Cannes Lions 2022: recap on a grand win for the Middle East
Posted on 2022 Aug,24  | By Iain Akerman

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The region’s advertising industry is going from strength to strength, with a record-breaking two grands prix won at this year’s Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity

“For any advertising professional, it doesnt get any bigger than this,” says Anshuman Bhattacharya, creative director at Havas Middle East. “For me personally, this has been a lifelong dream. After 12 years of going through the list of Cannes-winning work and being in awe of them, the feeling of seeing our work  be up there too, is indescribable. Weve won the grand prix. But we sure arent done yet.”

Not content with the previous record of a single grand prix at Cannes, the region went and won two on the same day. One of those was a 5×3 metre liquid billboard temporarily located on one of Dubais most popular public beaches. The other was an ‘Elections Edition’ for An-Nahar by Impact BBDO that never went to print. For anyone paying even the most cursory of attention to regional creativity, this was a big moment for the Middle East’s advertising industry. 

“When I was in Cannes during the festival, walking up to the Palais to pick up the grand prix, I couldnt help but remember many, many years ago when we would be excited to see shortlists from our region,” says Dani Richa, chairman and chief executive of BBDO Middle East, Africa and Pakistan. “Today, winning our second grand prix is a confirmation that this long journey has gotten us to the best possible level in the world.”

Part of a much bigger campaign by adidas called Beyond The Surface, which launched the brands new line of inclusive swimwear, the liquid billboard had begun with a question, says Bhattacharya. What if every woman in Dubai could be given the opportunity to become an ambassador for the new line? As soon as the idea was presented to adidas the brand was onboard, although bringing the idea to life was far from straightforward.

“There were no shortage of challenges,” explains Bhattacharya. “From figuring out how to make a billboard that could hold over 10,000 gallons of water, to making it a visual spectacle that celebrated every woman diving in. With the strict safety regulations that Dubai follows, the billboard qualified as a swimming pool and had to follow the required protocols, making it the first billboard to need a lifeguard. Eventually, with the unrelenting dedication of the teams at Havas Middle East and Jack Morton Dubai, this farfetched idea became a reality in just three weeks.”

In total, over 200 women swam in the liquid billboard. Their experience was live-streamed on the citys largest digital screen in The Dubai Mall and personalised posters were produced using special underwater cameras. The resultant grand prix – as well as a gold, two silvers and a bronze – capped a stellar awards season for Havas, with the agency also picking up awards at D&AD, the Clios, and The One Show.

“This success did not happen by accident; it results from a clear vision communicated to the whole team, an alignment of expectations across all levels of the agency and the shared goals of many people with a lot of talent,” says Fabio Silveira, general manager of Havas Creative Middle East. “These results mark the end of a beautiful season for our agency and teams, but perhaps more importantly, it is the beginning of whats next.”

For Impact BBDO, its Cannes experience was as near a carbon copy of 2019 as humanly possible. Three years ago the agency won the region’s first ever grand prix for An-Nahar’s ‘Blank Edition’ and walked away with seven of the Middle East’s nine Lions. In June, it won a second grand prix, this time for An-Nahars The Elections Edition, and a further seven Lions.

The campaign originally emerged from a conversation between Jad El Rabahi, the agency’s business unit director (now general manager), and its chief creative officer, Ali Rez. “The chat revolved around how the Lebanese government was trying to delay upcoming elections by using excuses such as the shortage of paper and ink to print voting ballots,” explains Richa.

The agency’s creative team, which included regional executive creative director Joe Abou Khaled, executive creative director Marie-Claire Maalouf, creative director Yasmina Boustani, and senior copywriters Jarrad Pitts and Maher Dahdouh, then came up with the bold idea of “donating paper and ink saved from an unprinted edition, and thus eliminating the excuse altogether”, adds Richa. “Much credit to An-Nahars bravery that they immediately went ahead with the idea.” A QR code directed readers to the newspaper’s online version instead. 

Impact BBDO’s partnership with An-Nahar has been an extremely lucrative one in terms of awards. The Elections Edition picked up the print and publishing grand prix at the Dubai Lynx in March and a Yellow Pencil at D&AD in May. The agency’s work for the Lebanese daily has also led to a host of other accolades across the world.

“The collaboration with Impact BBDO is challenging,” admits Nayla Tueni, An-Nahars editor-in-chief and chief executive. “They challenge themselves and they challenge me and I challenge them more and more. It’s very important to have this understanding and to think the same way. To want to be courageous and to have crazy ideas; and with those ideas impact society and make changes, or provide the pressure to make a change and raise a voice.”

One man who’s no stranger to the challenges of the advertising industry is Ali Ali. The director of Heineken’s ‘The Night is Young’, which picked up a film gold for Good People, had his job cut out directing a cast of vaccinated elderly ravers enjoying a night out on the town. Created by Publicis Italy and Le Pub, the film celebrated the lifting of Covid-19 restrictions and encouraged people to make the most of the end of lockdown.

“Making ‘The Night is Young’ was an incredible challenge,” says Ali, who worked alongside producer Sarah Touma and DOP Pierre Mouarkech. “We had 40 cast members over 70, we were shooting overnight (I was spiking their drinks with Red Bull just to keep them up), and we were outdoors in an unlikely June rainstorm in southern Athens. We had six hours of darkness to get everything done before the sun came out. Super stressful. Maybe the most stressful of my career. But in the end it paid off and the gold lion for ‘The Night is Young’ officially made 2022 – my 12th year – my most awarded year to date.” 

Elsewhere, Horizon FCB Dubai picked up three silvers for its Breackchains with Blockchainsinitiative, TBWA\Raad Dubai landed a silver for KFCs ‘ChickenStock’, VMLY&R Commerce Dubai took home a silver for Twitter’s #FeminineArabic campaign, and Keko Dubai was awarded a bronze in film craft for its Drive2Extremes campaign with Porsche.

“The Middle East is definitely on the right track when if comes to its creative industry,” believes Silveira. “Weve gone from one single grand prix in history to two on the same night. We won the presidents choiceas a region at the last Cresta Awards because we have recently ‘emerged as a powerhouse of creativity’. We have the best talent in the world flocking to the region to work on brands and projects that are led globally by offices in our countries. We have the exposure, people, brands and will to make this region a beacon of creativity for the world, and if there is one thing that Ive come to learn about this region, its that this is the place where what once seemed impossible can come to life.

“We do need, however, to come together as a sector. When more and more global companies look to the Middle East as a cluster of creative talent that can lead global campaigns, when top level talent from across the world consider coming to Dubai, all the agencies in the region can benefit from that.”