Gemma Ross
Jun 22, 2016

Cannes 2016: Asian storytelling feels over-engineered, less authentic

Jury member Gemma Ross on the Promo & Activation Lions.

The 2016 Promo & Activation Jury
The 2016 Promo & Activation Jury
In the wee hours of Monday morning, after 17 hours of deliberating, we emerged from a dark room in the Palais with an impressive list of Lions and an exceptional Grand Prix winner. Over the past six days our jury of 25, led by our esteemed President, Rob Rielly, hadembraced, analysed and debated 3,452 entries from 17 countries.

What was clear from the outset was this category is by far the most relevant and exciting for the times. I’d go as far as saying a showcase of some of the best work in the festival. The opportunity to connect brands with existing and potential consumers via meaningful interactions has never been so fertile.

There wasn’t a sector or category not investing in ways to bring to life their purpose, products and positioning in market via promo and activation. Agencies and brands from every corner of the planet used heavyweight creative, innovation, and product-design thinking to capture the attention of their audiences.

More Cannes 2016 coverage

This year Asia was well represented, with more than 13 campaigns being shortlisted (some more than once) in the top 10 percent of entries. However, out of a total of 107 Lions awarded, only five were from the Asian region [Editor's note: Unlike our own counts, the author has not included Australia and New Zealand in this total]. Given Asia’s creative talent, technology, population, and economic power it has the potential to become one of the most dominant creative communicators in the world.

Here are some of my key takeouts from this year’s judging in relation to Asia.

Lost in translation? Nope

The thought that Asian work is lost in translation at international awards shows like Cannes is incorrect. Cannes curates juries where all regions are well represented, and once shortlisted there is much discussion around cases with the opportunity for regional representatives to provide market context.

Asian storytelling: Over-engineered

Where leading markets USA, Australia, New Zealand, UK and Europe rise above others including Asia is their compelling storytelling ability. From the first round of judging, the insight, creative idea, and impact instantly resonates. There were many campaigns from Asia that were commended for their core idea but the case was over-engineered, making it feel complex and less authentic. These entries having no chance of getting under the skin of the jury, which is the response entrants want to set out to achieve.

Universal thinking: more needed

Some of the this year’s strongest campaigns were local at heart but had universal appeal. Ideas that solved local business problems but inspired a global industry, had the ability to scale internationally, or set a new benchmark for the category as a whole. There is more opportunity for Asia to be creating work that is led by Asia and international in outlook.

New-world communications

This year’s awards show winners prove that the world’s most progressive brands (big and small) are focused on solving commercial problems through experiences, new products and services, and platforms that enrich consumers daily lives and become part of the cultural fabric. Campaigns need not only to generate leads and revenue but also to become newsworthy, go viral, and raise the bar for the category. With Asia’s focus on innovation and technology, the region is well placed to embrace this thinking.

Client-agency partnerships solve problems

This year there was an increase in genuine partnership between clients and agencies to make new-world communications work possible. Ideas that required not only the insight and creative solutions but clients to commit research and development resources that collaborate with the creative process and buy into brave new business models. A great example of this type of thinking from Asia was the Bajaj-V. An award winning piece from India that unified a nation and created an additional revenue stream for the brand.

Commercial vs charity work

As a jury we made the call to be tough on charities and celebrate brands doing purposeful work. Although there was some great work being done for deserving causes we made sure we looked at it through the same lens as brands. We seperated our emotions and ensured it stood shoulder-to-shoulder with commercial campaigns that were unique and impactful. An award winning piece from Thailand, Samsung's Touchable Ink in partnership with The Association of the Blind was a campaign from the region that stood out for me. There is a real opportunity for commercial brands in Asia to collaborate with charities and organisations do good things for the community. 

Gemma Ross is co-founder and director of New Zealand PR agency Hustle & Bustle.


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