Pepe Marais shares his takeaways from judging at Cannes

The co-founder of creative agency Joe Public discusses the various dynamics shaping the advertising industry right now.
Pepe Marais of Joe Public advertising agency
Pepe Marais of Joe Public advertising agency

In recent years ad agency Joe Public has shelved a decent collection of Cannes Lions awards thanks to its progressive and creative approach to marketing. This time around, the company’s chief creative officer Pepe Marais and the Joe Public team returned from the annual advertising event with three bronze lions as well as fresh industry insight from Pepe's experience on the judging panel. We asked him a couple of questions about how the world of advertising is looking from the judge’s seat. 

At Cannes, what were the key factors on which the work was measured?

1. Is it real?

2. Is it highly original?

3. Is it relevant to the brand?

4. Did it result in a measurable result?

Which Cannes nominee really got under your skin while judging at the event this year?

Without a doubt the Ice Bucket Challenge – from the moment I saw the case in the prejudging. Yes, it is not an idea that was created off a brief. It's an idea created from the heart in service of others. In my experience, it's when we come from a place of service that the world responds. And wow did they respond. Millions of engagements, billions of views and a neat R3 billion raised for the cause. 

In an industry that saves its applause for social “do-good” branding, is there any recognition of straightforward hard sell advertising these days?

The subject of "saving applause for do-good" is one worth investigating properly. We should ask why agencies do so much of this or why clients don't expect agencies to flex their creative muscles more on their brands. The "do-good" pieces, even when done on actual brands like Burger King's Proud Whopper Burger promotional campaign, are only done at local, single store level with a giant response. I can't help but ask why this amazingly simple idea was not done at a national level. To me it seems that in a world driven by fear-based decisions, people with the vision to unleash the full power of creativity are far and few between. Another strongly recognised idea that stuck in my mind was Volvo's Interception campaign during the Super Bowl. But once again, it was a low budget idea scaled up through online platforms and PR techniques. So yes, I would love more applause for straightforward hard sell advertising but surely this is not a question just for agencies to answer?

Based on the work recognised at Cannes, what does the future of marketing look like?

I would be lying if I had to make any assumptions about the future of marketing based on the work that was recognised. But what I can say is this: Cannes refocussed me on the power of thinking different. If you see what this approach did for the bottom line of the Apple brand, imagine what it can do for your brand. With an increase in economic pressure I have witnessed a decrease in work that adds true value – work that people actually talk about. Because only when we do work that the market naturally responds to and talks about, do we do work that really makes a difference to the bottom line of our brands. This is what I took away from my Cannes experience, and this is the value that I will strive to bring towards the growth of our clients over the next year.

Where is South African marketing in relation to the work of international agencies?

We have the ideas, although, similarly to Cannes, these only make up (at most) 2% of everything we do. What we don't have is the ability to make these ideas much bigger. Sure, one could argue that we are operating within an isolated market or without big budgetary means but in the end these would just be excuses. We need to “integrate” and “collaborate” more – buzzwords all over the world. We need to change our way of doing not our way of thinking. We as a country have the power to spearhead the African Renaissance – all we need is a different headspace. Cannes has broadened my view and my approach. This new perspective made every minute of the festival worthwhile, even despite all the criticisms of award shows.

In your experience, which are the most satisfying and fun campaigns to work on?

I am in a stage of my career where I want to add more meaning to what I do, hence projects with a greater sense of purpose gives me massive pleasure. Work such as our campaign about time for Dialdirect or work such as our new campaign for Nedbank Business Banking, because entrepreneurship is so close to my heart. Or there are some of the new pieces in the pipeline for Clover and Nedbank. But once again, Cannes exposed me to the power of humour and we all know that the world needs to laugh a hell of a lot more. Even at ourselves. So expect some fun stuff in Joe Public’s mix of advertising party tricks in the future.

In the end, we are all creatives – clients and agencies alike. Nothing is more fulfilling than creating things that are new and original. Work that resonates and connects and moves people emotionally, all the way to the till! It's when we do that, whether through tears of crying or laughter, that I am most satisfied.

Watch the Trailer with Pepe Marais