Direct Lions Jury President on his high standards for the jury room and why direct is the epicentre of the industry
“You’re going to see some amazing work. At the beginning of the week on Monday, when you see the work from the Direct and Promo & Activation categories… you’ve probably seen the whole week. Nestling in those categories will be the best work of the week, I guarantee that,” enthuses this year’s Direct Lions jury president, Mark Tutssel.
The old hierarchy of award show categories has been tipped on its head as technology has allowed previously unsexy or unloved categories to become treasure troves of surprises, creativity and brilliant business-changing ideas. Nowhere is that truer than in direct, a category that’s always been about creating one-to-one relationships with consumers but which has been supercharged by the digital age.
“I think the alchemy of creativity and technology has put this category on steroids and it’s given them access to a plethora of platforms to directly move people, to create these one to one conversations, to create these bespoke models around behaviour and taste. I think it’s huge,” says Mark.
Unlike many of the other categories, measurable business impact is at the core of Direct – and at a time where the ad industry is suffering from an identity crisis, Direct may be a rather grounding force. “Using creativity to drive business impact is our north star,” says Mark. “The whole idea of direct is that you’re asking people to act and do something so the act that you create is hugely important. We can have one-to-one conversations with people in every channel so it has ultimately become the epicentre of communications because it has business as its heartbeat. It has a direct impact that correlates with business success.”
As with many of the other categories, this year Mark is expecting a significant number of virtual reality entries into Direct.
“As a category I think direct is perfectly suited for the medium of VR because it offers unprecedented opportunities for brands to deliver immersive engaging experiences and content directly to people. The possibilities are immense,” he says. “We’ve done a lot of work in this space, but VR is a technology that is still finding its way in the fabric of advertising. It’s made huge strides in the past two years and I can guarantee that it will dramatically surprise us this year. Although it’s early in its adoption and timeline, virtual reality has generated a lot of enthusiasm among people, among customers; marketers and brands and publishers are already experimenting with it so I’d expect to see a lot of campaigns include a VR or 360 video component.”
As a jury president, Mark is one of the most experienced and forensic in the industry. That’s because, for him, he feels duty-bound to respect the work and the people who have made it. And he expects no less from his jurors.
“I expect no jingoism or political behaviour. The award shows now are so finely tuned that they can pick up on that. I let them know that I can see their scores and I monitor these scores so I expect you to operate with the utmost integrity. I want you to have fun and I want to arrive at a decision as one.”
He’s also got little time for blasé I’ve-seen-it-before cynics. “If you say ‘I’ve seen it before’, I’ll ask you where you’ve seen it. If you think you’ve seen something before, I’m the jury chair, let me know and we’ll investigate the facts and I’ll raise it with the jury. But don’t pollute the room with sweeping statements like that if you can’t justify it.”
Another piece of advice he has for newbie Cannes judges is to figure out their internal benchmarks and to stick to them. “Get your metre right. On your mental scale of one to ten, set your bar, your markers and be consistent,” he says. “Consistency in judging is the key to fairness because you can get tired and wander off and start tapping numbers instead of analysing work. I don’t want you just tapping numbers. It is wearying and it is time consuming and it stretches a lot of people but the most important thing is consensus and conversation.”
As for entrants, he’s also got some words of wisdom when it comes to case studies. He feels like after much criticism of stat-laden videos that barely explain the creative idea, things are gradually improving, but that many still try too hard to ‘sell’ the entry which ultimately undermines the creative idea.
“I think that the quality of cases today, by and large, are getting better. I think there was such a backlash to the cases over the last couple of years just in terms of injecting all sorts of stupid factoids into them to persuade judges to give it a ‘yes’,” he says. “The biggest thing I say to people is ‘let judges judge’. The judges have experience, they don’t need to be persuaded or sold to. I don’t care if a magazine thinks it’s the greatest thing since sliced bread. I don’t care about these gratuitous numbers... I think it damages the entry because it insults the juror. It’s desperately trying to sell the idea, but the jurors are there because they know ideas and their judgement is impeccable. We’ve got to move from selling videos to idea videos that represent the idea in its purest form, that are clear and concise and have context. It’s a judging room, not a selling room.”
So with all that in mind, Mark is looking forward to unearthing and awarding some class ideas. And he’s also looking forward to learning, being inspired and celebrating the power of creativity – and he hopes that the clients and giant tech behemoths that have been coming to Cannes in ever-increasing numbers do the same.
“I’ve been to Cannes more times than anybody and every time I go I feel like a child. It’s a great privilege to immerse yourself in the very best of the best. The most important thing is to be a sponge and absorb everything Cannes has to offer. It’s a festival of creativity, it’s not CES, it’s not a roadshow, it’s not a media jolly, it’s not a tech jolly, it’s not the Carlton Terrace,” he says.
“Hopefully we will see some great work and I just hope that the clients and the tech companies leave feeling that the power of creativity is paramount to their business. Creativity can change business and at its best it can change the world.”