Here's what happened when strangers were given special phones to cold call each other at Cannes Lions
Last week I had the pleasure of attending Cannes Lions, the largest advertising festival attracting top bods from the industry around the globe.
Our editor-in-chief Gordon Young answers the brick phone
The weather was piping hot, there was a party on every street corner (or private beach), inhibitions were left behind and champagne was being drunk like it was on a buy one get one free offer. The gluttony of the whole thing was rather disgusting but for one week, living that rock-star lifestyle was pretty awesome.
Surrounding the festival and creating that glitz and glamour were the rich and famous like Kim Kardashian West, who featured in an exclusive interview with Sir Martin Sorrell of WPP conducted by The Drum; Pharrell Williams and the bad boy singer himself Marilyn Manson.
You hear about all the celebs floating around but rarely do you see them. So when I was told I’d have a chance to chat with Marilyn himself my ears pricked up.
It was around 2am on the overly priced and jam-packed Carlton Hotel Terrace, when I was handed what looked like a children’s style mobile phone. You know the type. The ones where you press the buttons and expect the American voice to recite letters of the alphabet. But in this case it was a ‘special operations’ kind of device.
Apparently at the festival this year only 40 of these bespoke phones were given out to random folk (including Marilyn Manson) and there was a neat idea behind the stunt, as explained by Alison Flood, on behalf of The Barbarian Group (who are no strangers to winning an award at Cannes):
"We came up with the idea of the phones while ideating around the main theme of Sophie Kelly's panel (CEO of The Barbarian Group), which was how getting out of your comfort zone allows creatives to do better work and learn more about themselves.
"While thinking about the panel, we all realised that the most uncomfortable, but most beneficial, thing to do at Cannes is to speak to people you want to know better, or that you've never met before. We created the phones as a nod to the cold call, the ultimate in uncomfortable sales tactics with high yield possibilities.
"The idea of using a Brick Phone was one that was obvious; we wanted something that was physically apparent to hold, that looked cool enough to be a conversation piece, and that poked a little fun at this world of constantly evolving technology."
It sounded like a lot of fun for a select few and straight away I was in!
The first person I got was Mori, a 23-year-old creative from Japan. He sounded excited to hear from another opted-in volunteer of this experiment. It was a tad difficult to make each other out through the abundance of laughter coming from the drunkards who had been on the sozzle all day, however I did manage to impress him by counting to 10 in Japanese, using my many years' worth of karate knowledge. I knew it would come in handy one day.
Each of the calls were amusing in their own right and it was exciting not knowing who you’d talk to next. Most of the fun was in passing it around other delegates, giving them the chance to get involved. Some callers were on boats, others in hotel bars but the common theme was that everyone was having a whale of a time.
Hello @emmasudden great chatting to you on the BIG phone. Enjoy the yacht! #canneslions
— Lynn Lester (@Lynnsweettweet) June 22, 2015
We may not have got speaking with Marilyn Manson but the serendipity of the whole thing just gave Cannes another dimension to its existing craziness. And even if you didn’t get much out of the calls, just by having the phone was enough to strike a conversation – people genuinely thought it was real. After winding them up for five minutes that you still lived in the 1990s, you could then let the story unfold and give them a go to test it out. Everyone was intrigued at what seemed like a cloak and dagger, secret ops mission.
The only downside was receiving a call at 6am, approx 20 minutes just after entering that long awaited and lusted-after deep sleep but who needs sleep in Cannes? Seriously?
Lynn Lester is managing director of Awards at The Drum