Canada Cannes, Quebec can't
But agencies in both French and English Canada are underrepresented on ad film

Not a single Quebec television commercial made it to the highlight reel of the world's best commercials that will be playing at a Montreal theater starting this Friday.

In spite of considerable talk among the province's ad industry professionals about the need to increase Quebec's international visibility, the province drew a big blank at the 47th International Advertising Festival held in Cannes earlier this year, whose winners will be profiled in the film.

English Canada did quite a bit better, picking up eight prizes including a gold Lion to ad agency Gee Jeffery & Partners for the Real Dealers Can't Jump ad produced for Toyota, six bronzes and a Cyber Lion for interactive media advertising.

"The most obvious reason (for the performance disparity) is that the Anglo Saxon advertising community is much larger," said Romain Hatchuel, the festival's CEO, in a telephone interview from his office in London England. "Larger agencies mean larger budgets, and many agencies such as the Canadian subsidiary of DDB (Palmer Jarvis DDB) are linked and supported by their U.S. parents."

Asked whether the fact that all the ads shown at Cannes had to be either dubbed or sub-tiled into English would put Quebec agencies at a disadvantage, Hatchuel was skeptical: "look at Brazil (which won Agency of the Year awards for the past three years). They used to supply all their ads in Portuguese but since they have been supplying English versions, their performance at the festival has improved considerably."

Quebec industry players were unenthusiastic about commenting about the province's lackluster performance. Victory has a thousand parents but defeat is an orphan, and several players that showed up for the press screening disappeared before the film ended.

"You have to remember that much of Quebec advertising such as Bell Canada's Mr. B campaign is highly targeted toward the local community and these kinds of ads do not work as well on the international stage," said one industry observer who attended the festival. "I noticed the same thing with the dead silent audience reaction to the (Molson Canadian) Rant ad, which performed very well in Canada."

Canada's advertising industry is divided into two distinct communities largely along linguistic and cultural lines, as agencies have structured themselves to more effectively target the two specific audiences.

Although a Cannes Lion is by far the most prestigious prize in an industry littered with awards ceremonies, the festival is basically an excuse for the world's advertising community to take a week's paid vacation each year on the French Riviera at company
expense. Like the better known Cannes Film Festival, the event brings participants from around the world.

One of the most popular sports is checking out what's hot in other counties, and then borrowing the concept by running a similar ad in a local market the next year. This saves many festival participants from the boring work of coming up with original creative concepts. The festival is growing in popularity and this year, more than 9000 delegates attended and 16,000 entries were submitted from 75 countries.

"It is hard to talk about trends because sometimes what shows up in the highlight reel does not reflect what was prevalent among the entries," said Hatchuel. "However this year juries tended to look beyond creativity, but more to how that creativity ties into the product or advertiser's identity."

For example what made the Rant ad so effective is not the merely the fact that is had good art direction and sound, nor just that it appealed to Canadian nationalism. What took the ad that one step further was that the Rant's "Canadian" nationalism message tied into the product name.

But even though Canadian agencies' eight medals are a significant improvement over last year's three, and they did better than their Quebec counterparts, they have little reason to be complacent. Our country is one of the world's largest producers of television commercials. But quantity does not equal quality, and Canada's medal share does not reflect that reality.

Much of this has to do with the fact that Cannes juries tend to reward advertising that takes chances either by making bold statements, or through provocative use of humor and sexual or violent imagery.

In one award winning ad for Amnesty International a doctor examines a patient who has been severely beaten with cuts and bruises all over his body. "He can take some more," the doctor tells the two policemen who brought him in.

But both Canada and Quebec are extremely polite and politically correct societies, and advertisers could never get away with running the often blunt ads that win prizes in Cannes. And that gives agencies in both markets another excuse for their poor performances: blame the public.

The Cannes Lions 2000 winners will be playing at Cinéma Égyptien starting Friday October 6th to October 12th, with showings at 1:30, 4:00, 7:00 and 9:30.

Photo Caption: Canada picked up eight prizes at the festival including a Bronze for Molson Canadian's "Rant" ad.

 

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