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Independent agencies flex muscle at Cannes ad awards

A still from the award-wiining World Cup 2010 Commercial for Nike.

An epic three-minute Nike commercial made to capitalize on last year's FIFA World Cup took the top film prize in the Cannes advertising festival's final night of awards on Saturday, another in a string of major honours won by independent agencies not owned by the industry's big holding companies.

Write the Future, directed by the Mexican filmmaker Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu ( Babel), won the Grand Prix in the film category. Created by the hot Portland, Ore., shop Wieden + Kennedy, which had a pop culture hit with its campaign for Old Spice last year, the spot foretold the heroic or dismal future of various soccer stars, depending on their performance on the soccer pitch.

Many agencies like Wieden + Kennedy are being snapped up by global holding companies such as WPP, BBDO, TBWA, and Toronto-based MDC Partners, which are constantly on the prowl for the next hot shop.

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A slickly produced multimillion-dollar effort, the Nike spot's victory at Cannes underscored the return of expensive commercials after a number of years in which simple ideas executed with minimalist production values won the day.

Still, the biggest winner among Canadian agencies, an Internet-based trio of ads for Skittles that were relatively inexpensive, took home a number of awards, including gold in both the cyber and film categories. The campaign by BBDO Toronto, which played only on the Internet, made it appear as if viewers could directly affect the action by touching a particular spot on their computer screens. (In one, a cat seemed to repeatedly lick the viewer's finger.)

Canada also won three bronze film awards on Saturday night, including one created by the agency Taxi for a commercial in the current Viagra campaign in which a man apologizes to his buddies for not being able to make it to a round of golf.

In total, Canadian shops won 17 awards, an increase of four over last year's haul, as well as a gold in one of the Young Lions categories, a gruelling 48-hour competition pitting dozens of creative teams from around the world against each other.

Praising the Nike spot, Tony Granger, the chief worldwide creative officer of Y&R, said: "The most difficult brief that comes across a creative's desk is to create a global film that connects locally, and this one certainly does. It reveals a truth about the brand in a wonderful way, and it's just absolutely meticulously created."

Noting that Nike commercials have often won big at Cannes, Mr. Granger said the achievement is, "a testament to how brilliant the creatives are, and how brave the client is. Because a commercial is only as brilliant as the client is. At the end of the day, they're the ones that say yes or no, and Nike seems to have the knack of saying yes to really wonderful content."

Yet Microsoft, which has a reputation as a marketer that shies away from bold creative ideas, was behind the winner of the Grand Prix for an integrated campaign, the festival's highest honour this year. It involved Internet users in a worldwide scavenger hunt for clues on its Bing search engine that won them copies of the Jay-Z biography Decode.

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That campaign was designed by the New York-based Droga5, another hot independent shop.

The executive creative director of Wieden & Kennedy Portland who served on the film jury, insisted that independence allows agencies a rare freedom. "It makes an enormous difference," said Mark Fitzloff, "because you're not beholden to anybody except your clients."

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About the Author
Senior Media Writer

Simon Houpt is the Globe and Mail's senior media writer, charged with covering the industry's transformation. He began his career with The Globe in 1999 as the paper's New York arts correspondent, covering the cultural life of that city through Canadian eyes. More

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