Gokul Krishnamoorthy
Jun 28, 2016

Cannes Lions 2016 Diary: Fields of barley, dreams of gold

The end of civil war in Colombia evoked tears of joy at the festival in 2016, with good reason

Source: www.time.com
Source: www.time.com
It was that time of the Cannes Lions week – the Friday before closing. It’s a time when some of the delegates are elated with the Lions they’re taking back home. Some, who were mulling on whether to buy that duty-free Porsche suitcase in transit to load their trophies in, are crestfallen. But everyone takes back one thing – inspiration to fuel creativity. And there was more of it coming on Saturday, for those who cared to listen.
Can advertising end war? It can help
Mullen Lowe global creative council head Jose Sokoloff has spoken on many a stage on the campaign for the Colombian government trying to de-mobilise guerillas of the the FARC rebels.
When he took stage on Saturday, the first slide on screen was the front page lead from a Colombian daily from Thursday, announcing the ceasefire agreement. A 52-year civil war had ended.
“But it’s not over yet,” said Sokoloff, referring to the coming referendum on the subject with a quip, “We all know how referendums can go, right?” Having won over those who had taken up arms, it is now time to win over the people. Work to support the cause has already been released. 
A closing Saturday afternoon talk at the Palais is not the most well-attended. This one was almost full, and not just Colombians and South Americans, but audience members of every nationality wholeheartedly cheered at different stages of the presentation. Many factors contributed to the end of the civil war, and as Sokoloff rightly and repeatedly pointed out – communication was but one of them. But, every step of it, as the cases showed, was a testament to the power of communication. 
What more do you want to see, than proof that your profession can help end a war and bring peace to a nation? What ended was a civil war that has displaced 6 million people, and accounted for 2,20,000 lives (since 1989, when they started keeping count).
The pieces of work he showcased included ‘Operation Christmas’, ‘Rivers of light’ and the posters carrying pictures of guerillas from their childhood with an appeal from their mothers: ‘Before you became a guerilla, you were my child – come back home’. Amongst them was a radio spot.
A boy who joined the guerillas at the age of 17 years, fell in love with a girl, who did even earlier – at 15. This was not acceptable to the outfit. They were separated. The girl returned home. Her testimony became a message to the young man, delivered in a radio spot. He followed suit.
The core insight behind the movement to make the guerillas drop their guns was this: a guerilla is as much a prisoner of his/her organisation as the prisoner s/he holds hostage. 
Between the ‘glamorous’ work on this campaign that won the agency multiple Lions was a lot of small, ‘dirty’ work to keep the pressure up, noted Sokoloff. He explained, “There is a lot of things to be done day by day, to be able to do the great stuff.” The truth, tactfully told.
In the time the agency worked on the campaign, 18,000 guerillas had surrendered their arms. It wasn’t exclusively because of the campaign, underlined the creative. But they had done their bit.
“We can safely tell our children, that that we did our best to let them be children in country where they can grow up in peace,” said Sokoloff.
Embracing the national cause, the agency is working now with another, to tell the people of Colombia that they have the chance to change history.
“A lot of us are going to be leaving from Cannes tomorrow, including many of us from Colombia. We’re going to get off the plane and it (Colombia) is going to be a new country. I can’t wait,” signed off Sokoloff.
The new breed
I remember guessing a few years ago that we would see more of Forsman & Bodenfors from Sweden.  I wasn’t alone, for that was soon after they released the Volvo ‘Epic Split’. They have now won over a 100 Lions including several this year, for work like ‘Leftover Women’ for SK II and the Volvo Trucks ‘Remote Assist’ film with the kid that could well be termed epic, too.
Two of the agency’s creatives took stage to explain what goes on in Forsman & Bodenfors. While we’ve heard their story many times over, there were some takeouts to refresh some forgotten fundamentals. 
Politics is not allowed to enter the office, said one of its creatives, Anna. All of them are art directors, copywriters, and designers. No CCOs, ECDs or CDs, even. They work in small groups of three or four per client and the creatives have to share their work with other teams before it gets out, allowing it to be shaped by the entire organisation. Yes there are planners too and it plays a key role today, but as Anna said, ‘the planning bus will leave the station without the planner’. The focus is on the best work possible for the client’s problem  – the awards follow. 
When a piece of work succeeds or wins at awards, everyone takes more pride in it because they chipped in. When it doesn’t work, everyone tried their best, so the responsibility is shared, they reasoned.
It comes as no surprise that specimens of the next standout breed are growing with their basics intact. 
I wish to see the new breed of agencies coming up in India at the festival soon. Some of them, like The Womb, were here in their very first year. Some others were too busy building the foundations of their agencies and a body of work to showcase, to make it this year. Without doubt, some of them will be here soon.
Those wary of the future talent pipeline in advertising should spend some time with the Young Lions contenders from different parts of the world. The Young Lions winners in Film from France created a piece of work in 24 hours that some seasoned professionals wouldn’t mind calling their own.  Capturing the pain, humiliation and suffering of unwanted refugees in foreign land, they provoked the audience to think about something: ‘If this is what they came to, imagine what they came from.’
One team won, but each Young Lions team represents the hope of the industry in their respective countries. I ran into one such team at the Cannes railway station. They were on their way to Paris, and then onto Geneva and Amsterdam before returning home to Asia. It was their first time in Cannes. And their agency, like many others, has made them sign a two-year bond. “We do not know if we will come here again or when,” gushed one of them, when asked why they agreed to sign one after winning a contest to get to Cannes.
They want to be back, to pick up some real lions. They have had their share of inspiration and learning, and are now yearning for recognition on the biggest stage. 
As the train bulleted from Marsielles to Paris, the scenic French countryside offered a picture-perfect backdrop. Amidst the various hues of green and brown, below the blue and white ones above, were farmlands. I guessed in jest that they were probably fields of barley that fed the breweries. All they saw, one of the youngsters said, were fields of gold.
Until next year, thank you creativity.
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(Regular news stories will resume Wednesday, 29 June.)

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