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Cannes Design Lions is where Asian creativity gains the spotlight

Bullet’s packaging design for a sake brand

Car crashes, ecological disasters, earthquakes, land mines, animal abuse, elephant extinction, deforestation, gendercide, depression, suicide and bipolar disorder. And those are just the shortlisted design entries from Asia. Crack out the rosé chaps, it must be the Cannes Festival of Creativity.

This year, encouragingly, Asian agencies dominate the Design Lions winners list, including the Grand Prix. Much of the work is purpose-led, but some of it is also spirited and joyful.

First, the serious stuff. Havas Shanghai’s anti-texting-while-driving campaign is urgent and haunting, with the phones from real car crashes set on a series of looming grey monoliths, the last words of their owners on display like warnings from the grave. (Bronze). Y&R Shanghai have crafted a resonant, touching print campaign for The Samaritans aimed at encouraging people with suicidal thoughts to get in touch – the illustration style and visual conceit of a speech bubble conflated with the black hole of depression is beautifully crafted (Bronze). O&M Bangkok’s visceral ‘Behind the Leather’ is truly shocking, and scooped a Gold Lion for its mock pop-up shop. TBWA/Hakuhudo won a Gold for their ‘Surgeon Tryouts’, though personally I feel that when an ad agency devises a game show to test the skills of medical surgeons, they may be overreaching.

After all that, it’s great to see some work that’s emotionally resonant not because it makes us feel sad, guilty or traumatised - because it is inventive, fresh and well crafted. Iyama Design Tokyo picked up 3 Golds for some lovely work for craft masking tape manufacturer MT Ex. (Yes, craft masking tape. You heard that right). Print ads for the Worldwide Table Tennis Championships (Gold, Dentsu, pictured below), are instantly likeable – they have a simplicity and elegance that cuts through the convoluted storytelling of so many entries. A Kind Drone (Silver, Dentsu, again) is a campaign for a clothing company in Japan who for some reason can’t sell clothes. Naked ballet dancers, drones and Swan Lake: it’s beautiful and bizarre.

Worldwide Table Tennis Championships Dentsu

Worldwide Table Tennis Championships Dentsu
Worldwide Table Tennis Championships Dentsu
Worldwide Table Tennis Championships Dentsu
Worldwide Table Tennis Championships Dentsu
Worldwide Table Tennis Championships Dentsu
Worldwide Table Tennis Championships Dentsu
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Unfortunately, it’s still a depressing truth (from where I’m standing) that in the Design Lions category, design agencies are woefully underrepresented. Amongst the Asian entries Dentsu, Y&R, O&M, Leo Burnett, DDB and other old-school big boys dominate this category. There are a couple of notable exceptions this year – Bullet’s drop-dead gorgeous packaging design for a sake brand, dressed up to look like a koi carp is electrifyingly good (pictured at the top of the article). And it’s also gratifying to see a ‘traditional’ corporate identity scheme recognized – Interbrand’s stunning work for The Sydney Opera House deserves its Gold Lion.

What about the Grand Prix then? That went to Dentsu (who else!) for its work for Panasonic. It’s a campaign charged with wit and imagination, just like the batteries that are the heroes of the work.

This year as usual Japan over-indexes on winning entries in this category. For a culture that so highly values aesthetics, that’s not surprising. But I’m hopeful we’ll see an even stronger, even more diverse celebration of Asian creativity next year.

Final tallies:

Grand Prix: Dentsu

Gold Lions: Asia win 10 out of 26

Silver lions: Asia win 11 out of 37

Bronze Lions: Asia win 13 out of 47

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Katie Ewer

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