creative Director, then joined Ogilvy Johannesburg in 2003, and became Executive Creative Director there in 2008. In 2012, Fran was appointed to the 15-member Ogilvy Worldwide Creative Council. After 20 years in advertising, Fran went full digital, joining Quirk South Africa (a Mirum agency) as Executive Creative Director of the Johannesburg office in July 2013. She joined Grey as CCO in 2016. The company won its first Gold Lion in 2017. Together with the executive team, Fran has helped to transform the creative output of the agency from traditional advertising into a fully integrated multi-media, digital and social communications offering. She has judged international and South African creative awards shows (including the Cannes Film Lions, the Cannes Outdoor Lions, the Dubai Lynx Awards, the Clio Awards and D&AD) – and has also served three times on the judging panel for the Apex Awards. In 2017 she served as Jury President of the Print and Publishing Jury at the Cannes Lions – the first female Jury President from Africa. She has an M.B.A from the Berlin School of Creative Leadership, and is Chairman of the Academic Board of the Red & Yellow School.