Will the ink dry up?

Posted: June 25, 2015

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by Jonathan Deeb, Executive Creative Director, FCB Joburg

The Cannes Festival of Creativity is a highlight on the global advertising calendar. It is a week filled with the most exciting debates, seminars and presentations. A week of networking, of immersion in hundreds of inspiring shortlisted ads and, when the awards are announced, it is a week of celebration.

I’ve attended the Festival before, but this year am honoured to be here as one of 16 judges in the Press Category.

This was created in 1992 and therefore has only existed for 23 of the Festival’s 60 year history yet is now in dramatic decline attracting only 4470 entries in 2015 compared to the 7441 entries in 2008. These numbers evidence the sobering reality that change is inevitable in the media landscape and that press is being negatively affected.

Print is the medium in which some of advertising’s greatest names built their careers as credible marketers. In the end, print is a powerful practice of the distillation of an idea into its simplest form.

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Against this backdrop and the ever-growing imperative of digital, the questions that consumed me throughout the judging process were: Will press continue to have a role in the advertising world? Does this medium remain relevant? And if yes, how do we see it evolving?

Regardless of how it may evolve, print in its current form can be commanding and powerful. It stands completely naked as a piece of communication. Unlike other categories in Cannes, where the case film has become a standard format to present a marketing idea, with press, there is no elaborate embroidery.

As judges we are forced to consume the stark, ungarnished page the very same way a consumer would. And it is in the three to four second window that the reader glances down at a page that the ad has to make its mark.

If we look back at some standout pieces of the past, the power of these ideas, different as they are, are comprised of the same two simple ingredients – the careful selection and crafting of words and visuals:

• In 2008, the South African Grand Prix-winning Energizer campaign featuring visuals of kids getting up to all sorts of mischief reinforced by the line “Never let their toys die” was a prime example of the simple power of human insight brought to life by an engaging, well-crafted, visual story underpinned with succinct copy.

• In 2014, the Press Grand Prix was awarded to the Harvey Nichols range of “Sorry I spent it on myself” products. The power here was the idea – the ‘creation’ of a product; print was just one of the many media cogs selected to share the message.

• Also in 2014, the Grand Prix in the Mobile Category was a print ad for Nivea Kids Sun Protection. This ad featured a ‘built-in, detachable’ tracking device in the form of a wrist band. When attached around a child’s wrist and connected to a mobile phone, it allowed the parents of that child to keep track of him or her on the beach. A wonderfully creative yet simple mélange of insight, traditional print and technology.

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This brings us back to 2015.

Even without added contraptions to the page, we have seen the digital world’s influence has come alive on paper. We have seen it in the use of online, mobile and social media language. And we have seen it in a trend towards a braver, simpler art direction influenced by the approach to web design.

Magazines are still on the shelves in prolific numbers and categories. There is a trend towards more niched publications and, with the advancement in technology, unique and customised print runs are being produced of the broader publications targeted specifically to one particular area or segmented market.

In the end, a selection of a Grand Prix for a judging panel is a big responsibility. Grand Prix of the past have been opportunities to send a message of the kind of work that can provide a fresh new way forward for the category.

While there was some incredibly solid, powerful work that was worthy of the prestigious Lions awarded to them, this year our jury found it very hard to find that sort of transformational work. Certainly 2015’s work is the best of show, it is my opinion that it is not a guiding light.

There was also considerable debate as to what was should be allowed or disallowed in the category. Where does the print category end and direct communication begin? Should entry films be allowed to be included for most entries or only permitted as the exception? Does press have to occupy the traditional contained media space within a publication, or can it more holistically utilise the entire magazine to portray its message?

My opinion is that if Press Category is to remain relevant, and as marketers we are committed to helping press continue to find its role amongst the other media, a number of these sorts of questions will start to guide the way the category evolves.

Print is on a journey of adaptation but its potential is no less powerful.