To Cannes and beyond...
Posted on June 14, 2017 | By Iain Akerman

As the region’s advertisers and agencies decamp to the south of France, what are their chances of returning home happy?

Is the region’s advertising industry keeping pace with the levels of change evident in the rest of the world? We’re about to find out.

The Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity kicks off on 17 June, promising an unending supply of chilled rosé, the occasional scandal, and a peak into the future of advertising.

It should be an interesting year. The judging process for a number of categories has been altered, juries have shrunk, a dedicated area for start-ups will launch as part of Lions Innovation, and a number of new initiatives are to be rolled out, including ‘Braindate’, which aims to combine digital technology with real-world networking.

The percentage of female jurors is also up to 43 per cent, representing a record for the festival, while Hollywood actress, producer and activist Halle Berry will be discussing how emerging media platforms and technology can connect global audiences to personalised interactions and experiences.

Indeed, it is “innovation, creative technology, experimentation, co-creation, data and – at the heart of it all – storytelling”, says Walid Kanaan, chief creative officer at TBWA\Raad, that Cannes is all about.

“In fact, the UAE was ranked the fourth most creative country in the world according to the 2016 Big Won report. We are, however, falling short on many levels.”—Walid Kanaan

“Augmented reality, VR, 360 videos, immersive tech and many other innovations from Google, Facebook and Samsung last year were just the appetisers,” says Alok Gadkar, general manager and executive director at The Classic Partnership Advertising in Dubai. “I’m expecting the full course this year, especially in the field of tech-application. New stories will definitely be told and the tech for storytelling will most surely be the highlight. Is there going to be ‘Dreams of Dali’ version 2.0? Looking forward to seeing that.”

"There are many agencies in this region which are within the pace of the world but not as frequently and as consistently as they should.”-- Alok Gadkar

What are the region’s chances of success? It’s hard to tell, but it will no doubt be an eventful week for agencies from across the Middle East and North Africa. They’ll also be hoping to better the 26 Lions won in 2016. With no titanium awards, no regional firsts, no shortlists whatsoever in a number of categories, and a hugely disappointing showing in film, last year was not a classic. And although the awards haul of 26 was identical to 2015, it was less than the high point of 31 attained in 2013.

“For the last couple of years the region’s performance has been less than expected, for various reasons,” says Nassib Boueri, chief executive for the MENA region at Wunderman. “One of them is that the CSR direction that many agencies took over the years has been over exploited. The other is that some key players are no longer at agencies and doing awards work. I believe this year will be more or less the same.”

“For the last couple of years the region’s performance has been less than expected, for various reasons.” -- Nassib Boueri

Not all agree, including Kanaan. “I believe the Dubai Lynx showed some fresh, solid work that has a lot of international appeal and has strong potential to convert into Lions,” he says. “We already witnessed healthy performances at some of the toughest award shows, such as D&AD and One Show. This winning pace should continue.”

Hopes appear to be pinned to a handful of campaigns, not least Memac Ogilvy’s ‘Tummyfish’ and ‘Spuble’, Impact BBDO’s ‘Sydlexia’, ‘The line-up song’ from FP7/CAI, and J. Walter Thompson Saudi Arabia’s ‘The Campaign That Never Saw The Light of Day’ for Saudi Telecom. There are others, including J. Walter Thompson’s films for Egyptian newspaper brand Mada Masr, which won a grand prix in film craft at the Dubai Lynx, and ‘The Hammam Fighter’ from FP7 Tunisia.

“The region has clearly marked its position in the international creative arena and managed to maintain it,” says Kanaan. “In fact, the UAE was ranked the fourth most creative country in the world according to the 2016 Big Won report. Lebanon was also featured in the top 10 countries in previous years. We are, however, falling short on many levels. While the focus is still maintained on classical categories such as print, outdoor and radio; technology, data and innovation are still not up to international standards. Agencies and clients need to invest more in these areas.

“The ratio of proactive entries versus authentic campaigns is [also] reaching alarming levels. Don’t get me wrong, being proactive is necessary; however, entering iconic work that is based on a client brief with mass exposure should always be our aim. We should focus more on brands. In recent years, the region’s winning entries were mostly social and for non-profit organisations.”

So, is the region’s advertising industry keeping pace with change in the rest of the world?

“The answer is a simple yes and no,” replies Gadkar. “Yes, there are many agencies in this region which are within the pace of the world but no, not as frequently and as consistently as they should. While the ‘usual suspects’ are trying, a huge lot are still struggling.

“Part of the reason lies with clients and decision makers. Perhaps they should unlearn what they know in order to learn what is new today. To improve, we have to be ready to accept the unknown, be ready to take risks, be bold to experiment and be prepared for the worst. In that way, we can achieve greatness. And respect from the world. Easier said than done. But not impossible.”