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Cyber Grand Prix: Break the Digital Boundary

  |  July 2, 2003   |  Comments

A member of the jury reflects on this year's Cyber Lion winners.

Cannes, the French Riviera's staid center, where everyone is tanned, well attired, and well-to-do, is a favored site for business conferences and festivals. These include the annual paean to cinema and June's international advertising awards, the Cannes Lions. TV commercials still rule the roost, but the event now includes print, outdoor, direct, and, for the last few years, digital. This year, 16 jurors from as many countries gathered in a fourth-floor corner of the Palais des Festivals, where floor-to-ceiling curtains blocked out the light and a spectacular harbor view, so we could judge some 1,500 entries for the Cyber Lions, the international award for creativity in digital media.

An elusive concept online and off-, creativity isn't efficiency or effectiveness. It's magical. It's taking what the client wants to say and transforming it into something the customer wants to watch, read or, in interactive, do. Superior design both easy to use and easy on the eyes, sizzling design with eye-popping videos and pulsating audio, innovative design anchored in novel navigation and clever tools -- these won no awards here. Rather, winners focused on expressing the brand through an idea rendered into a user experience.


Volvo of Denmark entered an integrated interactive campaign for a new car launch in which the Web plays the central role. In an unconventional (if not exactly risky) move, Volvo decided none of the offline, prelaunch advertising would show the product. Instead, the first public look at the vehicle would occur at a Web site created for that purpose. In a double reverse, the site's creativity is in its reprise of a new car buyer's conventional offline experience.

First came the beauty shots. Print-ad tradition, but more dynamism and scope. Users scroll horizontally across a gorgeously rendered panorama of Myst-like backgrounds with occasional, minor animations. They come upon the new car in different locations. The aesthetics are like full-color magazine spreads, but the experience is more alive. Clicking a beauty shot opens the corresponding section of an explicitly metaphorical product brochure. The cursor turns pages that, in turn, reveal gracefully animated spreads and foldouts that deliver information visually. Just enough words explain fully, and no more. Ultimately, one can dive into a third layer of functional features typical of any automotive Web site.

Volvo wanted the Web to be its first and foremost showcase. The Web delivered print-advertising beauty shots, but more of them; a high-end brochure's text and graphics, but animated; and, finally, the practical functionality of a state-of-the-art automobile site. By replicating online the roles usually played by print advertising and glossy brochures, Volvo allows the Web to become more prominent in the in-market consumer's real world.


Nike's Grand Prix winning entry wasn't technically sophisticated, either. It has many sites: product temples, such as Nike Lab; target-market sites, such as NIKE goddess; sport-specific sites, such as Nike Running; and professional-endorser (sport-specific) sites, such as Nike Basketball. Each enables e-commerce at different levels of emphasis. The award went to a site that was not one of these types at all, but an original: a celebration of the way boys play soccer one-on-one.

This two-move pastime of kicking the ball through an opponent's legs is played every day for hours at a time on sidewalks and streets of cities and dusty towns worldwide. The site celebrates this boyish play, an adolescent version of mano a mano, all the way up to Amsterdam's annual competition between professionals. The art direction is edgy urban; so's the navigation. The site's features are strewn along two winding paths on a flat plane, viewed from directly above. The only gee-whiz feature is an ability to play by email, loading "my move" into a specially equipped message and sending it to a similarly equipped friend.

Some may be appalled Nike co-opted a children's game for commercial ends, but the site says everything right about the brand. It celebrates amateur sport, both the playful and competitive dimensions, as well as its participants, from boyhood to manhood. In contrast to the aspirational relationships Nike creates through professional athlete endorsements, this site creates a personal, supportive, informal, and appreciative relationship with its target market, right where they live, both physically and emotionally.

In this juror's view, both winners of the Cannes Cyber Grand Prix were not merely accomplishments inside the browser window, not even within the digital realm. Both broke through the digital boundary and made a connection with the analog world. On that basis, they achieved their marketing accomplishments. First and last, digerati must remember the world itself is analog.

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Len Ellis Until recently, Len Ellis was executive vice president at Wunderman, where he charted the course in data-based and technology-enabled marketing communications, including the firm's strategic alliances and worldwide interactive strategy. Earlier, he was managing director, interactive integration at Y&R 2.1, a Young & Rubicam start-up consulting unit. He joined Y&R Group as managing director, interactive services at Burson-Marsteller. Len led interactive services at Messner Vetere Berger McNamee Schmetterer EuroRSCG, and started and led the information industry practice at Fleishman-Hillard. Len's book of essays on marketing, based in part on this column, is "Marketing in the In-Between: A Post-Modern Turn on Madison Avenue." He received his Ph.D. from Columbia and reads informational and mathematical theory for fun.

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