Cannes success advertises home-grown creatives

In business we get lots of invitations to attend important occasions overseas.

In business we get lots of invitations to attend important occasions overseas. More often than not, I knock them back, but this week I felt I had no choice but to attend a wedding in Las Vegas of a bloke I see for only three hours a week. He's my trainer, Marty, and anyone who will get up at 4.30am three times a week to keep me on the straight and narrow deserves my support.

And the truth is that without Marty, I might not be here ... and I certainly wouldn't be flying around the world to play a part in the global advertising industry. Before Marty got to work, I could barely fit my then 160 kilograms into a business-class seat.

And fly around the world we must, like our creative but weary advertising people who have just returned from the south of France. With winter around us, Cannes was the place to be.

The Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity is the biggest advertising event of the year and was attended this year by the likes of Mark Zuckerberg, Bill Clinton, Robert Redford, Ben Stiller and Yoko Ono. They were among 11,000 delegates from 90 countries who waited anxiously to see if their contribution to the 34,000 entries would bring them gold, silver or bronze.

"Like the Olympics, except you do the high jump if you lose," Louise smirks.

"Easy," Charlie says. "Life without brand for you would be like latte without Lygon Street. Just try shopping in downtown Pyongyang."

But unlike our ill-fated campaign of breathless sporting exertion across the channel in the Old Dart last year, our Australian creatives showed more grunt in this Cannes festival than the Bulgarian weightlifting team. We took away our highest haul of awards, dominated by a viral ad produced by McCann in Melbourne for Metro trains in Victoria called "Dumb Ways to Die".

"Why did it win?" Charlie asks.

"That's a dumb question," Louise chuckles. "How come someone so smart with money is so dumb about creativity?"

Well, I guess it's true that there are many more poor artists than rich ones, but the point is that our attention is captured when there is a clash of almost any kind, and this award-winning ad gains its captivating charm and effectiveness by putting a heart-warming jingle and kiddie-style graphics up alongside the prospect of near certain death.

"The happy reaper?" asks Louise, who is just trying to impress by showing she had read last week's column.

Well, I say, whatever works. Obviously, it did.

McCann executive creative director John Mescall says its ad led to a 29 per cent reduction in public transport accidents in the short term and will undoubtedly save lives in the future, if it hasn't already. Most of them will be young people. What could be more important than that?

Australia won 87 Lions this year, soundly beating last year's tally of 59. Its overall haul was second only to the US, but we smashed the rest of the world on strike rate with one Lion for every 12 entries compared with the US, which had one award for every 34 entries.

Why are we so good? I think it's all about our free society breeding free spirits that are not bound up in old-class systems and traditions.

Elsewhere, advertising and advertising people are relatively safe, but in Australia, our creative people are adventure-seeking iconoclasts.

They are often pretty loose surfie types who love the freedom of the sea that surrounds us, but they love even more the skill and discipline required to ride a wave.

It all amounts to leadership of the highest international standard.

And even though a flight from New York to the east coast of Australia is on the road to nowhere, we can become the destination itself as our creative people in all disciplines compete with the rest of the world and win.

As galling as it is that the rest of the world continually underrates us, I'm convinced that it is simply the best challenge we can have.

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