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Cannes 2013: the real magic happened when TED and Google collided

Tom Wong

Tom Wong, development director at TBWA\London, picks out his highlights from this year's Cannes Lions festival.

This Cannes Festival of Creativity was always going to be special.

It was, after all, a landmark occasion: sixty years of inspiring creativity, sixty years of groundbreaking talks and sixty years of the Carlton Hotel maintaining its ‘classic’ look.

Personally, I found the week to be something of an aspiration-raiser; although, somewhat tellingly, this generally happened away from the Palais, with places like Google Beach and several conclaves in the most auspicious of hotels providing the perfect setting for like-minded people to get together and talk. In this way, the festival reaffirmed itself as the ultimate in blue-touch paper, sparking collaboration.

Of all the sponsors, Google really was the standout. Its ‘Creative Sandbox’ was incredibly well put together, proving the company’s status as ‘engineers’ rather than simple search-engine monkeys. Its ‘lightning’ talks juxtaposed nicely with the often waffle-heavy and sales driven chats taking place in the festival proper. Winston Binch reaffirmed the need for our industry to herald innovation as our most precious commodity, finding new ways to catch (and hold) attention in an increasingly distraction-ridden world.

For me, the real magic happened when TED and Google collided. A lightning talk entitled ‘Adthropology: What great ads say about us’ explored the homo sapien’s need to belong and their inevitable search for familiarity. Rhonda Carnegie, Head of Global Partnerships at TED and Abigail Posner, Head of Strategic Planning at Google, led the debate, with notable excerpts including the man behind the multi-award-winning ‘Dumb Ways to Die’ - sharing what it was like to play a part in developing something that has seen so much success.

As for the work, I'd say 'good but with room for improvement'. That's not because the industry is any worse than last year, but rather because we're an eclectic mix of bright young things and we should always be striving to do better. There are a few entries this year that will be remembered for a long time and that were rightly recognized.

Indeed, four words that have been continuously pressed into Cannes’ Lion metal over the last week are ‘Dumb Ways to Die’, and for good reason. It's catchy, funny and, much to my partner's annoyance, the jingle still hasn't left my head. It's a piece of work that punches above its weight and does a quite remarkable job of tricking you into learning about safety on the railways. There's a reason why every single person in the world seems to have seen it - plus it’s also nice when the work’s creator, John Mescall ECD of McCann Melbourne, is a pretty decent human being too.

Yet, without a shadow of a doubt, the ultimate highlight of Cannes 2013 was the testament paid to one of our industry greats: Lee Clow. There are many reasons why I’m proud to be a part of the TBWA network, but being able to call myself a colleague of Lee sits somewhere near the top.

On a blurry Friday morning in the Palais, Lee and George Lois took to the stage for their highly anticipated panel "Legends: A Million Stories."
Whenever a microphone is placed in front of the great man, it’s guaranteed that something inspirational will pop out and at Cannes it was no different. Lee told of his work with Apple and his honour at being part “…of the most amazing cultural and digital revolution that this world has ever seen”, whilst singling out Steve Jobs as one of the most incredible people he’d ever worked with and a man who “…believed and knew and understood that technology was going to be in our pocket, our bags, our homes when he was 25.”

It was sitting there in the Grand Palais that I realised what being part of our industry can mean and the things that we can ultimately go on to achieve. Cannes for me showed one thing: creativity can change the world.

As for Lee’s event, well, it ended in the only way it should, with an overwhelmed Grand Audi leaping to their feet to celebrate two advertising lives very much lived, and two advertising lives that this industry should be very much proud of.

That moment alone was worth all the preparation (and every glass of Rosé consumed) at Cannes 2013.