Teehan + Lax’ shortlist nod shows strength in a growing agency discipline
There may not have been a Canadian on the podium at the inaugural Innovation Lions award gala tonight, but one Toronto agency already earned global recognition thanks to this new competition that honours the very technical side of marketing.
Jon Lax, a partner at Teehan + Lax, flew to Cannes Friday on last-minute travel plans to present his agency’s work, Google Street View Hyperlapse, to a jury of some of the world’s best known technical innovators.
“This isn’t really my scene,” he said as he sat in one of the rare shady spots outside the Palais du Congres, the Lions’ historical home. Lax had been told of his place on the Innovation Lion shortlist only two weeks prior, and managed to book a flight between business trips to Portland and Phoenix, to be here for a 10-minute grilling by a 10-member jury panel led by David Droga, the founder of Droga5 who has been no stranger to Cannes’ jury rooms or award stages.
“The only guidance they really gave us was to focus on the technical aspects of the project rather than the idea,” said Lax. “A lot of the shortlist [finalists] are really concepts. It’s unknown how many of them are real, so the jury was trying to tease out what was smoke and mirrors and what was real.”
The presentation to the jury, which festival attendees are allowed to watch, is a new element to the typical cloistered judging process. But the nature of the Innovation Lions requires a lot of Q&A. Eligible products range from new kinds of mobile phones to new programming languages to Lax’ hyperlapse tool – open-source software that knits Street View images together to create a sort-of stop motion film where the camera remains focused on a fixed point.
Being a senior agency exec, Lax is no stranger to the pitch process. But despite this and being a public speaking vet, he said he was nervous going into his presentation.
“There was more pressure,” he said. “Obviously, the jury is very esteemed. You’re operating on a stage that’s a global stage. And typically, when you’re publicly speaking, it’s your audience. They’re there to see you. Here, it’s not your audience.
“And I only had 10 minutes. I had to find a narrative, a line through the story that would hold together over 10 minutes that hit the points I thought were important, things you wouldn’t necessarily understand when you experience [the product].”
The jury’s questions dealt mainly with how other agencies could use the hyperlapse product, something Lax said he’s been getting calls about. After twenty minutes, Lax was done and left to wander the Croisette until the winners were announced Tuesday night.
In the end, Google Street View Hyperlapse did not win a Lion. From a field of 270 submissions, only four were given awards in this very technical contest. The Grand Prix went to Cinder, “an open source platform for creative coding.” It is described by its author Andrew Bell as a “hard-core developer tool” that uses the C++ programming language to let different software programs and devices communicate.
It is not your typical Lion winner. There’s no ad, no media buy, no physical product or “big idea” to hang an integrated campaign on. Cinder is lines of code that requires a programmer’s know how to use effectively. In fact it needs 20 minutes of explanation just so the jury understands it at all. In naming it the Grand Prix, Droga and his jury were making a statement.
“They’ve created something that is not only gaining momentum, but is contributing to probably 20 or 30 entries that are here at the festival,” said Droga. “It’s [built] in the spirit of innovation, the spirit of creativity and communication. That’s why this category is extraordinary.”
Many have come to see the addition of new contests as a cash grab for Cannes Lions, a way for them to draw in new communities of attendees willing to pay thousands of dollars for a festival pass. But the diversity among the Innovation Lion winners – a phone with two screens from Russia, a debit card that displays its balance from Poland, and social media technology from the U.S. – shows the organization understands that capital-I “Innovation” (i.e. product design, invention, IP development or however else you skin it) is a growing practice among agencies, a legitimate area of interest among marketers and one that doesn’t fit neatly within Cannes’ existing award programs.
“This is something the industry has been talking to us about,” said Philip Thomas, CEO of Cannes Lions. “The first discussions began in 2010 about how we could start to honour the technology behind creative ideas… We spent a long time honing it to get it exactly right.” He said the jury, which includes creative leads from Microsoft, Google and Facebook alongside executives from creative agencies and development houses, ultimately decided how to express that goal. Yes, Thomas said, it will bring audiences to Cannes, “and that’s exactly what the industry was asking us to do.”
“There are many categories at this festival and they all celebrate very important, worthy things, and we understand what’s at stake when you introduce a new category,” said Droga, who has served as president on several different Cannes juries in the past.
“It elevated the festival in the sense of how we judge things and how people enter things. It took it beyond the case study… To actually create a [judging] format that is interactive, where the shortlist has to stand on stage for 10 minutes… I found it quite humbling.”
Teehan + Lax may not be bringing home a Lion in this particular category, but being named one of the 25 most innovative products by Cannes Lions is a significant accomplishment on its own.