Australian creative work is on the ascendancy globally again.
The Australian and New Zealand winners at Cannes Lions jumped to 7th place this year from a previous 11th position.
Despite the success, questions some ask whether or not Australians are standing out less and not winning as big as often.
That leaves room for next year, says Cam Blackley, chief creative officer at M&C Saatchi.
“Australia is back. Number seven is no mean feat after the steep decline in recent years,” he said.
“There are a whole lot of blockers that can prevent even great work from getting up at Cannes, so to have picked up Grand Prix’s in multiple disciplines is just outstanding.”
Michael Barnfield (pictured right), creative director at Saatchi & Saatchi agrees.
As is always the case, this was Australia’s best Cannes ever for those who bagged an award, said Barnfield.
“Reputations are made on the winner’s lists and we all want to find our names there, so congratulations to everyone who snared themselves a Lion,” he said.
“While jurors debated into the night to sort the haves from the have-nots, let’s celebrate Casey Clark and Zac Nairn of DIG, who turned their very own high-pressure situation into Gold in the Young Lions Digital category.
“It’s good to know Australia is fostering some of the world’s best young minds to set our local industry up for future success.”
According to the Cannes Lions Special Awards 2022 methodology report, for first round judging each jury member is assigned a unique log-in to the preliminary judging portal to access the entries that they are assigned to judge.
Entries are scored 1-9 by each of the members of the sub-jury, and the average score is calculated for each entry, the report outlines.
Based on the average score, a top percentage of entries within a category within each Lion is selected for the shortlist to be calibrated by the jury during an in person session.
After a shortlist has been determined for the Lion, the jury is presented with the listing of scores for the shortlist. The jury then discusses the shortlist to determine whether or not it will be awarded an award.
A country’s ranking is respective of how many Lions it has received, with Australia scoring 29 this year.
Luke Simkins (pictured right), creative director at MBCS, said from a contest lens, Australia did well, but overall the country isn’t winning as big, noting that there seemed to be a lot of silvers and bronzes.
“This could be because other countries are catching up to the shape of ideas that used to differentiate Australia,” he said.
“We were once more modern and interesting because massive TV ads were too expensive to compete with US and UK budgets, so we were doing more with less. It meant we solved problems differently.
“It feels like the rest of the world clocked onto this and now do the same, but they get to do it at scale. This is why we didn’t stand up as well as other years (like we did with Meet Graham.)”
Georgia Phillips, COO at Luma Research, said upon reflecting on the success of Australian agencies in Cannes, people should factor in the real reason for awards like these and how they should respond to their wins and losses.
“I liken the work from Cannes to going to a gallery of modern art – it is a bit of fun, it can be eye-opening, the response is purely subjective and you’ll definitely see some crazy stuff,” said Phillips.
But is the work good?, Phillips questions, which is the key limitation of awards.
“We should not fool ourselves into thinking that interesting work equals effective ads. Sometimes it might be true, but in many cases it is not,” she said.
“The issue is that awards are graded by creatives, not consumers. Creatives are not normal people and they are not the target audience for any ads I’ve ever seen.”
Barnfield tunes in every year to learn the directions the very best work is taking them, he says. The key trends identified this year were data and AI.
“Purpose still has a place. Data continues to give campaigns new dimensions. The flavour of the festival this time around was AI, with shortlists littered with valiant attempts to stand out from the crowd,” he said.
It was refreshing to discover that, for all the new horizons explored, this year the agencies were reminded of where they’ve come from, said Barnfield.
“The Outdoor Grand Prix was awarded to British Airways ‘A British Original’ – a whopping 512 unique executions that celebrate every reason we fly,” he said.
“This campaign confirmed that, for the meantime, humans powered with insight and clever wordplay can outperform what Chat GPT can do.”
Blackley (pictured right) from M&C Saatchi said what’s clearly shining is innovative problem solving for clients and causes.
“Innovation to solve business problems (Fit Chix), to drive awareness (Digital Nation) and in creating participatory advertising (Flipvertising),” he said.
“I’m also a big fan of Furphy ‘What the truck’.”
For Blackley, he believes that’s innovative outdoor, which is more interesting than some of the straightforward work that scored higher accolades.
“I say that because it has dimension as an idea and is a beautiful articulation of the brand platform,” he said.
Philips from Luma Research notes a campaign from Squarespace, ‘The Singularity’, starring Adam Driver.
This ad launched during the Super Bowl to promote the website building platform to small businesses and people with side hustles and was a Silver winner at Cannes in 2023, she said.
“There is no doubt that the idea is creative and that the production quality is outstanding – it is like a short film,” said Phillips.
“The agency clearly had a blast making it. But from the consumer perspective, it was not impactful. It was one of the lowest performing ads at Super Bowl this year. Consumers didn’t remember the ad, they were confused by it and they couldn’t link it to the Squarespace brand.”
Because of this focus on ‘interesting work’, very rarely do campaigns for ordinary brands with ordinary briefs succeed, said Phillips.
“Very rarely do we see a campaign that connects to consumers and how they think and feel. The ads that win are the weird, the wacky or the wonderful,” she said.
“Many of them are linked to important social issues like climate change, gender equality, domestic violence or human trafficking. Very few are about banking, beans, biscuits or bread.”
Like Phillips, Barnfield feels it’s important to look beyond the quantity and consider the quality of the metal.
“The Monkeys brought home the Dan Weiden Titanium Grand Prix (The Government of Tuvalu ‘The First Digital Nation’), the award that recognises the most boundary-pushing thinking of the festival. If you could only win one Lion, this would be it. And Australia did,” he said.
Simkins said if people start getting ideas similar to Fit Chix and Tuvalu (which are innovative at the very least) at a scale that can compete with the US and the UK, then they will see a difference.
“Creativity for good, has become the norm and that trend continues,” he said.
Blackley said what he loved most of the Australian winners was that they felt effortless and real.
“There wasn’t a sense to me that they were made to ‘game’ Cannes; it just happened to be smart thinking that rose through the clutter,” he said.
Blackley was a juror this year and the brief to them all, he said, was to really consider business results and the degree of difficulty in the entered work.
“It’s a turning point that has played into Australia’s hands. It’s clear that the usually silent judging majority in the room were totally onboard with that directive which will only further benefit our clients and the industry in the years to come,” said Blackley.
Phillips (pictured right) said in her opinion, great weighting should be given to the success of those ‘ordinary’ brands that have great ads that succeed.
“The Monkeys clever ad is also one of the most effective on TV at the moment – it is highly engaging through its use of humour, it is memorable, has a clear message and leaves people feeling good about Macpac. It is an example of an interesting ad that is also effective.”
The question of Australia’s success at Cannes, notes Phillips, is not about whether the Australian industry is making good ads.
She said it shouldn’t be the barometer for the success of the industry, rather, people should be focused on creating ads that work to grow their brands.
“Certainly, when times are tough, brands need to do more with less and have a short-term focus on sales and acquisition,” said Phillips.
The industry isn’t seeing many clients with a long-term brand building view at the moment – it is mostly about surviving to the next quarter or half year, she said.
“Do clients have the budget, time and appetite to allow their agencies creative freedom to come up with something a bit wacky or interesting? Or should we be focused on celebrating the small wins?”
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