David Blecken
Jun 23, 2017

Japan at Cannes: The work that cut through

A mobile Grand Prix offsets an absence of big wins in the categories Japan is more commonly known for.

Hakuhodo's 'Washi Lingerie'
Hakuhodo's 'Washi Lingerie'

It's been a slightly subdued year for Japan with no big Cyber or Design wins, but there have been surprising victories in other areas. So far, Japanese entrants have picked up a total of 32 Lions. The highlight has been the work around Seem, a smartphone-based male fertility testing kit produced by Recruit, which has won Japan’s only Grand Prix so far. The initiative was supported by Dentsu Y&R and won the top prize in the Mobile category, marking Dentsu Y&R’s first Grand Prix in 21 years. The last was for Volvo’s ‘Safety Pin’.

Campaign sought to clarify Dentsu Y&R’s role in the work, bearing in mind that the agency (the main recipient of the award) said in an earlier interview that it did not create the product or the application, but focused on promoting it. (Cannes Lions stipulates that the focus of the Mobile category is “device-driven creativity”.)

A spokesperson for Seem confirmed that Recruit used in-house technology resources to develop the mobile assets, but said the company worked with Dentsu Y&R to improve the application “so that it would have the credibility and accessibility we wanted to reach the broadest audience”. Terry Savage, the chairman of Cannes Lions, said he had met a representative from Recruit and was “satisfied by their assurances of Dentsu Y&R’s involvement in the development” of the app.

The Seem campaign also won Gold and Silver Lions in Mobile, and a Bronze in the Glass category—a first for Japan in a category focused on work to combat gender inequality. The Glass Grand Prix winner was McCann New York’s ‘Fearless Girl’, which also won the PR Grand Prix. While the Fearless Girl statue is not universally loved, it’s a reminder that even in 2017, you don’t always need technology to make a strong impression.

PR winners from Japan included Dentsu’s ‘Second Life Toys’ (a personal favouite of ours that was also among the predictions by four industry pundits) and ‘Glicode’, also by Dentsu for Ezaki Glico. ‘Second Life Toys’ also won a Bronze in Health and Wellness. Work for Panasonic and END ALS was also awarded, but nothing stood up to the simple but powerful ‘Meet Graham’, a road safety initiative from Australia by Clemenger BBDO.

Twitter’s work from the US dominated the Outdoor category, but Ogilvy’s campaign for Sagawa Shoyu and TBWA Hakuhodo’s 'Green Light Run' for Adidas also won Silver and Bronze awards respectively. The Adidas campaign went on the win Silver and Bronze in the Creative Data category, and Bronze in Cyber.

Cyber is usually a strong category for Japan, but this year Sweden came out on top with a campaign for Bank of Aland. Japanese winners included Dentsu’s ‘Draw and Release’ for Samsung and Hakuhodo’s ‘Gravity Cat’ for Sony PlayStation (which three of our pundits also predicted would win an award).

There was also no Design Grand Prix for Japan this year—that honour went to a Thai property company for reinterpreting the football pitch. But Japanese agencies did win a number of other awards in the category. Dentsu’s ‘Study of Human Being’ and Hakuhodo’s ‘Washi Lingerie’ (as predicted by AKQA’s Claudia Cristovao) won Silver and Bronze Lions, and McCann won Silver for its work for Amazon Fashion. In Product Design, TBWA Hakuhodo’s COGY, an innovative wheelchair, won Bronze.

Japan failed to make a mark in the Innovation, Direct, and Promo & Activation and Music Entertainment categories. Cannes Lions will announce the final winners over the weekend.

Emily Tan contributed reporting to this article.

Campaign Japan

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