- NEW YORK
Margaret Johnson’s first tour of Cannes Lions jury duty came in 2013 as a Titanium and Integrated Lions judge. Back then she was ECD/partner at Goodby Silverstein & Partners (GS&P). In 2017, a year after having taken the reins as GS&P’s chief creative officer, Johnson judged the Promo & Activation Lions. Now she returns as president of this year’s Cannes Film Lions jury.
Johnson is enthused over her plum Film Lions assignment, sharing, “The film track is the most emotionally evocative and competitive category at Cannes, and I look forward to debating how the world’s most creative people are using this medium to tell their stories. Radical inclusiveness is the future of creativity and a theme I hope to see reflected in the work this year. Until recently, the dominant perspective was a narrow one, coming from a relatively small number of developing countries. Now everyone in the world gets to play.
“The work we will see and award is a barometer of what we value as a society today,” she continued. “I can’t wait to bring together some of the most talented critics to laugh, cry and award the best in this powerful medium.”
As for what she learned from her past Cannes Lions judging experience, which in turn she hopes to apply to the Film Lions jury as its president, Johnson related, “Human nature has trained us to make quick decisions and trust our intuitions, which is a good thing but something I wrestle with as a judge. As I’ve gained more experience, I’ve had to focus on listening to those around me to really understand what speaks to them and why. Given that the judges on the film jury are from 19 countries, they are looking at the work from such very different perspectives, which is what makes judging a show like Cannes exciting but also can make for great debate. As the president I hope to set the stage that we’re looking for work that moves us emotionally and as a society as a whole.”
Regarding her wish list at Cannes, Johnson shared, “I hope to see work for real, paying clients. The fact that P&G had two ads last year that tied for the Grand Prix shows that creativity is alive and well with corporations. I also hope to see more ads like Tide’s, ads that become part of pop culture. I always gravitate toward ideas that have never been done before or that take something taboo and make it worth talking about. I also hope not to see a lot of scam [work]!”
At press time, Johnson noted that she and the judges were already starting to look at work in advance. The year’s awards circuit timing has also lent a hand as she explained, “I was fortunate to be a part of the ANDY Awards judging in January, which gave me a preliminary view of what to expect out of France.”
She is also looking forward to the jury dynamic. “My attraction to being a judge is that you get to know the best of the best in advertising. Spending a week in a room in France with 10 people, debating work, is pretty intimate and emotional. I feel lucky to serve on this prestigious jury with such a phenomenal roster of judges. I expect to come away from the week with enlightened perspectives on our industry and the world.”
PJ Pereira, co-founder and creative chairman, Pereira O’Dell, has served on five Cannes Lions juries over the years. He now heads the Social & Influencer Lions, marking the third time he’s been a jury president at Cannes, the first two having him at the helm of the Cyber Lions jury in 2005 and the Entertainment Lions jury in 2017.
For Pereira, the third time’s the charm--not related to this being his third go-around as a Cannes jury president but because each time he’s chaired a jury, the particular category--Cyber, Entertainment and now Social & Influencer Lions--was in its third year. The third year can be pivotal in helping to define and grow a category and Pereira hopes his jury’s work will make a positive impact on the community at large.
In order to do that, Pereira’s approach is one learned over time. “I think at this point I know how to get the most out of a jury. I’m not there to impose my will but to help the judges put their opinions into the form of a selection.” Sometimes, he observed, juries can get too bogged down in trying to define a category, to impose their beliefs. This leads to limiting yourself if a piece of work, which you like otherwise, doesn’t match your belief going in. Pereira asserted, “Cannes is important enough to change your beliefs.”
He recalled back in 2005 for the Cyber Lions, two pieces of work were in contention for the Grand Prix. The jury was split down the middle but ultimately went with an excellent website, work that by its very nature coincided with the prevailing definition of what Cyber was at the time. In retrospect, contended Pereira, the choice should have instead been the work that much of the jury responded to emotionally. If they had gone in that direction, their pick would have predicted the future in terms of what video meant to the Internet as opposed to recognizing a website.
So when Pereira got his second turn as a Cannes jury president 12 years later, for the Entertainment Lions, he asked the judges “to leave behind any preconception of what the category should be.” The focus instead should be on what the category is becoming, not what it is or what it’s currently thought to be, he explained. “Let the work speak,” Pereira affirmed.” In the case of the Social and Influencer Lions, “the work will show us what the future is.”
It’s only fitting that David Lubars, worldwide chief creative officer and North American chairman of BBDO, preside over the Cannes Titanium Lions jury. After all, he won the first ever Titanium Lion back in 2003 for his work on BMW’s “The Hire” back during his days at Fallon. He has previously served as jury president for Titanium, Press, Film and the Entertainment Lions.
With this extensive Cannes pedigree of chairing juries, Lubars defines the role as simply “looking for magic...Make sure the hair is standing on your neck, that you’re a bit jealous of the work. Then you know it’s new, original, effervescent, that it lifts the audience even if the subject matter is heavy, that it’s never been seen before, that it’s smart and makes sense for the product.”
Lubars added, however, that while “all those things make for a great piece of work, it might not be ‘Titanium great.’” That’s because the Titanium category demands more, based on the original charter conceived by Dan Wieden of Wieden+Kennedy. The category, said Lubars, is designed “to recognize things so new and different that they don’t fit comfortably in any other category. It has to be work that shows where things are going. Even if it’s great work and would win in other categories, it’s not going to win in Titanium if it’s not showing the way forward.”
The judging experience at the Cannes Lions has consistently moved Lubars forward. Heading up juries, he observed, “reinforces why you believe what you believe, like strongly believing that creativity well applied is an economic multiplier. You can see the results of great creativity in the jury room.”
What transpires in that room, added Lubars, “being exposed to other people’s different views and takes on the work helps open your aperture about creativity and what it is.”
Ari Weiss, chief creative officer, DDB Worldwide, North America, has gone from a judge on the Cannes Mobile Lions jury in 2018 to that category’s president this year. He sees the Mobile Lions as a category carrying considerable significance. “I really believe this category can have emotional resonance that matches, if not supersedes, any other category,” he observed. “Mobile is the one portal into consumption that we spend the most time with. It serves to reason that it could thus have the strongest emotional connection.”
Weiss went on to assess, “In a lot of ways, Mobile (Lions) is probably the most future facing of the categories. This is the platform that still in a lot of ways has yet to be crafted, even with YouTube, Facebook and Instagram. I don’t know that we’ve seen the full storytelling and content creation capabilities of mobile yet. Obviously mobile gaming is tremendous. I’m a bit of a video game nerd myself. But we haven’t seen brands tap into mobile potential to the same extent. It’s still like being a little in the Wild West. There are different opportunities yet to be realized.”
From a judging standpoint, the Mobile Lions present unique challenges. “There are so many different touchpoints that make Mobile Lions a very interesting category to judge,” said Weiss, explaining, “You have all these perspectives--tech and utility, content, data collection and deployment, consumption and distribution rates.”
Weiss embraces those challenges and the judging process itself, drawn to the connection he experiences in the jury room. “You’re getting all these worldly perspectives from the people that Cannes has assembled. Judging becomes the master class of master classes in the field. That’s the value. It’s one of the most wonderful experiences you can have in our industry. It will stretch you, teach you, push you, make you recommit to your point of view or change your point of view. It’s called growing and that’s what we do every day I suppose. But in the jury room, you do that in a concentrated time, which is awesome.”
Jamie Robinson too is no stranger to Cannes Lion judging. She was Mobile Lions jury president in 2015 and on the Titanium jury in 2017. Now Robinson, chief creative officer for Joan Creative, is taking on the jury presidency for Glass: The Lion for Change, which celebrates culture-shifting creativity. The focus is on ideas intended to change the world, work which sets out to positively impact ingrained gender inequality, imbalance or injustice.
Reflecting on lessons learned from her past Cannes judging experience, Robinson related, “I think the major thing you look for is holding the work to the highest standard. As a fellow jury member once said to the room, “This is the Cannes F*cking Lions!!!” So the work has to be top notch. For Glass, however, you have two criteria to look out for--the creativity and the bravery of the statement. I think it will be very interesting to square them both.
Robinson’s wish list as Glass president includes personal growth. “I want to be really pushed by the creative solutions and bold conversations around gender. As weird as it sounds, I wouldn’t mind having one or two of my own unconscious biases brought to my attention. That’s how you grow.”
As for how she’s prepped for Glass Lions jury duty, Robinson offered, “I’ve spent the past decade or so thinking about gender as it relates to our field, so I feel pretty well versed on the subject. I haven’t seen every piece of work in the world, of course, but I have seen enough to have a good grasp of what things are truly pushing the conversation forward and which are hollow statements from companies trying to get on the bandwagon (and often doing it clumsily.)”
Robinson also noted that Glass: The Lion for Change category continues to evolve. “Initially Glass Lions were very female-focused. I saw it as a feminist Lion. Today, the cultural conversation around gender involves not just BOTH genders, but also non-binary gender and LGBTQ. I am really hoping to see work this year that pushes into these territories. As an industry, we can only create relevant work when we are keeping up with--and sometimes even pushing beyond--what our audiences are talking about in social media.”
Of the judging process and what attracts her to it, Robinson observed, “Jury rooms are magical spaces where even the most stubborn minds can be changed. Imagine this: 10-15 people, all the last word on the work at their own agencies, the creative shot-callers. And yet, in jury rooms, they come to the table with an open mind and a desire to learn. It stems from a deep appreciation of the people around the table, and of course, the work. I always return back a better creative, thinker and leader than I was before.”
Relative to what else she’d like to bring back to Joan Creative from her experience on this year’s jury, Robinson said, “I’m excited to see work I may not have been exposed to at home, so I can have a better understanding about how other countries are handling gender inequality. I also want to bring back a few pieces that I’m super pissed off that we didn’t make, because they’re so good.”