Pushing the envelope at Cannes Lions

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"Sure, the work's great, but it's not good enough to win at Cannes." Have you heard your creative director rattle that assessment, her brow furrowed as she looks over an ad or a mail piece? That is the gold standard that is Cannes Lions.

Top agency creatives from all around the world this week are in the French Riviera resort of Cannes, applauding the best advertising creative produced in the preceding year. It used to be that Cannes Lions was associated primarily with print and television ads. Not so anymore. The Direct Lions, Cyber Lions and Promo Lions categories, since their introduction, have won worldwide loyalty in terms of entry submissions.

Consider the numbers for this year's competition. Promo Lions entries were up 26.36 percent in 2007 to 786 entries, from 622 last year; Direct Lions, at 1,689 entries, were 11.92 percent higher than last year's 1,509; and Cyber Lions jumped 8.35 percent to 2,711 entries, from 2,502 last year. The new Titanium & Integrated Lions category was up 60.4 percent to 324 entries, from 202 last year.

In other categories, Radio Lions was up 23.35 percent to 1,273; Media Lions

13.3 percent higher at 1,661; and Outdoor Lions grew 9 percent to 5,758. The only categories with fewer entries this year were Film Lions, down 7.94 percent to 4,474, and Press Lions, 5.45 percent lower at 6,984. But that's expected, keeping contemporary media spending patterns in mind.

All told, Cannes Lions attracted 25,660 entries for the 2007 festival, up

3.2 percent from 24,863 last year. The United States lead the submissions, with 3,569 entries. Germany was next with 2,310, and Brazil came in third with 2,203.

Any agency worth its salt now has to enter at Cannes Lions, simply because you compete with the best and are judged by the brightest. Talking to judges makes you understand the prestige involved.

Heather Higgins, executive vice president and executive creative director for direct at Draftfcb New York, is a judge at this year's event. She said young creatives in Europe are much more conceptual with mail. Also, she loves hobnobbing with fellow creative directors from around the world and returning home inspired.

"Being a creative person you need to take in stuff to be able to produce new ideas," she said.

Her fellow judge and compatriot, Rachael Heapps, chief creative officer for North America at Rapp Collins Worldwide, New York, said Cannes Lions is a real filter for good work. As an industry veteran, she is privy to the latest direct marketing work circulating in the market. She's seeing something really interesting.

"I think direct is becoming much more emotional in terms of connecting with people." Ms. Heapps said. "It's real creative that can compete at the brand level. It's doing as much for the brand." While it's a bit late to offer advice, agencies can prepare better for next year's festival. Ms. Heapps' key tip is worth heeding: Don't think of direct marketing as direct mail. Marketers should connect with consumers at every touch-point, including online, guerrilla tactics, mailers and all the emerging technologies at hand to surround the consumer.

From previous years, it's obvious Europeans (especially the Spaniards, the British and the Scandinavians), Australians, New Zealanders, Brazilians and Argentines have more fun with their advertising. Their humor is cheekier, more self-deprecatory. On the flip side, their mailers and commercials can afford to be. The markets are smaller than the United States and so are the stakes. But it helps to push the envelope stateside, too. Agencies should be a tad more courageous when presenting their clients with bold work not with the idea of winning awards, but winning customers.

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