Cannes: creativity is not making sense, it is making money

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Cannes is currently holding its annual Advertising Festival – but how will it judge the winner when the line between what is entertaining and what is relevant is so blurred in modern day advertising?

When thinking of the best ads that have come about in the past 12 months, two spring to my mind: the E.ON ‘Winds of Change’ spot and of course, Cadbury’s Gorilla campaign.

It’s not surprising that the judges at Cannes agree that the Gorilla campaign is fantastic, however, if you look at it from a general viewers perspective, the campaign really doesn’t make sense.

And either does the Skittles ‘Touch’ campaign, so why are the two both up to scoop the Film Grand Prix at this year’s advertising festival?

One insider suggests it’s a case of innovative and beautifully shot commercials. Which in all truth is completely correct.

Cadbury’s was coming back from a salmonella outbreak and a racist case when Gorilla launched. A man in a monkey suit playing Phil Collins’ timeless “In the Air Tonight” grabbed peoples attention and put the brand name back in their heads. It was also deemed one of the most successful and effective ads of 2008 in the UK by the industry.

However, it was its sequel called ‘Airport Trucks’ not let down viewers who were expected to be wowed once more, it brought home the fact that sometimes, overly obscure creative thinking doesn’t necessarily work, nor does it look any good.

The Skittles ‘Touch’ campaign is creative and tells viewers a story which keeps up the interest – but it is very confusing as it appears to have nothing to do with the brand. YouTube users actually deemed it “the worst skittles commercial ever.”

Is it the hope of winning at Cannes or the opportunity to do something out-of-the-box that is driving agencies to take this new route in advertising?

If we look back at ad campaigns for some of the biggest brands in the world: British Airways, Coca Cola and McDonalds, you may find that while these ads are usually quiet entertaining, they are also plastered with branding and catch phrases. Have those old tricks passed their use by date as advertisers and broadcasters struggle to entice viewers to actually sit through their ads?

One innovative concept that is taking flight is turning ad campaigns into mini films. Dove’s real beauty campaign encouraged viewers to see the road to beauty in a longer clip on its site. Shell recently did a similar campaign director viewers to its website to see a film entitled “Clearing the air”.

As ads get more creative, they are also becoming more sociably responsible and some, mainly campaigns from energy and car companies, are actually teaching us a lesson. But how come they’re not the ones getting the awards and has the criteria for winning campaigns slightly blurred over the years?

More than 12,000 members of the ad industry attend the annual festival to honor the craft and celebrate the importance of advertising – many walk away still not knowing what advertising is all about.

But does it really matter and does Cannes hold any influence over the industry anymore? In many ways, Cannes is a perfect reflection of the ad industry. The city itself is glamorous and beautiful, yet expensive and full of people with hefty expense account. The rich and famous of their industry and the never ending quest for stand-out. The non-stop events and parties are inspiring (full of gossip) and fun (free alcohol).

Cannes remains an anachronism, a bit of old time Adman nostalgia for a once-raffish industry losing its sexy allure to government policies and social responsibility. Make next year, the ads will be ‘making a difference’.