It’s a parlor game as old as the Cannes International Festival of Creativity itself—guessing which campaigns will nab the gold at the industry’s highest-profile and most important creative showcase.
So we decided to ... just do it.
Ad Age surveyed top creatives for their predictions on which of the winningest campaigns will snag Lions in this year’s contest. This year, our “jury” has singled out a number of front-runners at Cannes, but many of the choices have a similar theme: As Nancy Crimi-Lamanna, chief creative officer of FCB Canada, says, the betting is on “brands that are willing to be brave, to create controversy and to take a stand.” And no one took a bigger stand than Nike and Wieden & Kennedy with “Dream Crazy,” which tops the list of this year’s picks. Below is a lightly edited transcript of what our Cassandras had to say about the ad and their other front-runners.
Crimi-Lamanna: It’s undeniable that Nike’s “Dream Crazy” will win big this year, even capturing an elusive Grand Prix. I’m going to go as far as to predict that they’ll win it in the Social & Influencer category, as well as being a serious contender for a Titanium Lion.
Walid Kanaan, chief creative officer, TBWA/RAAD: It may not be the best piece of art in the history of our industry, but it surely is one of the most audacious marketing stunts and will definitely leave a mark in the history book of advertising. It’s a benchmark for generations to come.
Chacho Puebla, chief creative officer, Lola MullenLowe Madrid: If we don’t give the “Just Do It” Kaepernick campaign the Grand Prix, something is wrong with our idea of what advertising should be. It’s so powerful that don’t we even ask ourselves ‘What should we be awarding? The tweet? The outdoor? The TV spot?’ I award the thinking—the courage and the vision that having a point of view can generate sales.
Eka Ruola, CEO and executive creative director, Hasan & Partners Group: Nike knew there would be a backlash—the USA been so divided—but they knew their customers and chose their side. The fact that “Dream Crazy” led to a spike in sales, an uptick in its share price and greater global brand recognition, all around the 30th anniversary of “Just Do It,” means it will be remembered as the campaign of this decade. The bar has been raised again.
Chaka Sobhani, chief creative officer, Leo Burnett London: Big, epic, ballsy storytelling that showed the brand taking a massive risk which paid off both creatively and commercially.
Vivian Yong, executive creative director, Wieden & Kennedy Shanghai: While this ad is part of the Wieden & Kennedy network and saying it here feels a little proud and showy, I would love to see [the Grand Prix] awarded to the Nike “Dream Crazy” campaign. It was the most disruptive commercial campaign of the year. Nike has always been about giving a voice to athletes, and this campaign showed just how powerful that can be.
The New York Times: “The Truth Is Worth It”
Droga5 New York
This campaign points out the risks diligent reporters take in uncovering the truth. Image, text and sound layer together to ultimately reveal actual headlines that appeared in the Times.
Tiffany Rolfe, exec VP, U.S. chief creative officer, R/GA: It’s a timeless idea that became hyper-relevant in today’s world. For me, advertising is at its best when it’s hyper-contextual to our moment in time.
Sergio Gordilho, chief creative officer at Africa, Brazil: Rather than being the very best creative idea among all, a Cannes Lions Grand Prix usually represents a message addressed to the industry. And the message changes from one jury to another. So there is no formula to coming up with a Grand Prix-winning idea.
Some work will always step ahead of the other ones and will be fostered by exhausted juries to win a Grand Prix. The most exciting work of the last few months that meets this requirement are Nike’s “Dream Crazy,” Skittles’ Broadway musical, Burger King’s “The Whopper Detour,” John Lewis’ “The Boy and the Piano” and The New York Times’ “The Truth Is Worth It.” In my opinion, they will certainly win.
We asked our creatives what work (including their own) from their respective regions will do well:
Philips and the Nelson Mandela Foundation:“Shave to Remember”
“Shave to Remember” celebrated Nelson Mandela’s legacy through an unexpected angle: his hairstyle. An accompanying event featured barbers giving his cut for free. Philips also sold limited-edition “Shave to Remember” clippers to support the Nelson Mandela Foundation.
Mercedes-Benz: “Return to Chapman’s Peak”
Net#work BBDO South Africa
This spot actually played off a 1990 ad that showed Christopher White, who swerved off a treacherous road on South Africa’s Chapman’s Peak, but survived thanks to his Mercedes and seat belt. This ad, nearly 30 years later, brought White back to the scene of the accident—this time, in an autonomous car.
Pete Case, chief creative officer at Ogilvy SA; Tseliso Rangaka, executive creative director at Ogilvy Cape Town: The Philips ad, a purpose-driven project, stirred up huge support in South Africa and also helped create sales for Philips. “Return to Chapman’s Peak” is not our own, but a really worthy contender.
Right to Play: “We Rise”
This spot for Right to Play, an organization dedicated to nurturing, protecting and educating children, features cinematic shots of kids from around the world, set against a powerful spoken-word poem.
Crimi-Lamanna: This lovely film takes a stand on the oppression of children and reimagines a more empowered future for them. It’s evocative and haunting. I think it will be recognized in Film Craft in both writing and cinematography.
Burger King: “Whopper Detour”
FCB New York
To promote its app, Burger King promised consumers one-cent Whoppers if they used it. There was a catch, however. The supercheap burgers could only be claimed if customers were inside or close to a McDonald’s. From there, the app would steer them to a nearby BK.
Rolfe: “Whopper Detour” is getting a lot of buzz for good reasons. I just like the fact that they are having fun.
Helsingin Sanomat: “Land of Free Press”
Ahead of Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin’s summit in Helsinki, Finland last July, national newspaper Helsingin Sanomat lined the presidents' routes from the airport to their meeting location with billboards welcoming them to the “Land of Free Press.” It featured headlines from stories that documented the leaders’ strained relationship with the media.
Ruola: It was a great piece of work that targeted two of the most controversial world leaders and their narrow attitudes about free press. This became a powerful brand campaign for Helsingin Sanomat, reinforcing its leadership role as a voice of free speech. It generated earned media around the world and underlined that Finland is a liberal country where press freedom is highly valued.
Amazon: “Great Shows Stay With You”
This comedic campaign showed how watching Amazon Prime’s shows has an “empowering” effect on viewers: a woman becomes “Vikings”-level aggressive in the office, while a couple’s love life gets a boost thanks to hours of “Outlander.”
Sobhani: One of the funniest and best-written campaigns I’ve seen in a long time.
Pescanova: “Elige Bigote (Choose Moustache)”
Spanish seafood brand Pescanova sells premium prawns. One way consumers can assess their prawns is by the state of their whiskers, or “bigote” in Spanish—if they are intact, that means they are high-quality. The ad hinged on a metaphor relying on one of the country’s most famous “whiskered” faces—Spanish soccer coach Vicente del Bosque, known for leading the country’s team to its first and only World Cup, but also for his thick moustache. A spot showed del Bosque getting his iconic facial hair shaved off, and then suffering the fallout—no one could recognize him. The point was to remind consumers to “choose moustache.”
Puebla: I really love the work we did for the Spanish brand Pescanova and their premium prawns. If prawns’ whiskers are intact, that means they are high quality, so we focused on those “moustaches” as proof that the quality was really fresh. We used the most iconic Spanish moustache alive, Vicente del Bosque [Dalí is dead], and got an overwhelming amount of attention to make our point. Sales skyrocketed, the client was happy and consumers fell in love. I don’t know if it will win in Cannes, but it’s OK. For me, we already won.
This humorous short film for Thai financial firm Kasikornbank told the story of a socially awkward country girl who moves far from home, leaving her best and only friend behind. But with advice from her bestie, and strangely, help from Kasikornbank’s mobile app, she’s finally able to adjust.
Wieden & Kennedy Shanghai
To promote Nike’s Epic React running shoe, Wieden & Kennedy Shanghai created this in-store videogame experience that customers play while running on a treadmill. Runners could jog through fluffy clouds, stride past the Great Wall of China and speed across Paris rooftops.
Yong: I like “Friendshit” a lot and find it to be very fresh and well-executed. The fact that such an entertaining piece of film was created for a finance management app surprises and amuses me. In looking at our work from W&K Shanghai, we are most proud of Nike “Reactland,” because it challenges traditional in-store shoe trialing by combining entertainment, shareability and product education into a three-minute experience.
We also asked creatives for the best under-the-radar work that should get recognized at Cannes:
Ikea: “Hailstorm in Istanbul”
Istanbul had an unexpected hailstorm in the middle of summer 2017, so when another was predicted the following year, people started covering their cars with rugs. Ikea then posted images of automobiles draped with its own rugs (plus their price tags) on social media—and then did the same with cars out on the streets in real life.
Kanaan: I hope that Ikea “Hailstorm” from Istanbul will get recognized; it is an activation that was based on a beautiful insight and delivered with scale.
First Love Foundation: “The Sending Machine”
In order to support the First Love Foundation, an organization dedicated to supporting the residents of Tower Hamlets, the most impoverished neighborhood in the U.K., Publicis Sapient created vending machines that didn’t dispense food—they sent it. The machines were updated in real-time with current data on items low in stock at the First Love food bank. When certain goods were needed, they would automatically display on the machines’ interface. Consumers could then donate those specific products by “purchasing” them on the machines.
Sobhani: A great idea that used tech and data to create something so meaningful, useful and immediate when trying to help tackle the problem food banks face daily.
Creatives: Chris Godfrey, Alissa Khan-Whelan and C.J. Brown
At the beginning of the year, the Instagram account World_Record_Egg posted an image of an egg with the caption “Let’s set a world record together and get the most-liked post on Instagram.” In under 10 days, it reached 18.4 million likes and then went on to become the most-liked Instagram post of all time, beating the record of a Kylie Jenner post. A month later, the account went on to promote an animated mental health ad that ran on Hulu, saying “Recently I’ve started to crack, the pressure of social media is getting to me. If you’re struggling too, talk to someone.”
Puebla: “The World_Record_Egg” is something we need to learn from. How the team masterfully used social media shows us the power of an idea when it’s used well. I feel that at festivals, most of the time we are really conservative when judging the thinking that wins or not. We tend to think ideas have to have a mental structure and execution that is adapted to what we are used to, but perhaps we should be a little more flexible and question the basis of our own beliefs in order to establish new, more contemporary criteria.
We also asked our survey participants what creative trend should go away:
Case and Rangaka: Whilst we support and proudly create work for NGOs ourselves, we feel there is a need to get back to rewarding more work that works. Work for real brands that ultimately drives commercial and brand value. Our industry is still struggling to create confidence in the fact that it can add value to brands in time of need and not just times of economic plenty.
Gordilho: Ideas born with only one purpose, winning Cannes, and [leaving] the brands behind. This trend I would love to see going away, or at least become insignificant.
Kanaan: Campaigning with the sole intention of seducing a group of 20 jury members in a dark room, without attaining any real impact or public awareness, is pure scam. I really hope the juries will focus on rewarding disruptive ideas that are business-driven and that require a courageous and bold client to approve.
Puebla: Political correctness! I believe that today, more than ever, brands and creatives must have a point of view on issues that impact society. We must try to understand why we are or are not in agreement with certain actions and not be afraid to express it.
Rolfe: While I do think you can do small, unique experiences for a niche audience, there is an inauthentic air to certain “stunts” that are made to seem bigger in case studies than they actually were in reality. Brand blips versus brand-building.
Ruola: There is too much time and effort put into creating bespoke award entries–some of the entries are better than the work itself. I believe we would benefit more from a stripped-back process that focuses on strategy and customer insight, and how that was turned into a beautiful story.
Sobhani: Content for the sake of content. Not a trend so much as a perennial frustration when audiences are forgotten, as if the sheer act of creating something means people will be interested. Only one question matters … why would anyone give a shit?
Yong: I’d love to never see another campaign that hitchhikes onto the feminist movement without a fresh angle or sharp insight.
Crimi-Lamanna: I’d like to see us more focused on building things that last; building brands that last. That’s what I especially love about “Dream Crazy.”
And finally, how Ad Age's Creativity Editors call it:
Ann-Christine Diaz, Creativity Editor
Through the years, Nike and Wieden & Kennedy have expertly evolved “Just Do It” over and over again. But the 30th anniversary campaign was the most surprising, and perhaps the most important, iteration. It proved that brands can take a stand and be rewarded for it. The boldest move of the year. And it moved business. Grand Prix and Titanium for sure.
As a reporter, I’m probably biased toward The New York Times’ “The Truth Is Worth It” campaign because it captures everything you aspire to when you go into the profession. Every ad recounts, step by painstaking step, how NYT journalists report and write their groundbreaking stories. Each one is basically a really excellent behind-the-product ad, like the publishing version of a car commercial showing engineers toiling away at making a vehicle. But the message in the Times’ ads hits hard, thanks to the expert storytelling and attention to craft. Each spot is deceptively simple—just text, image and sound—but the elements weave together so elegantly and precisely that the stories have you gripping your seat. In the wrong hands, the spots could have landed with a thud. Sure to grab top honors in Film and Craft.
“Skittles Commercial: The Broadway Musical” from DDB Worldwide dared to give the bird to advertising on advertising’s biggest day of the year. This was a brand, an agency, and production team jumping into the deep end together and coming out showing everyone where advertising can, and should, be going in the future. It was one of those ideas that seems way too risky to even attempt—how the hell do you pull off a Broadway show? But they created a full-blown production (with big talent and impeccable details—all the way to the Playbill, lyrics, song recordings and merch) that stands up to “real” counterparts. Skittles once broke the candy mold when it brought absurd humor to a previously bland and unsophisticated category, and now it’s doing it again by redefining what advertising as a whole can be. I see big Lions in at least Entertainment and Brand Experience. And if it doesn’t get a Titanium, I’m gonna be pissed.
Alexandra Jardine, Creativity Associate Editor, U.K.
The Iceland “Rang-Tan” anti-palm oil ad by Mother London, narrated by Emma Thompson, could potentially win big. Not only did it eclipse John Lewis in the key Christmas period, galvanizing several million people to sign a petition, it also got people talking about an environmental threat many of them didn’t know existed.
Libresse’s “Viva La Vulva” via AMV BBDO is a groundbreaking film that not only daringly tackled the taboo subject of female genitalia, it did so with incredibly detailed direction (by Somesuch’s Kim Gehrig) and some truly hilarious moments.
Nike “Dream Crazy” via W&K Portland is a strong contender for a Grand Prix. While you might have predicted Nike’s use of Serena Williams, putting Colin Kaepernick front and center of “Dream Crazy” was an inspired and controversial move and a great way for Nike to connect with a young audience
concerned with brand purpose.
I-Hsien Sherwood, Creativity Associate Editor
It will be a travesty if Nike’s “Dream Crazy,” Burger King’s “Whopper Detour” and The New York Times’ “The Truth Is Worth It” don’t win. But I think Libresse’s “Viva La Vulva” pro-period musical film from AMV BBDO made an important statement about a subject that’s too often taboo. And the Thomson Reuters Foundation’s multipart “Unboxing the Truth” campaign from TBWA/Chiat/Day New York highlighted the issue of modern slavery with product design that’s disturbing in its ordinariness.