Rahul Mathew
Jun 28, 2011

Rahul Mathew's Blogs from Cannes

Rahul Mathew is executive creative director, McCann Erickson. This is a collection of his blogs from Cannes Lions 2011.

Rahul Mathew's Blogs from Cannes

Observations of an executive creative director. And that of a cab driver.

And it starts. The award festival that...well, started award festivals. One week at the sunny shores of the French Riveira. Where we shall stumble from seminars to award nites into drunken stupours and into advertising greats. Not necessarily in that order.

Like many I arrived on Saturday. Gave the legs a feel of all the walking to come. Gave the eyes a roll of the untainted blue of the skies above and the deep blue of the sea ahead. And the liver a taste of the week to come.

Come Sunday. Come registration time. Time to get that pass with your mug shot that'll let you into the Palais everyday for the next whole week. (Considering I never think I look like my picture I have always wondered why they let me in.)

Clutching onto my official Cannes goodie bag I nudged my way out of the registration area. Here would like to point out that this year's bag comes all the way from Bangladesh. Apart from announcing their presence it also makes a social comment against plastic bags; this one is made from jute. It also had a little trivia along with it - Bangladesh is one of the only two countries in the developing world where Jute genome sequencing was decoded. Suddenly the bag seemed even more precious. The most genetically advanced bag in the developing world. I can see Magneto and Prof Xavier fighting over it. Ok I'm losing focus here. Back to the registration area.

As I made my way out a guy stuck a cap in my direction. Quite handy in the sun, so I took it. And since I did, I heard his piece about what he wanted me to attend. A thought struck me then. The Palais in some ways has become a giant supermarket. Luring us ad folk with its freebies. Oh yes! freebies. The same things that they use in supermarkets to lure the fat Punjabi aunties in Delhi and the Gujju ones in Mumbai.

Free t-shirts. Free bags. More free t-shirts. Free candy. Free passes to parties handed by pretty women, so a promise of free eye-candy as well. And then the ultimate freebie.... Free alcohol. How can any self-respecting advertising person ever pass such a deal by? And so we go gathering them all by the armful, in return for our attention, our attendance and our contact details.
Someone just remind me of this the next time I laugh at a free katori offer driving sales through the roof.

Anyways that was the just my observation. Some may agree. Many may not. But here's what the guy who dropped me had to say when I asked him what he felt about the adverting festival. He said the city just suddenly changes into a minefield of people. They just seem to explode out of nowhere onto the streets. Specially at night and especially around the Martinez area. Aha.. I wonder why?

Well it's time for me to head out. Now where did I put that free t-shirt I just got from that production house?

Cannes alcohol festival kicks off

The Cannes advertising festival kicked off on Sunday, but the Cannes alcoholic festival kicked off for me last night. The venue for which was as always a few hundred meters from the Palais. Right in front of the Martinez hotel, a bar that's known to anyone who has ever been to Cannes as the Gutter Bar. It's a ritual to end your long Palais days with longer nights at the Gutter Bar. If the cabbie who dropped me is reading this (bloody optimistic of me) now you know why the road in front of the martinez turns into a maze of swaying bodies.

The funny thing is that gutter bar is not its name. Even though I remember staring at its name last night, I can't remember what it was. I don't think anyone remembers. And I guess the owner has also given up trying to stick to the original name... I saw a bright orange poster stuck to the wall that announced the pseudonym. Guess as long as the drunk advertising folk continue to get more drunk, why bother.


Coming back to yesterday. Met up after ages with many of my creative director friends from around the world. That coupled with BBDOs double silver celebrations, that I suddenly found myself in the middle of, made sure the night was long. Way to go guys.

Rewinding a bit more to the awards night itself. Promo & activation, direct and PR. To be honest I have never really followed PR and probably now I will. But Promo & activation and Direct are categories I eagerly look forward to. Some of the best work in the last few years has been happening in these categories. Work that unlocks the idea from the close confines of media allowing it to embrace the consumer instead of just trying to shout out to him.

And this year it was no different. McCann Romania left everyone in the auditorium deaf with their double Grand Prix work for Rom bars. It was one of my favorite pieces from the shortlists. It exemplifies courage; on the part of the agency and more so on the part of the client, to change the identity of a brand in the belief that it will enrage the disinterested audience enough to demand for it to be changed back. Check it out online.

What I love about P&A and direct as categories is that they force you to be either stunning and colossal or absolutely simple and honest. Like Coca-Cola has been doing off late. Be it with the friendship machine or Santa's forgotten letters the brand shows that it simply and honestly wants to open happiness in everyones' lives. I have a goofy grin on my face each and every time I see those ideas. And if Spanair hadn't sent the unexpected luggage down the conveyor belt on Christmas eve, Coke could have done it. Because it's just as magical an idea. Have been rooting for these ones the year around and was elated to see them win.

Like I have been rooting for the WWF format. Simple, effective and bloody brilliant. And it just helps that it's for a cause that I strongly believe in... saving paper.

One entry that had me stunned during the course of the show was the Save the Burma piece. I saw only the presentation board and it had me ho-humming nice. But when the video poured the chants of the Buddhist monks into the auditorium, I had gooseflesh. Request to Cannes - please show videos at the viewing area, it gives life to the ideas. Request to all those entering - please provide videos, it gives life to the ideas.

In a couple of hours radio, outdoor and media results will be out. BBDO once again leads the charge for India in media, while it's a shared assault in outdoor and in radio McCann is the sole Indian warrior. So depending on how we do one will know how late the night will be, how long the tabs will run and how intricate a human maze it will be for the cabbie at the Gutter Bar.

(Posted on June 21, 2011)

Brazil beats Argentina

The advertising folk flew into Cannes, the cowboy rode in. 

Met Amitabh Bhattacharya at the India party. For those who don't know him, he's usually the Executive Producer with Nomad films, but yesterday he was a cowboy who just rode into town. 

His face was weary from the journey, but his eyes were gleaming with delight as his mind still had the ride running on loop. You could almost smell the stories off him. (and no, it's not an euphemism for he needed a shower). 

1000 kms in 8 days, that's what he had covered. All the way from Geneva, over the lofty Alps. If we were in the Wild West, I would have tipped my stetson to him. And he would probably acknowledged it with a nod and a slight tip of his bicycle helmet as he tethered his two-wheeled steed. Yup! He cycled all the way. Fighting exhaustion, frost-bite and at the same time helping fight leukemia. He and 30 other advertising and production blokes from around the world as part of the annual Fireflies Tour. Their motto says it all "For those who suffer, we ride." They may not even have a contender at the festival, but in my books they have all won big.

Ok now back to the reason why we flew into Cannes - the festival. Day before, the winners for Radio, Outdoor and Media were announced. India celebrated its first Gold. Lodestar UM with a Media Lion for their "100% recycled newspaper". The Grand Prix went to Tesco subway store. While some of the awesome stuff from other categories like Direct, P&A and Outdoor also won here. For example, the Coke friendship machine, the wwf format, the missing child initiative, Old Spice responses and the Grand Prix winner itself. Moral of the story. Crack a big idea. Execute it with love. Make it even bigger through social idea. And Viola! you have a lion herder.

McCann salvaged a metal for India in radio. A bronze for Onida DVDs. Disappointing for India, but very exciting for radio as a medium. This year there have been some absolutely sparkling uses of radio as a medium. And the best news is that writing is back in a big way. SFX: applause. Would definitely recommend the Ikea, Galderma and Samroc spots to every writer. The 
Cine Las Ameicas spot has an absolutely hilarious take. While the spots titled The Code and Noah take the use of radio as a medium to the next level.

Come outdoor. And time for some of those big ideas, I talked about, to return. Coke friendship machine, Santa's forgotten letters, Tesco subway store, Burma human rights; they were back to add more weight to their luggage. The winners were either impeccable in their crafting or generated a lot of conversation. The Samsonite Heaven and Hell, for instance. Heavenly idea. One helluva execution. The piece is actually a photograph. They created each and every piece. Little wonder it walked away with the Press Grand Prix last night. I also loved the Lego ads. It's a completely new perspective to the imagine idea. Honest tea made an appearance as well. Can't remember the number of people I had shown it to when I first found it online. 

Last night was the ceremony for Design, Press,and Cyber. India found its second gold in design. Congrats Out-of-the-box. The craft this year is stunning. And the scale colossal. My favorites being the BMW typography and Mr Lee -the tailor. The Grand Prix was for the design of the Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas. Was a little skeptical when I heard the winner, but was absolutely mesmerised when I saw the entry. A love child born out of the threesome of design, architecture and digital. Now try being proactive with that. (this one is an euphemism)

Press saw a South American assault. My favorites being the Billboard typography from Brazil and the Pictionary ads from Malaysia. Both of these are also great examples of insightful advertising. You'll relate to each and every alphabet of the typography depending on which artist you relate to. While the pictionary one is particularly insightful to me. Have had numerous pictionary sessions with my art partner where his intricate art direction has cost us the game. Not a particularly great show for india here. The notable wins being McCann and Ogilvy's silvers.

Then came cyber. And everything else was forgotten. The entries were marrying online, offline, reality, virtuality, design, idea, execution, you-name-it in every possible way. India sure has a lot of catching up to do. Even more so, since Google is not just a communication vehicle in this category, it's competition as well. Both as a client and as creators. Don't miss the Pay-by-tweets and the Wall of Fame entries.

But the most surprising winner of the night was Brazilian football. They beat their arch rivals Argentina in a game of advertising beach football. Am sure the popularity of the Argentinian ad industry just took a big beating back home. It's going to take a lot of Grand Prixs to forget this one.


Campaign India

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