Cannes Lions 2016: The judges' verdict

Jurors at this year's Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity reflect on how their categories have evolved and the quality of 2016's entries and winners

Creative Data 

Tash Whitmey, chief executive, Havas Helia:
It wasn’t just the judges who were inspirational and challenging. 

It was that I was presiding over the second year of a category I see as being a game-changer for our industry: data and creativity. 

Data drives creativity, so why have we neglected it for so long and how thankful am I that we are now finally recognizing and rewarding those brands and agencies that are using the magic of data to fuel creative brilliance?

I led a group of incredibly smart people from diverse backgrounds to review, revel in, discuss, interrogate and debate a range of work.

This is still a new category and one that I see as being critical for guiding the industry on a subject that we all know we need to grasp but which many struggle to understand. We looked for work that would be inspiring to others, work that delivered simplicity out of complexity, and work where data and creativity were intrinsically linked.

We saw some inspiring work. We all left feeling that we had been challenged in our thinking and that, next year, this category will continue to push the boundaries of marketing — as it should.


Euan Hudghton, managing partner, PHD:
While nothing could be truly held up as the theme of this year’s Media Lions, there were three things that particularly resonated with the jury.

First, campaigns that focused on positivity shone brightly — perhaps as a counterbalance to much of the grimness and uncertainty 2016 has served up so far.

Second, agility and being able to adapt ideas mid-campaign was also well-received.

And third, the most successful work didn’t stop at the media strategy. The big winners were ambitious, creative ideas that maximised every avenue of communication available to them, stretching into areas such as product creation, distribution and retail.

In media terms, there were a lot of emojis on show, and ideas powered by or executed using live data feeds were abundant.

There was also some shit work. But not that kind of shit work. Poo — literally, in some cases — formed the center of a number of fun, memorable entries. Dog poo, bear poo — you name it. Ironically, I didn’t see any that used the emoji poo.

I had a great first Cannes jury experience. Given the quality of the work on show, anyone who has won a Media Lion this year should feel very proud of themselves indeed.


Vicki Maguire, ECD, Grey London:
I’m in bits. Seriously. Broken. I’ve sat through more than 160 case studies and films.

I’ve not been comparing type size or best use of outdoor; I’ve been weighing up the creative merits of female genital mutilation against child brides, inequality of pay against transgender discrimination. And, quite honestly, my moral compass is fucked.

I judged the Glass Lions. They’re not the Lady Lions or the "Vag" Lions, as someone on the Carlton terrace so eloquently put it.

The Glass Lion champions and celebrates work that has a positive impact on gender inequality, imbalance or injustice.

I shared the responsibility with documentary film-makers, strategists and policymakers, who were inspired and bewildered in equal measure by the advertising industry, the bravery of big brands to go against culture, governments and religious groups. The shameless "pink-washing" dark art of case-study writing.

I’ve been inspired, enraged and in tears — all before lunch.

I know some think the Glass Lion is a money-making Cannes scam. It isn’t. The entry fees go to related charities.

I’m heartened and saddened that it exists. But it shows we’re getting our house in order. Taking responsibility. 

What a shame every piece of awarded work isn’t judged this way.

Print & Publishing

Richard Denney, ECD, MullenLowe London:
After last year’s controversy over the choice of the Grand Prix, there was definitely a lot of pressure on every jury member and much discussion about our responsibility to deliver strong examples of brilliance in print to the world. Especially with the recent decline in entries for what was once the most-entered category in the whole festival. 

The good news is that the jury was strong, cared passionately about print and was united about the outcome. We made sure that anything that felt remotely scammy was discussed and we threw out a lot of weak, cheap work for products that we felt clients would never have invested in. (Which, for some reason, always includes biros and marker pens.)

Sadly, the entry numbers were down by roughly 10% — partly, I believe, due to clients spending their money in newer media and also because the young talent out there is enjoying playing in new media too. Hopefully, the introduction of publishing this year to the category — although not huge in entry numbers — will help refresh and inform clients and creatives of different ways to play around with the print medium.

My favorite campaign — and also the favorite of the majority of jurors – was, in my opinion, Grand Prix material. But it wasn’t eligible because it was in another category. People Against Suffering, Oppression and Poverty, which featured Muslim women wearing their national flags like headscarves, did win gold. It didn’t look like a traditional charity print campaign. It was provocative, iconic and very current. It made a massive statement and brought a huge issue to life in a very clever and unique way, and I loved everything about it. 

Choosing the Grand Prix was tough, and there was much debate around it. We discussed the quality of the writing, as well as the craft that went into it. And although neither was outstanding, we agreed that the power of the idea, and using print to start a conversation, was great. The open letter from Burger King to McDonald’s made global news quickly, with that very press ad from Burger King being held in the hands of news anchors live on TV. 

It shows the power of what a print ad can and should do — and, for that, it was a worthy winner. Now, it’s not the best-written piece and is by no means the perfect example of a beautifully crafted ad — but, in the end, it set out to do what it was meant to for Burger King and, boy, it made a lot of noise.

So what do we expect to see next year? I hope what we selected for gold and the Grand Prix will be liked and I hope it encourages people to think about falling in love with the medium again. The inclusion of publishing will definitely up the entries next year, and examples such as the gold-winning "Paradise hill" for domestic-violence awareness will inspire agencies, creatives, strategists, media partners and clients to think again when they are looking at their next brief. 


Malcolm Poynton, global chief creative officer, Cheil Worldwide:
Mobile is achieving the most exciting developments in our industry and this year’s jury celebrated the unique ways in which mobile connects brands with consumers.

The Grand Prix demonstrates the transformation of our relationship with a 165-year-old brand, and it might just help save a $176 billion industry along the way. It marks a real Wright brothers moment for mobile and how it can help news brands thrive.

If that sounds lofty for a mobile app, it is. The NYT VR app takes virtual reality beyond the wow factor to unlock levels of empathy and excitement like no other medium. Through its stories, you can glimpse the world of child refugees, join in candlelight vigils in Paris and go on a decade-long space journey seeking Pluto’s frigid heart.

The New York Times has taken this brave step with conviction and commitment, distributing more than 1.3 million headsets, setting up a VR department — with the industry’s first VR editor — and partnering General Electric, Mini and Chris Milk’s groundbreaking production company VRSE to deliver the highest-quality content.

In five short years, the Mobile Grand Prix has evolved from gifting a Coke to someone in another country to Google’s Cardboard project and now a VR app that opens our eyes, minds and hearts to brands, events and people across the globe.

Other entries demonstrated the power of mobile to engage and enable in ways previously inconceivable. The Sydney Opera House’s "#Comeonin," Samsung’s Blind Cap and Peru’s "#ForLife" are all fantastic examples of how mobile allows brands to play a more important role. The "Swedish number," "Whatsgerman," "Manboobs" and "Straight outta" campaigns all ingrained themselves into culture. Where all this will take us in 2017 is anyone’s guess — or should I say imagination? To help get us there, I encourage you to download the NYT VR app.


Richard Brim, ECD, Adam & Eve/DDB:
So, as I emerge from six days of sitting in a dark bunker under the Palais, having reviewed 5,300 pieces of outdoor work and surviving on MR PIZZA’S finest tuna (?!) pizza, I am a mixed-up bag of emotions.

First off is pride – and it is pride that I work in an industry that, at its best, has the quality of thinking that can make this planet a more interesting and exciting place. The idea of creating biofuel from the waste of the beer-brewing process is genius and this was far and away the clear winner for so many reasons. The main one being: It is just genius. Drink beer to save the planet … erm, OK.

The pride is then quickly followed by respect. To promote the Art Institute of Chicago’s Van Gogh exhibition, they created an exact replica of the artist’s bedroom and put it on Airbnb. Beautiful; elegant; and so, so simple. Too simple for some on the jury, which made for very interesting conversations about what defines good. Is it scale and ambition, or is it pure simplicity? Will one always shout louder and drown out the other? We didn’t reach an answer — it was very late, and we wanted to get some kip.

Next up is rage. To promote Peace One Day, Burger King reached out to McDonald’s and offered it the chance of creating the McWhopper. Obvs McDonald’s declined — which, annoyingly, made the whole thing that much better. It’s almost perfect, makes me sick with envy, and I despise anyone associated with it.

Now, all those feelings have been eclipsed by gas. Not technically an emotion — but who the fuck puts tuna on a pizza?


Victoria Buchanan, ECD, Tribal London:
A dark, soundproofed room with no windows, a flock of digital tablets sliding off the Palais Wi-Fi, multi-coloured macaroons and fizzy water – life inside the Cyber jury room was quite surreal. 

For days, we sat with headphones on, alone, watching thousands of entry videos, social content and virtual-reality journeys and downloading apps.

Twenty cyber leaders from around the world discussed philosophy. Now that we are all "cyber," how do we define these categories? This has taken long, hard discussions. We have created many filters to check our work, defining what "cyber" means, in order to decide what makes Cyber Lion-winning work.

Eventually, through days of sweat and thumb-tapping, we found exciting themes rising up through the cyber dust and we saw technology disappear through elegant executions. 

We are entering the age of sensorym and you feel the work changing — grand experiential journeys taking us to virtual heavens, smart products appearing all over our bodies, storytelling through social platforms and, lastly, the decline of the banner — hallelujah. I believe I’m able to say: RIP banner.


Robert Abel, managing partner, Somethin' Else:
"Bukake, Tinder and Donald Trump" — not a must-read on contemporary politics but a great radio campaign for the University of Málaga’s Fantastic Film Festival. This, an anti-smoking auctioneer, an absolutely perfect re-creation of "Game" of Thrones and a lot of hipster beards all featured in the 1,400-plus entries we judged.

My fellow jurors were a great group of people. We had fun. Even at 1am, still debating the Grand Prix 16 hours after we started, we were laughing.

Comparing this year’s Grand Prix (KFC’s "The everyman meal") with last year’s ("The Berlin wall of sound"), people have asked whether radio is fighting back. That’s missing the point. This year, the standard of many entries was underwhelming. But I don’t doubt there will be big winners in the future. The lesson of an example such as the gold-winning Dove campaign is that something so simple (just a woman’s voice), which could have been made at the birth of radio a century ago, can still be affecting.

Finally, a tip if you are judging in the future (and this wasn’t me, I want to add): when you get to the bit where you start sharing your strongly held opinions on a particular entry, double-check whether its creator might be sitting next to you.

Entertainment for Music 

Paul Brazier, CCO, Abbott Mead Vickers BBDO:
I was proud to play my part in the first Entertainment Lion for Music. Our jury of nine were a mesh of nationalities and expertise, all well-informed and passionate. This was reflected in the winners across 15 countries. 

More than 700 entries were submitted — one of them 50 minutes long! It’s easy to see why juries lock horns.

The biggest debate was over the Grand Prix: Only one had been planned for. Comparing what are essentially promos with brand partnerships was impossible. It can be argued that the former has less restrictive processes and content that is closer to the artist’s passion. 

As our president Josh Rabinowitz said, choosing between these two types of work "was like comparing apples with oranges."

Exceptionally high standards were set in this category: work by David Bowie, Justin Bieber, The Chemical Brothers and more. The controversial Beyoncé video for Formation was deemed worthy of a Grand Prix.

But we also wanted to recognise work that demonstrated the power of music for a brand. Edeka "Home for Christmas" came out of the category of "Use of original composition" and our jury felt it was worthy of a second Grand Prix. To the credit of the Cannes Lions, our predicament was resolved quickly, and we were given permission to gift two Grands Prix.

We made decisions and suggestions that will propel this category forward. Cannes has a knack of evolving quickly and music will play a bigger and bigger part.


Ana Balarin, ECD, Mother:
Before arriving at Cannes, I was apprehensive, having heard the horror tales of politics, lobbying and even of arguments getting personal in the jury room. 

I shouldn’t have worried. What a pleasant bunch my fellow jurors were. Twenty-one creatives from 18 countries with no agenda other than identifying the best films in a year with no obvious favourites and no clear trends.

The first three days were the toughest. A seemingly endless pushing of buttons, trying to separate the wheat from the chaff.

By day four, things got interesting. For the first time, we got to sit in the same room and start awarding Lions. At the lower end of the scale, the line was quite blurred and most of the arguments happened when deciding the bronzes.

Once we moved on to silvers and golds, the fresh and outstanding work naturally rose to the top and arguments were fewer but certainly more heated. This is when the magic of a jury happens and people get moved into changing their minds.

Awarding the Grand Prix to "Shoplifters" was, ironically, the easiest and quickest discussion of the week. The decision was unanimous. The first time we viewed it as a group, the room broke into spontaneous applause.

It was an intense week. Apart from the work, there was a lot of debate around the judging process, the countless sub-categories and the influence of new technology – mainly virtual reality – in the future of film. 

I left with new industry friends, feeling inspired and wanting to do it all over again. Perhaps next time without a seven-month-old baby in tow, though. 

Titanium & Integrated 

David Kolbusz, CCO, Droga5 London:
We had a really good jury. There was debate but everyone was unbelievably respectful of each other’s opinions. People even changed opinions after several well-mounted cases over the week.

There was a lot of fat in the Titanium entries — many people entered campaigns for the sake of it. Everyone understands that it’s the toughest type of Lion to win. The work that does win needs to be of exceptional quality and push the industry forward.

The Grand Prix — REI’s "#OptOutside" — was a simple idea, exhaustively implemented. It had a measurable effect on how the brand was received.

The Integrated category is about the marriage of a strong idea executed beautifully across all media touchpoints. One example was Netflix — the Grand Prix winner. It was a lovely moment of subversion, creating an unbranded film putting forward Frank Underwood as a US presidential candidate to promote "House of Cards."

There were live events, campaign-bus shenanigans and a social element where you could create your own posters. It was a clever idea, well-executed across a number of touchpoints, that made it the perfect candidate. Pun intended!

Creative Effectiveness

Tracey Follows, Chief strategy and innovation officer, The Future Laboratory:
The thing about most Cannes juries is that they review the entries on the basis of "innocent until proven guilty."

We all agreed that, on the Creative Effectiveness jury, it was our job to assume "guilty until proven innocent." We were looking for proof of a positive commercial effect — proof beyond all reasonable doubt that the creative actually worked. That puts the bar quite high but it also means that what gets awarded is a lesson in delivering real commercial impact, not just social engagement. 

"Monty’s Christmas" from John Lewis was a unanimous and worthy winner, but it was not the only winner. The Economist won for its ability to shift brand perceptions and add subscriptions through smart programmatic. Old Spice won for the commercial payback on a clever insight against a specific target market. Under Armour, Sainsbury’s and Media Markt demonstrated that brave creative can lead to commercial success, too.

This article first appeared on

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