Japanese Cannes winners: grand vision sets design apart

While 2016 has not been a stellar year for Asia-Pacific at Cannes, Japan has a number of reasons to be proud.

Party's work for Narita Airport, which won Gold in the Design category
Party's work for Narita Airport, which won Gold in the Design category

Japan won a total of 46 awards—18 more than last year, and the third-highest number in Asia-Pacific after Australia (70) and New Zealand (57). Asia’s two other biggest markets, China and India, brought home a rather disappointing 9 and 27 awards respectively.

New possibilities in film

As was widely expected, Shiseido’s much-talked-about ‘High School Girl?’ was well received by juries in the Film and Film Craft categories, winning Gold in both.

Developed by Watts of Tokyo, a production company, the work is a reminder that advertising agencies do not, by any means, have a monopoly on ‘creativity’. It is also an example of smart use of media and of ‘PR thinking’ by a client: rather than spending big on TV, the online format enabled more detailed storytelling that subsequently gained a good amount of free exposure on TV.

Direct partnerships between brands and production companies or individual directors such as this are still uncommon, but look likely to grow as companies wake up to the potential of online content and invest in their own in-house creative teams.

‘Firefly Man’ by Nitto Tokyo and Geek Pictures for Ocedel also won Gold in the Film category and Bronze in Film Craft. In a recent interview with Campaign, Julie Thomas, chief creative coordinator at AOI Pro., praised the work as something that offered up “something new every time you watch it”.

The inaugural Entertainment category yielded further success for Japan, via Taiwan. ADK Taiwan’s ‘Little House of Moments’ for Uni-President, a touching series of bittersweet dramas set in a noodle shop, won Gold. The Grand Prix went to VRSE.WORKS from Los Angeles for ‘The Displaced’, a virtual-reality project for the New York Times.

Tech and media underwhelm

Japan did not feature in the Music category, however, which was dominated by Beyoncé and, representing Asia, BBDO Bangkok’s ‘Safe and Sound Music Player’ for LMG Insurance. The work aimed to help reduce the number of road accidents caused by people failing to concentrate on their surroundings while listening to music.

Given Japan’s advancement in the field of technology, one would have hoped for a stronger showing in the Cyber and Mobile categories too. Asia-Pacific’s performance was disappointing in both, with just three Gold Lions in Cyber (the US won 13) and one in Mobile (won by DDB Sydney). On the positive side, TBWA Hakuhodo’s ‘Giga Selfie’ for Tourism Australia was among the Gold winners in Cyber and took Bronze in Mobile.

Japan was absent from the top table in Media, a relatively strong category for Asia-Pacific that saw China, Australia, Thailand and New Zealand win Gold. The Grand Prix went to Y&R New Zealand for ‘McWhopper’ for Burger King. 

In PR, two Japanese entries won Bronze awards: Nissin’s ’10 Minute Noodle’ and Toyota’s ‘Open Road Project’, both by Dentsu. While Japan’s profile was relatively low, jury member Scott Kronick, president & CEO of Ogilvy PR Asia-Pacific, noted that the submissions—even those that did not win, such as Nissan’s ‘Knock Knock Cats’—were based on “strong local insights”. But commenting on Asia’s entries as a whole, Kronick said he, along with other judges, would like to have seen a lot more use of humour to convey messages.

Design champions focus on the future

Not surprisingly, it was in Design where Japan really excelled. The country took home a Grand Prix and 17 further Lions out of a total 111 awards. The top prize went to Panasonic’s ‘Life is Electric’ by Dentsu. Other standout entries included Party’s athletic vision for Narita Airport Terminal 3; IYAMADESIGN’s ‘MT EX’ work for Kamoi Kakoshi, which achieved the seemingly impossible by making masking tape interesting; and TBWA Hakuhodo’s ‘Surgeon Tryouts’ for the Kurashiki Central Hospital. The work was a rethinking of the recruitment process to help identify medical students with high potential to become top surgeons.

TBWA Hakuhodo's 'Surgeon Tryouts'
Shen Yiwen, a judge and founder of a Beijing-based brand consultancy, sees Japanese design as the strongest in the world. The best designs from Japan, Shen said, “are embedded with a grand vision for the company—not just focused on selling products, not even the outcome of the campaign.”

That approach may be controversial, but it can be seen as representative of a culture that is longer-sighted and more patient than many. According to Shen, Dentsu’s representative on the judging panel explained that the Grand Prix project aimed to “change people’s minds, people’s behaviour, people’s concepts of electricity and energy, even though the change may not be directly related to the consumption of the brand’s products. It was more future-looking.

“The Japanese are designing not for today, but for the future,” Shen concluded.

Panasonic's 'Life is Electric' by Dentsu


Campaign Japan

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