Olivia Parker
Jun 22, 2019

Why no work from China made the 80-strong Digital Craft shortlist

Isobar's chief creative officer Chris Chen explains the challenges work from China still faces when seeking medals at Cannes; and talks us through the decision to award the first ever Digital Craft Grand Prix to a campaign about a technology that doesn't yet exist.

Chris Chen
Chris Chen

“Cannes in China is still important. It’s iconic, I think, the dream for marketers and agency people.”

Just one of the reasons Chris Chen, the chief creative officer of Isobar, based in Shanghai, was so happy to be back on the Riviera this year, his third in a row. The festival has a welcome different feel this year compared to his first visit in 2017, he said, when it felt more like the tech show CES. “This year we’re talking more about humanity. We still have data, we still have AI...but this year so many things target humanity [as well],” he said.

Happy to be back in the sunlight on the Dentsu Aegis Network pier after five days of heated debate as part of the Digital Craft jury, chopping down over 1,000 entries to a shortlist of 80 and then 23 metal winners, Chen says he’s proud of the rigour with which he and his fellow jurors chose to award the category’s first ever Grand Prix to “Address the Future”, by the Danish agency Virtue for Carlings’ Digital Collection.

The campaign tackles the paradoxical idea that on the one hand, people love showing off their style on social media, but on the other, they want to reduce production waste harming the environment. It proposes a “digital fashion collection”, in which virtual clothes are adjusted to fit pictures people submit of themselves by a ‘3D tailor’.

“If someday Chanel, or Gucci, these kind of brands, start to sell their digital assets, this will change the whole industry,” said Chen. His jury was completely divided down to the last vote over whether to award the Grand Prix to this campaign or the Huawei-FCB Inferno project helping deaf children to read stories, StorySign, he said. But Address The Future’s forward-looking proposition won: even though technology doesn’t support this idea yet, it will over the next five years, said Chen. “It still inspired us, and it’s a totally digital craft idea.”

No work from China was among the shortlist of 80 this year, “an issue” Chen attributes to some key challenges.

The first is, invariably, political: “You can see so many works in Cannes talking about social issues, talking about political issues  – but in China you can’t say that. Well, not that you can’t say it, you can say it, but… brands don’t want to say that because it is dangerous, it is a risk.” In terms of addressing social issues, Chinese campaigns tend to stay on the less contentious side, touching on topics like missing children, or deaf people, Chen said, rather than more controversial problems.

Other issues are cultural. “Cannes is still a western awards so you don’t need to tell people what is Halloween, what is Christmas. But if I want to explain to you what is Dragon Boat Festival, about the history, it would take one minute 30 seconds, but I only have 2 minutes [for the film], Chen pointed out.

He also said that many of the subtleties of Chinese campaigns or wording get lost in translation to English subtitles, a challenge when “80%” of the jury is western or only knows English.

Chen thinks China’s strengths will come out in work entered in the mobile or innovation categories thanks to its advanced mobile environment. Indeed, a campaign Isobar worked on for KFC, ‘KFC Christmas Pocket Store’, just won Isobar a Gold Lion in Creative Ecommerce, extending the successful brand-agency partnership that took the Grand Prix in Digital Craft last year for the VR music video, ‘Aeronaut’.

(The same campaign also won two Gold Lions for Ho Communications Shanghai in the Mobile category.)

After spending this week at Cannes, surrounded by the “humanity” he has noticed, Chen says he has already suggested to the CMO of KFC that their next project should put people at its core, not only products.

“In China, before, we really focused on the thing, how do we do it, what do we want to do to sell this product, or this technology, but this year it makes me think we should do something more about people,” he said. “It will generate so many different ways to engage, touch their heart, to communicate.”

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