News & Views

Interview / Winning at Cannes

by Contagious Team
Contagious catches up with Tham Khai Meng, worldwide chief creative officer at Ogilvy & Mather – winner of network of the year at Cannes Lions in 2012, 2013 and 2014 – about what it takes to win at Cannes and why coming top is so important.



What does it mean for Ogilvy as a business when you win at Cannes International Festival of Creativity?

It means for us to know that we are on the right track. It means that the work is shareable, has great storytelling, has an idea above everything else, has deep immersive experience, is emotional, useful and connects with everyone.

It also gives us a wonderful sense of impetus to go on winning. There is no greater shop window for your wares than Cannes, and no greater endorsement or advert for your own agency than winning there. I’m not just talking about morale, although that is important, but about things more tangible. The phone rings. You get calls from clients who’ve seen what you can do and want some of it. It means it is easier to get on the pitch lists. When that happens you win more business and get the resources to plough back into the creativity. You also get phone calls from other creatives, they want to move to where great work is being ideated, sold and produced. You acquire the superstars and retain the ones you have. It’s a formidable virtuous circle, success begets success.



What elements make a winning campaign?

Fortunately nobody knows. I mean, yes, we can all give a shopping list of virtues that award winning work possesses. Wildly original, witty, sharp, creative, charming, stuff that makes you grin... and yes it must be flawless in execution. But all that is just the starting point. The work that really stands out, that people talk about and gets remembered has something else. Factor X. No one really knows what it is. It’s like a great tune. There have been millions of good tunes but only a handful of truly great ones, and no one knows what the difference is. You just feel it in your heart. Everyone else feels it too. I say it’s fortunate that nobody knows, because that’s why we need artists. If they ever bottle it we’ll be out of a job.



What do the judges look for?

At the beginning of the week they are looking for creative fireworks, originality, wit, charm, great storytelling that touches the heart. Things like that. That’s at the start of the week. Five days later after sitting from dawn to dusk in a basement, eating stale sandwiches, vision blurred by ten thousand ads, you find yourself in a state of spiritual collapse. At that point you are looking for a reason not to shoot yourself. You are looking for ideas that restore your faith. Ideas that make you smile and think, OK this is a crazy way to spend a week, but in the words of the old Apple ads, Here’s to the crazy ones.

What does the accolade mean to you and your creative team?

It means lots of things, a whole cocktail of emotions. I mean, let's be honest we all like to win prizes, but there is also a great feeling of relief. Once you’ve won big once, the next outing is a bit of a high wire act. A lot of people will be hoping you fall off. It also means the client’s faith in you has been vindicated. Great award-winning work is bold and brave, inherently risky. It's the clients who take the risk, it's their money. In recommending a brave idea I sometimes feel like a surgeon recommending an experimental new procedure that has never been done before. And I have to pretend it's routine, nothing to worry about. It's great when it pays off. They say doctors bury their mistakes, we just hide ours behind the filing cabinet. But you do feel the responsibility keenly. No one wants to recommend a daring route and watch it turn into a turkey. By contrast, I have danced with clients that have won, no names mentioned!


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