In 1954, the ad industry made history. Inspired by the International Film Festival and the Screen Advertising World Association, it launched the International Advertising Film Festival. Since then, there have been 61 Cannes international advertising festivals (or the Cannes Lions Festival of Creativity, as it has come to be known). Over 80 more countries’ work has been added to the mix and the number of entries has grown from 187 in 1954 to over 36 000 in 2014. Wayne Bishop gives his view on award festivals and the place they hold in the media sector.
It’s an unbelievably diverse mix of cultures, thoughts and ideas, inspiring talent from all over the world to raise their sights to invisible horizons. Out of all the words used to describe this festival, ‘progression’ is probably the most definitive expression of a culture that lives and breathes ideas.
For if we are not progressing with our ideas, what’s the point?
But how do you define progression? In an advertising agency, you would probably relegate it to some form of numerical cohort. In 2013, an agency may have walked away with 59 international awards. In 2014, this number grew to 65. Can we safely assume that this agency is progressing? What if it isn’t? What if billings were down, margins were declining and staff morale was lower than my grandad’s nuts? Would we still assume this agency had a good year? The sad truth is that within some circles, this agency would have been hailed as the “jewel in the crown of a global network” or “a promising independent with wings to soar”. Sound familiar? That’s because we’ve heard this track before. In fact, it’s so familiar that we can even recite the adjectives like a hit single. For this reason, something had to change and change it did.
In 2004, client attendance at Cannes was about 5% of all the delegates. This year, it was 25%. At first glance, this is like your parents gate-crashing a hot new club you’ve been frequenting. Naturally, your behaviour will change. Instead of getting hopelessly trashed and hitting on anything with two legs, you’re probably more inclined to take things a bit easier. Hell, you might even start acting like the hipster you’ve been pretending to be and have a civilised conversation at the bar with the adults. But is this all bad? Personally, I can’t see how many readers might enjoy this scenario, until they find out that the adults are the ones writing their next paycheck.
You see, the Cannes Lions Festival of Creativity is not so much a celebration of ideas in their purest form; instead, it’s become a global shopping mall for clients. The aisles are the categories, the manufacturers are the ad companies and each client walks down the aisle looking for the perfect complement to the ‘wine’ he or she’s just bought. Occasionally, clients might even identify key talent they want their current agency networks to employ. Genius!
Since Cannes is the biggest advertising festival of its kind in the world, it sets the tone for the rest of the regional and country-specific award festivals. I have yet to find an advertising award festival in Kazakhstan or North Korea but in most countries the trend is not too dissimilar to what happens at Cannes annually. And because clients are now the celebrity agents of the global advertising stage, their requirements have been subtly weaved into the judging criteria. Have a look at any entry form in the last five years and you will find that it has a results section and, more often than not, asks you to demonstrate some form of collaboration. Basically, clients want something that works but they also want their roster agencies to play nicely together. It’s no use winning an award without justifying the reason for the communication in the first place. In addition, you’ll never get something across the line unless you promise to include the tea lady from a competitive agency as a collaborating partner.
The biggest change, in my opinion, is within the media industry. For the first time, we have a plethora of award festivals from which to choose and can start looking forward to using some of our trophies as doorstops. From the Apex awards to the Loeries and from Johannesburg to Venice, finally we have a growing community of media practitioners interested in progressing our corner of the industry playing field.
The Festival of Media Awards (FMA), which launched in 2007 with a view of bringing together the brightest minds in media, is testament to media innovation becoming a powerful benchmark for the relationship between creativity and results. The festival has been so successful that not only has it had double and triple digit growth in attendance year on year, but it has also launched region-specific festivals, such as FMA Asia and FMA LatAm (Latin America). Will FMA Africa be next?
Who knows, but isn’t it wonderful that this edition of The Media is dedicated to the incredible talent we have in this country? And isn’t it wonderful that later this year, we will also be celebrating the incredible work we have produced at the media industry’s first-ever Advertising Media Association of South Africa (Amasa) Awards? This is all thanks to those adults who dared venture into our secret, guarded domain with the promises of international advertising fame. And let’s be honest, no media person has ever been afraid of a drink with the adults at the bar.
I am excited at the prospect of one day achieving international fame for the South African media industry as a whole. We have a lot to offer the world and it’s time our ideas spread across the globe. The health of our industry is looking up. We have festivals and awards celebrating people (MOST Awards), inspiring work (Amasa Awards), digital excellence (Bookmarks) and effective campaigns (Apex). The only thing left to say is congratulations to the MOST Awards recipients and to all media practitioners for finally daring to let the spotlight potentially shine on them.
Note: The Amasa Awards will take place on 16 October. It aims to celebrate ‘all-rounder’ media campaigns that are are based on sound insights, underpinned by great ideas, followed through with perfectly executed strategy to achieve outstanding and measurable results. The renowned Roger Garlick Award remains an integral part of the formalities as the overall winner of the Amasa Awards will be awarded the Roger Garlick Grand Prix of 2014. Tickets are charged at R400 per person and as well as a top class awards ceremony and live entertainment will also include welcome cocktails, canapés, a three course dinner with cool drinks, wine, beer and malt on Amasa (other drinks for your own account). To book your tickets or table click here.
This story was first published in the September 2014 issue of The Media magazine.