A Lynx to remember? Or one to forget?
Posted on April 15, 2019

Did the most deserving campaigns win, is a blank newspaper worthy of three grands prix, and is the Dubai Lynx in danger of being swallowed up by corporate social responsibility?

For the first time in its history, the Dubai Lynx awarded grands prix in every category. Whether this is a source of comfort or concern depends on your outlook.

It was also the fifth time in the awards’ history that an agency – this time Impact BBDO – won both agency and network of the year. For the Dubai office and for the wider BBDO network it was therefore an understandably memorable evening, with two campaigns in particular – the ‘Blank Edition’ for Lebanese newspaper An-Nahar, and BBDO Pakistan’s ‘Truck art child finder’ – landing seven grands prix between them.

“The juries were really impressed with the overall standard of the work,” says Adrian Botan, global executive creative director at McCann Worldgroup and president of both the integrated and the film, print & publishing, radio & audio and direct juries. “While the average is, well... average, pretty much as everywhere in the world, the highs are potential winners in every major competition globally. 

“There was one exception though, and that was in film, where the body of work was just mind-blowing. To the point that, at a given moment, we just had to stop and ask ourselves if we’d need to readjust our criteria. We realised there’s still a lot of love for film and particularly TV commercials in this region, with markets like Egypt and the UAE in the lead. The level of craft, the authenticity, the quality of the insight made film a very vibrant and strong category.”

“While the average is, well... average, pretty much as everywhere in the world, the highs are potential winners in every major competition globally.”--Adrian Botan, global executive creative director at McCann Worldgroup and president of both the integrated and the film, print & publishing, radio & audio and direct juries.

The total number of entries stood at 2,406, up on last year’s 1,687 but still down on 2017’s high point of 2,632. The bulk of those entries (1,427) came from the UAE, with Lebanon (283) and Egypt (264) in second and third place respectively. The upsurge can partly be explained by a return to the fray of the Publicis Groupe, which had boycotted all awards during 2018.

“It was a celebration of the simple. And I loved that,” says Paul Banham, regional executive creative director at J.Walter Thompson Gulf. “The best stuff I saw was bankrolled very much on the cheap. That’s healthy and a good discipline for everyone to follow.”

It was a good night for TBWARaad, which bagged a handful of grands prix, and OMD, which was named media network of the year. The Golden Palm, meanwhile, went to Big Kahuna Films, while Cairo’s Kijamii won the coveted independent agency of the year title.

There were, however, issues. Some pertain to decisions the organisers have made, others to the work itself. For the former, there are concerns over work being re-entered in successive years, although this is not necessarily against the rules. “It was disappointing to see a lot of work brought back from last year,” admits Banham. “The way forward isn’t to look back at yesterday’s scoreboard.”

“What is glaringly missing is a sense of positiveness in the business. Too many people complaining afterwards about small issues. We are so lucky to have this show and we all need to be championing it.”--Paul Shearer, chief creative officer at Impact BBDO

Then there is the impact that countries outside of the MENA region are having on the outcome of the special awards. Up until 2010 the Lynx was a purely MENA event, with the Spikes covering Asia and Eurobest catering to the European market. Since 2015, however, both Pakistan and Turkey, for example, have been eligible to enter. Cannes Lions says this is because of “cultural crossover within the region”, yet Pakistan’s increased input (it had 90 entries and won four grands prix) was instrumental in ensuring BBDO Worldwide won the network of the year title. Therefore an awards show that was originally launched to cater to the Arab world is losing its unique identity. To add insult to injury, MENA agencies are unable to enter either the Spikes or Eurobest.  

In the Lynx’s defence, there is a sizeable Pakistani population living and working in the Gulf, while the world of communications is increasingly dominated by networks that cross multiple borders. The doesn’t, however, necessarily justify the Pakistan’s inclusion.

“Our Pakistan executive creative director, Ali Res, sits on our floor in Dubai,” says Paul Shearer, chief creative officer at Impact BBDO. “The Dubai office has helped with his ideas and vice versa. This is what a true network does. I look after the whole region and this includes Pakistan, Turkey and South Africa. That’s all I know and what I have been asked to do. Whether it is illegible for the Lynx is not up to me. All I know is Ali Res and the Pakistan agency’s work has now been in the top three agencies for two years running now. Surely great work should be great work. Work that inspires and motivates other agencies to do better themselves.”

If Pakistan’s involvement in the Lynx is questionable, its wins are too. Take the grand prix-winning ‘Truck art child finder’ by BBDO Pakistan. Although praiseworthy, it is identical in concept to Proximity Russia’s ‘UberSearch’, which turned Uber cars into mobile missing children ads back in 2017. Similarly, Impact BBDO’s ‘The Toxic Flag’ for the Waste Management Coalition in Lebanon was “inspired by John Gerrard’s art”, but is essentially the same idea. Both were CSR campaigns, of which there were a plethora at this year’s Lynx.

“I won’t comment on particular pieces, that would be a long debate if we were to start dissecting originality here, and we definitely won’t be able to settle it,” says Botan. “Fact is sometimes ideas repeat themselves just because the thinking process is similar, or because the entry points are common. When this happens I’m trying to award the best execution and the best strategic fit. Of course, when something is an outright rip-off work should not be awarded. So, please look at the winners again with this in mind.” 

“There were certainly some brilliant high notes. But in some places it did feel like a little bit of a lateral move from past years.”--Paul Banham, regional executive creative director at J.Walter Thompson Gulf

Of the 19 grands prix awarded, more than half were driven by corporate social responsibility. Is this a bad thing? Many would argue yes, especially considering the industry is built on commercial campaigns, not CSR. Eleven agencies won only for such work, and if there is 50 per cent more CSR work than commercial work winning, something is fundamentally wrong. Tellingly, there is also an  unwillingness from those within the industry to openly critique winning work or the agencies behind it. There are other questions, too. Were the judges of a high enough calibre? Were the juries, as is sometimes the case, blinded by orientalism? Should the practice of having one president across multiple categories be examined? (“Maybe varying things up a bit would lead to more diversity in winners, instead of bunching medals with a small number of projects,” says Banham). Was An-Nahar’s ‘Blank Edition’ really worthy of three grands prix? After all, blank editions, or blank front covers and columns at least, are nothing new.

“I can speak for a couple of those grands prix (print and integrated),” says Botan. “On one hand, the campaign got a lot of sympathy for advocating a struggling medium in a brilliantly simple, surprising way. On the other hand, the effort they made seemed to go all the way (printing a blank edition meant scrapping the ads, also no small feat for a struggling business). Finally this was one of the few ideas where integration grew the idea, instead of merely replicating the message as matching luggage.” 

What about the insinuation in the case film that the ‘Blank Edition’ pressured Lebanese politicians into forming a government? Isn’t that a stretch? And aren’t agencies in general prone to exaggerating the impact of their work?

“We are aware of how politics works, and of the limited influence advertising has,” says Botan. “In the end this was a commercial campaign, so what mattered more was the impact it had on the brand.”

What the industry is keenly aware of is that the region only has one Dubai Lynx. If sentiment towards the festival falls, or if the organisers believe that it is becoming less financially viable, then it could be lost altogether. That would not only be a huge loss to the region’s communications community, but a slap in the face to all those who have worked hard over the years to champion the region’s creativity.

“What is glaringly missing is a sense of positiveness in the business,” says Shearer. “Too many people complaining afterwards about small issues. We are so lucky to have this show and we all need to be championing it… Without it this region will have no motivation or voice in the global advertising world.

We need to support it with all our hearts and might.”

Perhaps the greatest criticism, then, should be reserved for the agencies themselves.

“There were certainly some brilliant high notes,” says Banham. “But in some places it did feel like a little bit of a lateral move from past years. Clearly, pressures that our clients feel are our pressures, too. Budgets are tighter, performance expectations are greater. And it all impacts the work. I saw some great stuff, but maybe not as much great stuff as previous years.”