Tham Khai Meng
May 8, 2015

Cannes predictions: Tham Khai Meng

Tham Khai Meng, worldwide chief creative officer for Ogilvy & Mather, shares his predictions for APAC work likely to be lauded at this year's festival.

MetLife avoided
MetLife avoided "Sentimental Cheesecake Land"

This is the first in a series of Cannes predictions we will be publishing in the run-up to this year's festival.

What is the point of advertising? It's a question I often ponder when reviewing ads. I don't mean, what's the point of turning up to work, although of course some ads make you wonder why you did. I mean, what are ads trying to do? At the very least they must change us, if only modestly. An ad that leaves the viewer in the same state as it found him or her is not an ad. It’s just expensive wallpaper. The campaigns chosen here all fulfill this simple requirement, one profoundly so.

First up is a TV spot for Ikea. I like it. It seeks to dramatise the unpromising proposition that the new catalogue is available. I particularly admire its simplicity. It sets up a simple premise: Talk about the ancient technology of the book in the language of the digital age. Imagine it—lifelong battery, instant on, touch technology, you just use your fingers to navigate, easily shared, download a copy to your mailbox etc. It's a long series of charming jokes and makes me smile. If anything could make me want a catalogue, this would. Kudos to the team as well for their ambition. A lot of teams would probably groan at being given a brief to advertise the catalogue. But wait! A horrible thought occurs to me. What if this is a junior team who have spent their whole life on Facebook? Maybe they’ve never seen a book made of paper before. Maybe they are on Facebook now busy ‘liking’ this cool new technology called the Book. Oh dear, I hope not.


There’s one type of commercial guaranteed to make my heart sink. A super-cute kid comes on speaking in a super-sweet voice about mommy and daddy. The intent is so obvious as they try to pick my emotional pocket. The Metlife spot from Hong Kong is not like that at all, but for a second or two you fear it’s going to be. We see an adorably sweet little girl write a load of sugary stuff in school about her dad. Here we go, I think, we are on the train to Sentimental Cheesecake Land. But no, the train changes track, the commercial subverts your expectations beautifully. Dad reads the letter. ‘Daddy lies' the girl writes, and suddenly we are in a different world. It's a great hook, and we are completely drawn in. Why does he lie? I won't spoil a great idea by revealing it. Suffice to say, when you find out you don't feel cheated or emotionally short-changed. It's great storytelling, packed with huge emotion, great performances from the dad and the little girl, and brilliantly told. I was touched.


Two pieces of work from Japan seem assured of a short straight walk to the stage at Cannes. Suntory Whisky ‘3D on the Rocks' features a computer-controlled 3D milling machine carving ice cubes into ornate shapes, such as a temple. The idea was, you could send in your own designs and the machine would carve it for you. Did it move people? Yes, it generated more than 5 million tweets. What happened if the people sent in rude images? Did the machine overheat? They don’t say.


Also from Japan is Lyric speaker. The blurb reminds us that when we transitioned to digital music we lost something: sleeve notes and lyrics. So here is a loud speaker that shows you the lyrics via projection and holograms. Great for Karaoke. Thinking about it, they are right. Lovingly poring over the album cover was an integral part of the ritual of listening to music on vinyl. Anyone old enough to remember the '60s will instantly understand. Although they do say if you can remember the '60s you weren’t there. In fact, that was the great thing about old album covers: the cardboard absorbed ambient smoke. After a few years you could get high just by sniffing the cover.


Finally, something else that feels as antiquated as vinyl: long copy ads. These are for a depression charity and they stopped me in my tracks. Four true stories that make a brilliant attempt to communicate the incommunicable experience of depression. A man who jumped off the Golden Gate and realised halfway down he didn't want to die. Amazingly, he survived. A woman whose dog committed suicide (truly it happens), and whose dog got more sympathy than she did when she had depression. A terrifying laboratory experiment conducted in the early '70s to induce clinical depression in a newborn monkey. A man who laments that his wife has to sleep every night with a corpse. And so on. Each one is a humdinger. The written word has had a lean time of it in advertising of late. For some reason we have lost faith with it. But words haven't lost their power, and these are some of the most powerful I've ever seen in an ad. Indeed, I once worked with a writer who suffered from depression. I bet he wishes he’d written these.

(Click the images below for giant, fully-readable versions)


Tham Kai Meng is worldwide chief creative officer for Ogilvy & Mather. He led the Film and Press juries at Cannes in 2012.


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