Nigel Dawson's Cannes Diary

Campaign Brief 514.pngNigel Dawson, ECD at Grey Melbourne is a representative on the Cannes Lions Press jury. Dawson, wrote this daily review for Campaign Brief.

DAY 1

Well, it's not reality, is it.

The ascent into an unreal world started with the drive from Nice airport in a purring E Class with a purring Helmut at the wheel. The yachts at anchor in front of the hotel definitely are not real - floating penthouses the size of A 380s. The very fixed grins on the faces of expensive looking people you pass in the lobby are a bit dubious. And the bodies on the beach certainly aren't real; if it gets any hotter, bits will melt.
Our already tenuous grip on reality got stretched further at 8.15 this morning when we embarked on the business at hand. I mean, how real is it to work through page after page after page of ads for cars with headlights that see round corners, or for milk from honest cows. One has to pause to try and put each one into the context of something stumbled across in a mag in a Doctor's waiting room and then see how it touches you. All in five seconds or less. Because there's another 6054 waiting.

Screen shot 2012-06-16 at 2.11.06 PM.jpgAnd it's unusual to say the least to be surrounded by 17 of advertising's finest, from Javier of Costa Rica to Konal of the UAR, all resolutely doing the same thing. God, the amount of work put into some of these pieces is literally unbelievable - unbelievable because it cannot conceal the lack of a rip-snorting idea that Mr President has told us to look for.

It's very sobering to reflect how work that no doubt the creators thought was outstanding becomes merely pedestrian when put alongside its similarly conceived brethren.

Thus we work in silence, savouring the moment when something great breaches in the sea of good.

Then at 5.00 the teachers said we could all go out to play and finally touch base with the real world and have a beer. And it's $18.

Unreal.

DAY 2

Have you ever been in a forest full of Bell Birds?

I have for the past two days. Press judging takes place using supermarket scanners and each scan sings like a Bell Bird. 18 people doing that every second or two sounds like the Dandenongs in mid-summer.

The silent preliminary stage is now over; each group of six has judged over 2000 pieces. So none of us has seen more than one third of all the entries. Whether or not six people is enough to give a fair judgement, considering the linguistic and cultural diversity, was the source of much debate during the lunch break. But for everybody to see all the work we'd have had to start judging a week ago (during the Porn Film Festival, I kid you not, which could have been mildly distracting).

I sense that's we've become increasingly brutal as the hours have passed. The bar has inexorably moved higher as what seemed fresh yesterday morning becomes stale in the company of similar creative devices and executions. Simplicity and clarity stand out like the beacons that guide the yachts into Cannes harbour.

If there's a word of advice for any would-be entrants next year, it's to avoid any cartoon or 3D characters, especially if there's food involved.

Screen shot 2012-06-17 at 12.47.41 AM.jpgSo everybody is looking forward to being given their tongues back tomorrow morning as we start discussing and dissecting the short list. And it'll be interesting to see what it contains. Since France,  England and Spain all won in the soccer there's unlikely to be too much festering animosity.

Two highlights of the day: the first was having breakfast next to Pierce Brosnan; and the second was seeing an ad from a department store called Arcelik.

DAY 3

At 11 tonight we finished refining the long shortlist of 666 pieces.

And as we review them the quality seems to rise at it sits alongside other equally good princes.

A vast mass of over-engineered, under-ideaed work has disappeared. Much of it I suspect has originated in Asia. 

But there is still a plethora of work populated by masses of very small people, meticulously illustrated.

And as one of my fellow jurors remarked, there's an awful lot of ads with objects that are composed of lots of other things. Again the triumph of form over substance.

Another theme seems to be storyboard ads that use a succession of images to tell a story, or a joke. There must be a simpler way.

Much good work is let down by photoshop; images of people with fixed expressions, devoid of humanity. More naturalistic photography immediately warms one to the work.

Is copy dead? Actually no. A number of pieces with proud and sometimes twisted headlines have made the cut. More power to them. But there is no middle ground; long copy is loooooong copy - ridiculously long blocks that cannot sustain the paucity of subject matter.

By far the largest category is art direction, and it has been ruthlessly pruned. I think people sometimes mistake a great illustration or great photography for great art direction. Frankly I don't think there should be such a category - surely it's a sine qua non of any worthy ad.

And people still insist on playing with their food; some particularly gruesome work for boneless meat could turn one vegetarian. What happened to appetite appeal?

Our final shortlist is truly mixed. It's Impossible to see any threads running through it. And that can only be good. Independent thinking, garnering styles and themes from many different places. It may be criticized, but a huge amount of care has gone into composing it. A great celebration of a year in print.

Now for the really tough bit.

DAY 4

Back to the track for the final. But first we warm up with the Young Lions. It's incredible what those cubs can produce in 24 hours, albeit wrongly in many cases. Turns out the winner was in the year below my son at school. Ain't old age wonderful!

After four days one develops a close relationship with the work. At first meeting there is an elusive something that strikes you, be it a superficial beauty or apparent intelligence. But as you meet again over the days one gets more involved, uncovers new traits, and even wakes up in the morning thinking about it. And in a few cases it inexorably turns into love.

Others are evidently equally beguiled. 460 times Rhys, our matchmaker, asks "is it Gold? Silver? Bronze? My beloveds appear to have many admirers. Meanwhile the others are thrown back on the streets.

I came to this judging looking for emotion, work that touched me somewhere. And today I find that it is possible to influence others to feel the same way. Several times I get work imbued with humanity brought back and occasionally upgraded. We have to judge as humans as well as creatives. It's an implant influence that I feel balances the portfolio of winners.

By day's end we have our winners. With one exception I reckon we've got it spot on. Of course craft rears its beautiful head and is rewarded, perhaps excessively. But then it is judged on looks, not personality.

Deciding the one entry we want to live with for the year to come takes an inordinate amount of time, even though practically everybody has fallen in love with the same piece that has arrogantly barged through and said "Reject me if you dare". Undoubtedly it will cause ructions.

But I've made my choice and look forward to a tempestuous relationship, albeit one shared with 17 people who have become good friends.

DAY 5

Day 32. 

Au revoir Dr. Jekyll; bonjour Monsieur Hyde.

Apologies for slipping out of character for the past few days; here's what I really think. For there is as much to glean from the occasional disagreement as from the prevailing unanimity.

It's curious terminology isn't it - judges, juries. As if we were here to dissect crimes against advertising. But the main offenders have been convicted long before they can arrive in Cannes. Even so there is the odd piece that sails dangerously close to the wind.

A fellow juror despairs at 'things made out of things': people made out animals, buildings made out of germs, that sort of thing. And I have to agree in many cases - once again they represent the triumph of form over substance, though there are exceptions, such as the flags from Argentina. Then there's the epidemic of small, usually angry, 3D figures, advertising everything from shampoo to bookshops. Shiny and forgettable.

I found it hugely disappointing to see the lion's share of our shortlist duplicated in Outdoor. How these press ads with their complex images and small logos could possibly communicate in the great outdoors beggars belief.

Inevitably there was one ad about which I completely disagreed with my fellow good men (and women) and true. A piece for texting and driving from Brazil. They argued innovation and a unique look: I saw only an ad with no emotive connection.

Then I mumbled at the pragmatists that wouldn't let two of us push up a Red Cross ad full of delicate compassion. Oh, and another that showed creepily how alcohol can affect one's kids.

Copy. Some seem to think that loads of words equals good copywriting. Others looked favorably at linguistic gymnastics that made little sense. Frankly the problem is judges to whom English is a second language judging work that has been translated from another language. Impossible.  The outstanding entrant from NZ that was the perfect marriage of the skills of the writer and typographer.

Well that's got all that off my chest. Now for a big long holiday during which only one thing I have seen will resonate.

Benetton.

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