Cannes Advertising Festival 2023: Film Lions

This was an interesting festival, with agencies from all over the world winning lions for a wide variety of work. It didn’t, however, produce an iconic Grand Prix.

Apple won the Grand Prix two years in a row, along with a beautiful suicide awareness campaign from the UK. And as much as it’s the Grand Prix that gets all the attention and debated about in creative departments, there is some brilliant work all the way through to the Bronze Lion winners.

But it wouldn’t be Cannes without a few head-scratchers in there as well. And honestly, that’s what’s great about Cannes. Because work that is compelling, without necessarily making perfect sense, has a home here. At times, Cannes awards the flawed moonshots that the other major shows (D&AD and OneShow), would never include.

So take a look at the Cannes Film Lions 2023 below. And if you don’t agree with my thoughts, I’m always up for respectful discussions in the comments.

Table of Contents

Cannes Film Lions 2023 Grand Prix winners

First of all, here is the Apple ad ‘R.I.P. Leon’. It’s a very good product demonstration ad with brilliant casting, editing and direction. It’s hardly a transformational idea that will be referred to for generations, but this is the one the judges pinned the ribbon on for 2023. It’s a lesson in how important execution is. Because on paper, the idea definitely would have looked good, but the creative director assessing the idea wouldn’t have imagined that he or she were looking at a Grand Prix winning idea.

The Grand Prix attributes were built into the concept with every decision made throughout the process of producing the ad. How to cast it, how to light it, the pacing, the grading, the sound design and so on.

Look at this Grand Prix winner as an execution, rather than as an idea, and you’ll develop a deeper appreciation for its strengths.

The Grand Prix was shared again. This is what Cannes Judges tend to do when the best piece of work is a social issue / charity campaign – because that is considered in the industry to be an easier brief to tackle than a hard-nosed capitalistic campaign. And truth be told – they are. This idea is great though, the execution is thoroughly appropriate, and it deserves every plaudit it is given. A worthy Grand Prix.

Cannes Film Gold Lions 2023

It must be difficult for the judges to look at the Gold Lion winners and decide on the Grand Prix, particularly when there is no obvious stand-out piece. The first campaign we are showing here for Ikea also did very well in other categories, with a simple, heartwarming idea that easily crossed over into different media. 

The French media company Canal+ is also a regular recipient of lions at Cannes, but it has been a few years since they have been awarded a gold lion. This is a wonderful return to form that sits perfectly within their lighthearted tone of voice.

KFC South Africa is the next Gold Lion. This is perhaps the piece of work that I enjoyed the most this year, and on another day with a different jury it might have taken the next step to the Grand Prix. A great story beautifully executed.

Uber Eats has been doing a lot of great work in recent years. This campaign below is strange, but absolutely compelling. It’s incredibly difficult to keep a campaign this sharp and focused in an agency environment. The death of a thousand cuts is a real thing in advertising, and they did a great job keeping this campaign on track to being great. 

The next ad is from Apple, and yes it’s pretty good – but I’m a bit baffled how it won gold to be honest. At times, certain brands get marked more highly by award judges because of the heritage of their ongoing work. The Economist benefitted from this in the 90’s. Nike in the 00’s as well. Apple is the latest brand to get given a boost – and I suggest that this pretty straight-forward product demonstration ad being awarded a Film Gold Lion is proof. 

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t hate this ad. It’s amazingly produced (it also won a Film Craft Bronze Lion) and it does it’s job perfectly well. I just suggest that it doesn’t quite belong with the other Cannes Film Gold Lion winners this year.

Cannes Film Silver Lions 2023

Ah, here it is. The great big expensive celebrity driven Superbowl ad that the USA is so known for (but rarely produce nearly as well as this). Again, this is a lesson in casting. Without Will Ferrell, or a celebrity with similar profile and talents, this would have definitely have fallen flat – no matter how much money was thrown at the production.

Droga5 took over the Levis work, and immediately began producing some compelling pieces of work. I’d love to have been in the strategy sessions that informed this piece of work. It’s rare to see a jeans / fashion company targeting an older demographic, but here they are!

1000 Powerpoint slides turns into a brilliant drama. I love this piece of work. So well written, and beautifully cast and directed. Could easily have been given gold in another year.

Japan comes to the party

This Nike Ad piece of film is long, but damn it’s good. The directing, the choreography, all of it. Worth several views.

This next piece of work for Squarespace is the second piece of work that the Superbowl gave us this year. Which is actually a good performance for Superbowl ads, which don’t typically do well at Cannes. Adam Driver is perfect for this. The director went nuts with their production budget as well. It doesn’t make a lot of logical sense – but you know it’s for Squarespace and it’s impossible to look away.

Sometimes that’s all you need.

This is a short-film more than an ad. But it’s amazing and worth a look, particularly if you’ve ever seen the Brazilian film ‘City of God’ before. If you haven’t seen City of God, stop looking at the internet and go look at it now. It’s utterly brilliant.

Okay, now this next one for Ocean Spray is just flat out weird. It’s the kind of ad that you see coming from Thailand most years. But no, USA all the way. Not my cup of tea, but the judges liked it enough to give it a Silver Lion.

This piece of work from Weiden + Kennedy (for themselves) is a strange one. See if you like it. Frankly, I’m not sure why it exists. Is it intended to promote Wieden + Kennedy? And how does it get dispersed? 

It’s a bit millenial angst-y for my liking, but perhaps it will strike a chord with you.

This is the final Silver Lion winner. Oatly did really well in the Cannes 2022 with a lot of interesting work. But despite this winning a Cannes Film Silver Lion in 2023, it’s not their best.

School kids distributing Oat milk to each other on the sly? I don’t buy it, even as an imaginary advertising premise. Once a viewer smells bullshit, the power of the ad evaporates. Sure, it’s well made. But I’m surprised it got this far at Cannes.

Cannes Film Bronze Lions 2023

Let’s start with the Bronze Lion that deserved a Gold Lion. Out of New Zealand, this is a brilliant little film that displays the strength of the product in a brilliant way.

This next piece of work for Adidas is one of the better Bronze Lions as well.

Next is this great idea for Pot Noodle in the UK. Honestly though, it’s really an outdoor campaign that’s just been reappropriated as a film. It’s a great idea and perfect tone of voice – but the outdoor is a better expression.

Here is a brilliant lottery ad that I also feel got robbed of a shinier type of metal this year – particularly considering some of the films that did better than it. 

Here is another powerful gun control ad out of the USA. 

This is another short film called ‘The Gentle Giant’ for the Ad Council. It’s beautifully made, but similar to the Silver Lion for Weiden + Kennedy, I’m struggling to understand why it exists and what it’s commercial / persuasive purpose is meant to be. 

Heineken had a bronze lion awarded this year as well.

Finally, here are the final three Bronze Lions. The Blockbuster ad is an obvious scam ad. Shame on the judges for giving it even a shortlist, let alone a Bronze Film Lion.

The Alzheimer Society ad is worth a look, but my guess is that it only just crawled out of the shortlist and into the Bronze Lions category. Similar for the Samsung ad, which might have been better if they’d found an actress with a bit more sparkle. The production and execution are expensive, but flat, unfortunately. 

Take a look at the Other Categories from Cannes 2023

It used to be that the Film category at Cannes was by far the most prestigious. But that has changed dramatically in the past decade. It is always worth taking a good look at this category, because there is a great deal to learn from the way a concept fits itself into this format. 

These days, cross-platform work that builds interest in unconventional ways such as the Brand Experience or Mobile categories are producing some of the more exciting work.

There were two exceptional campaigns that were awarded at Cannes this year that advocated for gun control in the USA. 

The first one you’ll see here was awarded in multiple categories. The organisation invited firearm advocates to give graduation speeches in front of a field of empty chairs, signifying the children that would not graduate from high school because they were killed by a firearm.

Creatively, it’s great. It has echoes of the highly awarded ‘truth’ campaigns of the early 2000’s that worked against tobacco companies. But this is truly its own thing. Very ambitious and they pulled it off wonderfully.

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