Staying in touch with the common man in a taxi to Cannes

In a piece that first appeared in Encore, Ralph van Dijk says we need to pay attention to what our intended audiences have to say, a lesson reinforced by a taxi driver in Cannes.

ralph van dijk
I always talk to taxi drivers. They’re economic barometers, radio experts and occasionally, voiceover stars.

They also possess a rare but valuable commodity – they don’t give a flying Falcon about advertising (although one I met recently received rapturous applause on stage at Cannes this year – but more on that later).

They represent the typical consumers who accept the ads-for-entertainment trade-off, but certainly won’t go out of their way to understand obscure creative and absolutely resent any Waterhousian examples of insidious brandwashing. They’ll skip, swipe, cross-out and fast forward whenever possible. But if they can’t avoid the ads, they’d prefer you just got to the point in an interesting way.

Our industry is constantly discovering new and innovative ways to reach and engage with an audience. For about a third of the ad campaigns I judged at Cannes this year, that audience was an awards jury. We had to sit through complicated editing earsores, verbose monologues targeting Germans but inexplicably broadcast in English and of course, the very popular but highly irritating repeated-word-morphs-into-sound-effect ads.

But my fellow judges were brutal, thanks in part to the presence of a taxi driver called Juan. Watch this video to meet Juan:

Juan ensured we awarded the campaigns that not only reached their intended audience, but also managed to overcome its ambivalence through a healthy dose of relevant cleverness. And I’m pleased to say we weren’t the only jury to do so. In almost every category, there were campaigns that demonstrated the new ways brands are connecting to their audiences, either by engaging in more meaningful conversations (e.g. Dove and Coke) or by giving them unforgettable, sharable entertainment (Metro Trains, Smart).

These campaigns were handsomely rewarded in our industry’s most valuable currency; the consumer’s attention, something Juan is a constant reminder of.

Ralph van Dijk is founder of Eardrum UK and Australia, and was president of the radio category at the 2013 Cannes Lions.

Encore Issue 26This story first appeared in the weekly edition of Encore available for iPad and Android tablets. Visit for a preview of the app or click below to download.


  1. Richard Moss
    12 Aug 13
    3:13 pm

  2. A seemingly “Real Life” situation which is actually a manipulation of events to create an atmosphere for your audience in Cannes.

    A man who drives a taxi and listens to some radio ads, is certainly entitled to his opinion, but hardly qualifies as a spokes person for the total, or even the majority of radio listeners anywhere let alone everywhere as you stated; neither does he qualify as an expert radio juror.

    It (and he) is wrong to compare TV and radio, as it is wrong to compare apples and oranges.
    TV does not qualify as easy compared to radio by virtue of images and words, in fact, it is arguable that radio is easier because all you have to do is listen, not watch and listen.

    At its best, radio production is an art and a science, it is second only to literature in stimulating imagination, creating mood and highlighting characterisation.
    Poor or bad radio, is created by obtuse people who either know very little about it, or think they know better than the experts.

    This sort of thing is fun to discuss or enjoy as anecdotal entertainment, but it is making a joke of professional radio production.