Audacity, Romanian style

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Tom O’Keefe
Tom O’Keefe

If you look at the big winners at this year's Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity, amid the highly anticipated usual suspects you'll see a name that sounds more like computer software or a robot than a brand: Rom.

In June, there were a lot of people walking around Cannes asking the same questions: What's a Rom? Who's a Rom? And how the hell did it beat out The Coca-Cola Co. and Jay-Z for a Grand Prix?

Rom is a candy bar from Romania that's been around since the '60s. It's made with milk chocolate and a bit of rum flavoring. It may be the most famous national treasure from Romania since Nadia Comaneci won three gold medals at the 1976 Olympics.

On the surface, the American Rom campaign is an idea about a candy bar that lost its mojo and then, in one brilliant week of marketing, reignited it by simply switching out the Romanian flag with America's Stars and Stripes on its packaging. It's a campaign that humorously smashed Romanian patriotism against Western jingoism, and in doing so restored national pride while selling a ton of Romanian nougat and caramel.

Rom is a case study in big, brassy audacity. What makes Rom such a powerful success is that it's one of those ideas that started with no chance in hell — a taboo financial and political powder keg with sheer insanity written all over it. Somehow, miraculously, it prevailed. It's one of those ideas you can't believe they pulled off — a thought so wickedly surprising you'd have given your last sweet tooth to have been in the room when it was presented, just to see the clients' reactions.

Let us get this straight: you're asking us to change our package design based on the flag that millions died defending with the flag of the country that brought us wheatgrass smoothies and Lady Gaga? Where do we sign?! Kudos to McCann Erickson Bucharest for conceiving the idea, selling it, and perfectly producing it on the razor's edge 
between reality and farce, but I'd argue as much credit goes to the client that seemingly didn't compromise.

In the end, audacity is the reason American Rom won two Grand Prix Lions, one in the Direct Lions category and the other in the Promo & Activation Lions category. It did everything a huge idea should do: made us jealous, made us squirm, and inspired us to believe all those great ideas we leave behind because "the client will never buy it" aren't as irresponsible as we think. In fact, if we're not bringing these audacious ideas to our clients regularly, shame on us.

In a business too often based on safety, we must celebrate the people who put their careers on the line. Rom reminded us that you've got to be willing to risk it all to win it all. For that, we cry the tagline that ends their commercials: "Senzati tari Romanesti!"

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