Australian creativity didn’t shine at Cannes. Nor at D&AD. Nor at the One Show. Australia won one Grand Prix at Cannes. One House to Save Many is fantastic work by Leo Burnett Sydney and The Glue Society for Suncorp. The Glue Society was involved in another, Hope Reef, won by AMV BBDO. Australia’s only two Golds were in Media and Australia dropped down to the 11th most creative country. At D&AD, Australia won just three Yellow Pencils. It didn’t win even one Gold at the One Show this year.
Yes, awards are not absolutely everything when it comes to judging creativity. A number of factors other than creativity come into play. Some brilliantly creative work has been sent to The Stable in the last twelve months that didn’t feature in the awards for whatever reason. Maybe it wasn’t entered? Maybe it isn’t eligible until next year? Not much of it was Australian.
All of the above made me curious. So I set up a debate. It has turned out to be a rather one-sided debate. But that’s OK. Facing up to things honestly is awesome. The responses below are listed in no particular order other than how they were sitting in my inbox. [:ed]
Jonathan Kneebone, founder & creative partner, The Glue Society
It’s probably worth saying that rankings are highly deceptive. They are calculated by adding up the number and rank of all entries. So an agency, country or entity that enters a lot and wins more gets a higher ranking.
That said, we’ve played this advertising game far better in the past. And to find ourselves outside the top 10 – behind the UAE – feels we might have gone a little off the boil.
So what’s the truth?
Inevitably in Covid times our work has become more insular and inward looking. And that’s because we have been removed and isolated both physically and mentally from the rest of the world. But as we know that’s not been a situation unique to us.
Perhaps it has also shown that the majority of Australian clients are content to limit success to a national rather than international level.
As a result, international juries quite simply have found Australia’s work to be lacking a bit of global relevance.
If all you are aiming for is to survival at a local level, then it’s hardly any surprise that no-one outside of the four walls of Australia is going to be particularly inspired.
Personally, I don’t think we’ve lost courage. I’ve think we’ve been satisfied with staying afloat – which has required a different kind of bravery and effort.
But now, perhaps, we can afford to look up and out and see ourselves as global citizens and international players.
Toby Talbot, chief creative officer, Ogilvy ANZ Network
I don’t believe that Australian ad creativity has lost its courage. I think the world has changed immeasurably and those changes have impacted creativity hugely as well as every other facet of our lives.
I think better, more long-term creative ideas are emerging now that will redefine what creativity in our business is capable of doing. I saw it emerging at Cannes this year. And that’s tremendously exciting.
Context is important if you use awards results purely as your example of the demise of creativity.
Let’s start by looking at the Cannes stats. Terry Savage posted a few days ago about the decline of Australian creativity based on Cannes Lions wins of the last five years. Year by year we are winning fewer Lions.
Australia won 113 Lions in 2017. This year we won 22. But Terry’s forgetting that in 2017 you could literally enter and win as many Cannes Lions as you wanted with one idea. Meet Graham hit the jackpot. It won 29 Lions in 2017. The rules have changed. Terry changed them in fact as chairman of Cannes Lions. That campaign was why he changed the rules. I think you can win at most seven Lions.
Beyond award results, the global pandemic has been a huge disruptor of creativity. It has slowed us all down. For two years we lost our spontaneity. Our ability to ideate together and be nimble. To even produce our ideas.
A lot of our best creativity over the last two years has been helping our clients to pivot and adapt to a new way of getting on with business during a pandemic.
It’s a different kind of creativity that has shone through when it comes to relationships, and it is where the real value of our partnerships lie.
Fixing the real problems isn’t always the stuff that gets you patted on the back in Cannes. But when you do it properly and you play the long game, the high fives and awards come.
I was up on-stage last week at the Palais. Our Melbourne office celebrated a Gold Media Lion for AAMI Rest Towns. An idea that took over two years to happen, but it was worth it. Leo Burnett’s Grand Prix winning One House (same client) took even longer – three years I hear.
These kinds of ideas are big, brave and above all complicated. They require collaborations across many diverse partnerships and platforms to work. They require stamina. They are ideas designed to endure beyond an awards cycle and have societal impact. They are ideas that can save lives. To execute such ideas requires a client who commits long haul. In the case of AAMI, we have such a client.
For years now, the trend has been about purpose-led ideas. I get why. It’s great to elevate a brand and make it stand for something bigger. The reality is, unlike pretty much all the work I saw in Cannes this year, not all Australian marketers desire or feel it appropriate to attach a higher order purpose to every brief. Day to day our industry is mostly otherwise engaged making stuff that sells product. ‘We sell or else’ as David Ogilvy himself said. If the whole Australian industry jumped on that bandwagon, I’m sure we would have won more Lions at Cannes because that’s what juries want. But in Australia we are so good at being practical and getting the hard work done, before we kick back and celebrate. And I’m quite proud that we do things our own way. We lead, we don’t follow. Purpose should never be a one sized fit all approach.
At Ogilvy we pride ourselves on helping our clients break the conventions of the categories they’re in. This will help them long term and yes, it will be reflected in big awards that we can jointly be proud of. Big ideas like Rest Towns take time. Our work for our clients isn’t centred around awards deadlines. And nor should it ever do so. Awards are what you win when you get everything else right.
And if that means we won 2 Lions this year, not 22, then so be it.
Iggy Rodriguez, creative partner, The Works
Given our recent numbers in Cannes, there’s no doubt it’s been a lean year for Aussie agencies. Even work that’s won big in other international shows, only scored a Bronze in Cannes last week. And Australian Lions numbers are down for the past five years in a row. It’s certainly getting tougher to win.
But it would be naive to put it down to one factor like we’ve lost our courage.
If the past two years of the pandemic have taught us anything is that we need to be even braver. We need to get scrappier, leaner and even more ingenious than ever before if we are to help brands stand out.
In my mind one of the biggest shifts that has happened is to our talent pool.
Pre-pandemic we were already seeing a big movement of our top creative talent to tech brands and client side lured by the attraction of bigger salaries. This has continued.
Additionally, the pandemic saw our island shut its borders. A nation once filled with international creatives, saw a drastic reduction in the foreign talent pool. This in turn has resulted in higher demand and created more domestic inter-agency movement than ever before. All the shifting around leaves agencies in flux as they stabilise and settle in before big creative ideas can start to shape and grow. Great work takes time.
Add to this the evolution of the judging process with many shows like Cannes moving to an increased portion of time spent remote judging, and less jury members on the ground for the final stages of actual discussions. This year only saw 11 Aussies spread across 29 different juries. We used to have almost one on every jury.
Another factor to consider is that many agencies are doing it tougher financially right now.
To have more chances at winning means having a big budget to pay for lots of entries.
It’s quite possible agencies don’t have the fat purses for award entries they once did.
I’ve always felt that not winning is the best kick up the pants you can give yourself. There’s nothing more humbling than sitting in the Palais watching everyone else in the world walk up on stage to collect their Gold lions.
Herein lies our answer. From tough times, breeds tougher creatives with a refreshed burning hunger and ambition.
So, rather than dwell on the results, think of it as we’ve got 12 months to think braver and get back on the world stage.
Psembi Kinstan, group executive creative director, DDB Group Melbourne
Has Australian ad creativity lost its courage?
Yes, much of it.
But the problem is much bigger than the Lion-shaped tip of the (rapidly melting) iceberg.
The vanishing lions (113 lions in 2017, 56 in 2018, 36 in 2019, 29 in 2021 and just 16 this year) are indicative of trends much larger and scarier.
Turn on the TV at primetime, pick up a Sunday newspaper, look at the adshells in the city, or scroll through the ads on your social feed.
Are any of them memorable? Or distinctive? Or entertaining?
Across our country, they so rarely are.
Often, they’re from one of the million Australian brands that lazily default to craft-less Australian-vernacular advertising blandness.
You know the sort. Generic slice of life photography with no unique visual world or art direction. Blokey masculine humour with no particular tone of voice. No style to the way they look or talk. A joke that could equally be for a beer brand, or an insurance fund, or an automotive giant until the logo is slapped on at the end.
Focussing on our Cannes output is a distraction.
Australia needs to breathe new life into our biggest brands and help marketers to find their distinctiveness and ambition again.
We should be drawing on a million diverse points of reference from around the world, not just our own Aussie industry blogs.
We should be fostering the importance of craft amongst our clients and AWARD-school graduates alike (to borrow a Hegarty-ism ‘advertising is 80% idea and 80% execution’).
We should aspire to build brands that look and talk like no other brand out there.
If we do all that, the big, imaginative, distinctive, populous advertising will come.
And Cannes will follow.
Andy Fergusson, executive creative director, Leo Burnett Sydney
I think the short answer is yes…Probably. I think it’s fair to say that an over reliance on testing and data has definitely been eroding the trust between marketers and agency partners over the years. And shrinking budgets, shortening timelines, and the sheer amount of agency competition has ironically led to a bit of creative conservatism on the part of agencies as they struggle to win or retain business. But I’m not sure that these problems are unique to Australia.
When it comes to Australia’s diminishing Cannes performance, there is a host of other factors to consider. It might be that we’re focussing less on the low-hanging-fruit (often scam) categories of print and radio. It might be that agencies are now struggling to fund proactive projects, and that production partners don’t have the margins to do as many ‘favours’ as they used to. It might be that the global trend towards purpose-led work is less favourable to a country that has fewer real problems to solve than many other countries. It might be that the Cannes six-lion limit is having its desired effect by limiting the amount of awards won by single ‘tentpole’ campaigns that have done well for Australia in the past, like Meet Graham or Dumb Ways to Die. Or it might be that the increasingly diverse juries are helping to uncover and reward more diverse thinking from around the world, evening the playing field, and effectively increasing the competition.
It might be all of the above, or something else entirely. But I believe there are still plenty of marketers and agencies in the Australian market that are doing courageous work. And hopefully we’ll continue to see more marketers, like Suncorp, taking creative risks on big ideas that help their brands stand out in the face of increasing economic uncertainty.
Bart Pawlak, executive creative director, 303 MullenLowe
We’ve all heard the saying, ‘it takes a village to raise a child’. A similar principle applies to winning the most coveted creative awards.
As a former global CCO of mine said – Cannes isn’t a creative department pursuit, it’s an entire agency one.
I think he was half right.
While we creatives love to see awards as proof of our superior ‘creativity’, the fact is winning any award involves multiple planets snapping into perfect alignment.
A remarkable creative idea is a fundamental one. But so is a unique strategy, a deftly handled business relationship, uncompromising production people, an MD or CFO who sees validity in investing the resource. The list goes on.
Then there’s what I like to think of as the sun around which all these aligned planets must revolve – a client in a position to buy a truly brave idea. That’s a star which, in our over-mortgaged and consequently risk-averse Australian market, is getting harder to find.
Perhaps, instead of being overly preoccupied with the crazy numbers game that prompts the question about awards, we should double-down on partnering with our clients in a way that makes it easier for them to embrace our best thinking.
Arriving at solutions that are not only breathtakingly creative, but that have the capacity to help them weather tough economic times and punch above their weight in an increasingly competitive landscape.
Work that is not only creatively courageous, but that makes absolute business sense to buy and that everyone can feel brave about.
Cover image by Andres Herrera