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261. Cannes got the Design Grand Prix Wrong.

Cannes got the Design Gran Prix Wrong. Yep. I said it.
First let me digress. My overall opinion about advertising and design award shows is a combination of the opinions expressed by Jeff Goodby, Gerry Graf of Saatchi & Saatchi and Micheal Iva of Qually & Company. Like Goodby, I think too many agencies do insignificant work designed to win awards and this ghost/spec/scam work is not in the best interest of the agency or the client or the industry. (See FP7 in Dubai.) However, I think his philosophy forgets that there are a lot of smaller agencies out there doing work for smaller clients where it is impossible or drastically more difficult to do ‘famous work.’ But his point is taken. The work that wins should be significant. Graf recognizes the shows (specifically Cannes) as a source of inspiration within the industry and doesn’t seem to mind as much or take it too seriously. Iva on the other hand, recognizes that the award shows exist as little economies, making money by stroking the sensitive egos of creatives and in some cases other agency professionals. I see the benefit of recognizing excellence in any industry, but think that most shows lean heavily towards large agencies and large clients but do generally a good job separating the wheat from the chaff. Because of the festival’s film ties and international scope, Cannes has become the award show to win. Nab a gold lion and your career will never be the same. So there’s that. For advertising it’s the One Show and Cannes. For Design it’s Cannes and D&AD. These still feel like the more important shows, no matter your perspective on their worth.

Okay after that rather long tangential introduction...
The winners have been announced at the 56th International Cannes Lions Advertising Festival and I thought I would comment on the Design Lions awarded earlier this week. Not because I am any better than the judges of course, just because these are the things that make working in advertising/design fun. There was a lot of good design work on display this year (maybe a better overall year than last) though none with the significance (see Goodby link above) of 2008’s Grand Prix winner – Turner Duckworth’s Coke redesign. This year’s winner, an entry from McCann Group Hong Kong for Nike basketball, is worthy of further discussion and inspection.

Nike’s Paper Battleground.
Let me say from the start that I don’t believe this work deserves a bronze, let alone the Grand Prix in this category. What I will try to do next is explain why I think I’m right and why judges who are far more famous than me got it wrong. It’s easy to be a critic, but I’m more than willing to stick my neck out on this one.

First, let’s take a look at the entry video.

The posters became the battlefield. The random cross-printing. The battles. More importantly, the process became the message.

Okay, so basketball players from the Nike league in China were brought in to print their image on a poster, only to have other players print their image on top, and then again more players printing their images on top of that creating a printing battle that resulted in 350 uniquely colorful and layered player imagery. A cool approach indeed, bringing the competition from the court into the process of making the event posters. That much I get. I can also see how the process behind this work could influence judges into liking it, if you focus on the behind the scenes video you can easily get wrapped up in the process - as - message schtick. The only problem with this is that the result kinda sucks, to be blunt. The posters are a big let down given the thought that went into the process. As designs they cannot stand on their own at all, at best being decent colorful eye-candy but at worst being somewhat derivative in their look from a thousand others. More clearly, there is nothing new here visually. Nobody on the street is going to know the background of these pieces, which is the only thing about them that is more than mediocre.

Here is the Full-sized Entry.

Here are a few of the 350 'eh' posters.

Emphasizing the process is nice, but only when the resulting work is equally extraordinary. I bet I could train a gorilla to parachute out of a plane while painting a poster set in red helvetica on white, and that process would be truly engaging – maybe even groundbreaking, but if it ends up looking like a zillion other Swedish inspired posters than would it be worthy of a Gran Prix? Please. What I think happened here, ironically, is that the video submission behind the work is actually pretty good advertising for a mediocre design product. It sells the design pretty hard. So maybe that is what should have been entered instead, but in the film category. It might get a bronze there.

Here’s a few pieces winning Gold that could easily have won Grand Prix.

Jamie Oliver Food Kits – Williams, Murry & Hamm. (London)

The Zimbabwean Currency Posters – TBWA\Hunt Lascaris (S. Africa)
(This entry won the Grand Prix in Outdoor.)

Regional Tax Collection Agency: Piglet – F33 Murcia (Spain)

Nick Germany Idents - dyrdee Media Berlin
(I love, love, love these. View videos here.)

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