McCann does Cannes

Tayla Gentle / June 26, 2013 01:42 PM

Local advertising agency McCann Australia received a well-deserved round of applause at the weekend after making history at the Cannes Lions Festival of Creativity.

The international award ceremony, which is the less glamorous counterpart to its famous sister film festival, celebrates the very best and most innovative of the year’s advertising.



If you move in advertising circles it is well understood that if you step onto the Cannes stage and accept a lion-shaped trophy, you and your agency have bragging rights set for the next year.

And if you step onto the stage 28 times and accept 28 prizes, as the McCann team did for their hilariously morbid Dumb Ways to Die campaign, you and your agency have bragging rights set for life.

Executive creative director John Mescall found himself thrust into the advertising spotlight after the Metro Trains ad picked up a record-breaking five Grand Prix, 18 Gold Lions, three Silver Lions and two Bronze lions, the most ever awarded to one campaign in the festivals 60-year history.

The ad’s catchy tune, performed by Tangerine Kitty and composed by The Cat Empire’s Ollie McGill,  and animated video clip, illustrated by Julian Frost, warns viewers of the perils associated with being ‘dumb’ around trains.

In a twist on regular public service announcements, the cartoon’s collection of loveable miscreants highlight reckless and grisly ways to die, which include “dressing up as a moose during hunting season”, “using your private parts as piranha bait” and “standing on the edge of the train station platform”.

Within 24 hours of its launch in late 2012, the Dumb Ways to Die song reached the iTunes Top 10 and was ranked number six on the singer/songwriter global chart.

The video has gone viral, with almost 52 million YouTube views to date, and continues to attract viewers, spawn global parodies and has resulted in a smartphone app, game and tumblr.

On receiving the awards Mescall told B&T, “This is a testament to a great client and the hard work and dedication of everyone at McCann Australia. I’m very proud of us all.”

From a business perspective, this year’s success at Cannes is a remarkable turnaround for the Melbourne agency, which was on its knees only 18 months ago.

McCann first opened its doors in 1959 and what followed was an illustrious career, steeped in some of Australia’s most iconic advertising moments, from ‘Louie the Fly’, ‘The Milky Bar Kid’ to the ‘It’s Time’ Labor campaign.

However the past few years saw the agency flail, gaining a reputation as “sleepy”, until the savvy team behind Dumb Ways to Die, led by CEO Ash Farr, stepped in following the sale of their independent agency Smart to the McCann World Group.

From the outside, the Smart team appeared cut-throat in their shake-up of the failing business model, turning over 100 per cent of staff.

However, if the five grand prix are anything to go by, the bold moves appear to have paid off.

In an interview with The Australian, Mescall said the low-budget campaign “gives heart to marketers everywhere”.

“This is a local client that has created the world’s favourite campaign. You need a great idea and the commitment to execute it to the level to make it go viral. A lot of people I have spoken to think it’s great that this isn’t Nike or Volkswagen, but a train company.”

While the Metro Trains campaign won the vast majority, the agency also had two other campaigns rewarded, with The Impossible Orchestra receiving  a Bronze Lion and the V/Line Guilt Trip campaign earning three Bronze Lions.

In other good news for Australian advertising, OMD Sydney won Best Global Media Agency of the Year and Beer Chase, Clemenger’s ‘Made from Beer’ campaign, was awarded a Gold Lion.

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