South Africa cleaned up the awards at the Cannes advertising festival last month, but it failed miserably in the digital category. There are lessons to be learned, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK.
The village of Cannes in the south of France may not be the best place to take the pulse of online media, but when the International Advertising Festival comes to town every June, it offers a revealing insight into the Internet’s place in the creativity pecking order.
More than anything else, it shows that creativity in TV and radio advertising is still thriving, and the Internet has caught up ‚ but not in South Africa. While we clean up in most categories, this country has never won an award in the digital category ‚ the Cyber Lions ‚ at Cannes.
This year highlighted just how bad things are: a grand total of one entry even made the shortlist.
It’s worth highlighting the entry that made it that far. It was made by the Ogilvy Johannesburg ad agency on behalf of People Opposed to Woman Abuse (POWA), and came in the form of the simplest of YouTube videos.
‚We used the residents of a typical middle-class neighbourhood in South Africa as unknowing participants in a stunt designed to shock South Africans out of their apathy regarding woman abuse,‚ the agency said in its submission.
‚Unbeknown to the residents, we set up an experiment in a middle-class neighbourhood in South Africa‚Ä¶ On one night we held a practice drumming session in a quiet town-house complex: on a different night we staged a violent domestic fight with the sounds of screams, smashing glass, punches and slamming doors, to see how the neighbours would respond. We documented the event and created a two-minute mini-documentary, which we sent around virally.‚
The stunt proved exactly what it set out to show: neighbours lined up to protest about the drumming: they utterly ignored the sounds of violence (Click here to view the advert.)
‚Our objective was to confront them with their own implicit tolerance of woman abuse, and force them to realise they are passively contributing to a society that allows 1400 women to be killed a year, because no one is willing to speak against it.‚
After the video went online, an unprecedented number of men called to report suspected woman abuse. To date, it’s been viewed more than 600 000 times on YouTube.
The video was made on almost zero budget. Ad campaigns with massive budgets come nowhere close to its online impact. This is not unusual with public interest and pro bono campaigns: agencies are usually given far more creative leeway for such campaigns. This means they instantly become more adventurous and brave.
Yes, the ugly truth about this glamorous industry is that it remains deeply conservative, and nervous of offending its clients.
It’s also a factor of the Internet remaining the poor relation in South African agencies. The medium terrifies them because it is so difficult to come up with effective strategies, but so easy to measure performance. Until agencies entirely re-educate themselves, they have little hope of competing in the brave new digital outside world.
They could do worse than use Cannes as the starting point for their education. The highest possible award, the Grand Prix, went to three digital entries:
Google won with ‚The Wilderness Downtown‚ , an interactive music video featuring cool rock band Arcade Fire, R/GA New York took the honours for ‚Pay with a Tweet‚ , a social networking payment system that started life as a marketing campaign, and Wieden + Kennedy Portland was rewarded for the now-legendary Old Spice Body Wash campaign featuring the muscular ‚Old Spice Guy‚ in a cutting edge campaign for what had become a very old-fashioned brand.
These very different campaigns had one thing in common: they reinvented the way people thought not only about brands, but also about how the digital arena is evolving. The local ad industry may want to take note of the ground shifting beneath their feet.
* Arthur Goldstuck heads up the World Wide Worx market research organisation and is editor-in-chief of Gadget. You can follow him on Twitter on @art2gee