MENA’s Lion Tamers

Another Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity is in the books, and the Middle East & North Africa (MENA) region ensured its presence, albeit significantly restrained from previous years, at the festival this year too.

If winning numbers alone are to be considered, the 65th edition may not have been MENA’s best run. In comparison to the 38 Lions that the region had won last year, this year the total tally from MENA is at 17 Lions. These include four Gold Lions, three Silvers and 10 Bronze Lions.

TBWA\Raad’s Big High
With a total of six Lions in its kitty, including two Golds, one Silver and three Bronze Lions, TBWA\Raad became the highest awarded agency at the festival from the region. Its works such as ‘Highway Gallery’ for Louvre Museum, ‘#SheDrives’ for Nissan and ‘Camelpower’ for Nissan as well, were quoted among several conversations during the course of the week.

J Walter Thompson ranks second in the region with three Lions – one each of Gold, Silver and Bronze, all for J Walter Thompson Casablanca’s work for Nestlé’s chocolate brand KitKat. The win was also a first for Morocco as a market.

The final Gold was to Y&R Dubai. The agency also won two Bronze Lions for its works for Interreligious Council in Bosnia & Herzegovina and Colgate.

Grey MENA won a Silver for The Lego Company.

FP7 Dubai won a Bronze for The Baby Shop. And The Classic Partnership Advertising won a Bronze for Dubai Health Authority.

The Complete Picture
Despite the lower number of wins in 2018, it would be remiss to not consider the complete picture that elucidates MENA agencies have performed at par with previous years.

This edition of Cannes Lions per se has seen several upsets globally. Cannes Lions responded to industry feedback last year, making changes to its format and award categories.

This combined with Publicis Groupe’s decision to not participate and lower representation from agencies such as Impact BBDO and Memac Ogilvy in all contributed to a drop in number of total entries this year from MENA.

The UAE entered 456 pieces of work this year. Last year, this number was 865. The likes of Bahrain (21 last year) and Kuwait (13 last year) did not send any entries.

Egypt reduced its entries from 45 last year to 36 this year. And Tunisia that had entered 18 pieces of work last year, entered only one this year.

Commenting on the decreased number of entries in the year, Ogilvy’s Chief Creative Officer for EMEA, Stephan Vogel, explains, “The whole Publicis Groupe decided not to enter, so there are no entries from Saatchi & Saatchi, Leo Burnett, Razorfish and Publicis. This is one reason for the downside. The other reason is the fact that one piece of work can only be entered in six categories, not up to 15 categories, like it was in the past.”

Most creative leaders second Mr Vogel’s observations, some also adding that the increased pitch activity in MENA may have also led to divided attention, and hence decreased participation.

The only markets to register increase in number of entries sent were Lebanon (13 in 2017 and 41 in 2018), Morocco (23-26), Pakistan (15-40) and Saudi Arabia (37-66).

Only a handful of MENA agency chiefs actually attended the event this year unlike previous editions. The reasons varied from important pitches in the region to Cannes Lions’ deviation from its core role of fostering creativity and becoming home to media platforms and service providers instead.

Is At Par Enough?
Industry captains remind, rightly so, winning a Cannes Lion is not easy. Nonetheless, what can MENA do better to shine up to its true potential. What is holding back markets such as Saudi Arabia or Egypt or Lebanon, given the sheer development of the creative culture of these countries?

After all, the work from the region has not only grown in its quality and relevance but MENA markets’ connectedness and aspirations have increased in line with international benchmarks too. The region is also home to some of the brightest and most creative minds of this industry globally.

“A Lion is a Lion – whether it is Gold or a Bronze,” states Kalpesh Patankar, Executive Creative Director at Y&R Dubai. He explains, “Winning this year was very rewarding as this year produced a significant amount of good work from across the globe. The work was outstanding, and our region has come away with 17 Lions and many shortlists. This is an achievement.”

He reminds the firsts for J Walter Thompson Casablanca, and that overall as a region the work was distributed well among different categories. “Y&R alone had 17 shortlists including in the Creative Effectiveness and the Grand Prix for Good categories. This shows that the MENA region has grown, and now people see it as a hub for creativity. We are proud to keep this momentum going.”

The work from MENA does indeed stand out this year. Some of it reflected the changes in various markets as growing, inclusive societies; some were celebrated for the sheer brilliance of combining creativity and technology, and some for simple, yet compelling ideas.

Getting The Gold
Louvre Abu Dhabi, for instance, was a landmark for the region, not only due to the significance of the event for the UAE but the market’s coming of age and contribution to fine arts and culture globally. TBWA\Raad leveraged the landscape of the emirate, making the best use of media and technology, backed with a simple but powerful idea.

Passing by car radios would tune to the frequency where the commuters could hear about the historical significance of the paintings or artists they were seeing, creating a context of interest towards the museum itself. The idea of audience-targeted outdoor campaign was backed by technology, making it simple, elegant and effective in every way.

The Highway Gallery for Louvre Abu Dhabi is also the most awarded work from the region at Cannes Lions this year, winning one each of Gold and Silver Lion and two Bronze Lions.

Similarly, #SheDrives was not just what an agency did for an auto brand, but was highlighting the changes taking place in Saudi Arabia – one of the most important markets in MENA – itself. As several auto brands made the race to connect with the Saudi woman, while she prepared to get in the driver’s seat, ‘#SheDrives’ made it a joint progressive step involving the family. Nissan took a group of women and offered them a special driving lesson; unbeknownst to them, the instructors were men close to them such as their fathers, brothers and husbands.

Another high awarded entry from the region is J Walter Thompson Casablanca’s work for KitKat that plays up the brand message of ‘take a break’.

“I love it when offices box above their weight. Tiny team, huge ambition, and a relentless determination to bring fame to our brands – that’s J Walter Thompson Casablanca for you. Their enthusiasm is infectious and their ability to push the envelope frankly inspiring,” comments Ramsey Naja, Chief Creative Officer for J. Walter Thompson in the Middle East and Africa.

The KitKat campaign captures an individual’s moment to take a break, even within the speeding timeline of everyday occurrences. Through the different situations, varied walks of life and diverse pool of people featured in these campaign executions, the creative aims for audiences to connect with the individual, the story and the moment.

“‘Break The Speed’ created a lasting impression due to its relevance in peoples’ everyday lives. I am extremely proud of how J Walter Thompson’s adaptability and agility meant the client’s needs were met by a team in Casablanca. This historic landmark – first ever Gold, Silver and Bronze Lions for Morocco – is something the entire nation can be proud of,” remarks Hazem Kaddour, Managing Director of J. Walter Thompson Casablanca.

Y&R Dubai won a Gold Lion for the region too for the Interreligious Council in Bosnia and Herzegovina. It’s ‘One Art’ poster campaign shows the similarity of art forms in churches and mosques. With eight renditions, the campaign was created to help the Interreligious Council continue their work of encouraging inter-religious dialogue in the region.

Taking The Win
Creative professionals attending the festival from MENA have returned home with mixed emotions as a region. Some are elated with the overall wins and some not so much, wondering how more of MENA can be celebrated on the global creative stage. Some even pointed out to the decreased buzz at the festival this year, and a marked decline in the presence of social media platforms or in raging parties.

On the awards front, one advice from most is that every Lion is a win that should be celebrated. “It is difficult to win in Cannes Lions, and you cannot be equally brilliant each year,” advises Mr Vogel.

The festival’s new streamlined format has been appreciated by most global agency chiefs, who say that Cannes Lions’ role is to nurture creativity, and the festival’s new avatar takes it back to its roots. “It is good that Cannes Lions stopped running from one superlative to the next. The smaller festival was a better festival,” Mr Vogel adds.

There is no denying that Cannes Lions, even in its tightened format, packed a heavier punch than any another industry festival of its kind. Many are curious to observe how this evolves next year. With Publicis Groupe returning, with new creative leaders at the helm of some of the largest agencies in MENA and with the likes of TBWA\Raad out to soar higher, all indicators direct to a stronger MENA show in 2019. It is anyone’s guess if in fact that will be the case, but it sure makes for an interesting watch.

Add Comment