Cannes Lions refuses to disqualify VML campaign entered without client approval

Blindspot BeaconsDigital agency VML Sydney has escaped disqualification and possible suspension from the Cannes Lions Advertising Festival, despite entering a campaign that did not have authorisation of the government client, used the logo of another public body without permission, and made a misleading claim about the work.

In June client Transport for NSW told Mumbrella it had not given permission for the Blackspot Beacons campaign to be entered into the Lions festival, despite rules stating awards must have client sign-off or face disqualification.

But five weeks after launching an “investigation” organisers have now released a statement saying they will allow the public safety campaign to be withdrawn and not disqualified, despite a rule stating “entries cannot be cancelled or removed from the competition after 15 May 2015“.

“Across 40,000 entries there will always be requests and clarifications required pertaining to work entered. In this instance we accepted a position from the entrant company as being bona fide and allowed the work to be withdrawn. We now consider the matter closed,” Cannes Lions CEO Philip Thomas told Mumbrella in an emailed statement overnight.Agencies disqualified from the world’s biggest advertising festival can be banned from entering for a period of time.

The Blackspot Beacons case study showed a piece of technology which overrides car radios with localised safety messages.

The campaign was quietly removed from official Cannes Lions shortlists and the website for the project, the case study video and related blog posts pulled down from the web shortly after Mumbrella started raising questions about it in late June.

Those questions were prompted after the client told Mumbrella: “Transport for NSW did not produce the ad in question or authorise its submission in the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity.”

A spokesperson for VML, which is owned by the world’s biggest advertising company holding group WPP, told Mumbrella at the time: “We were asked to remove the entry from Cannes and we have done so in consult (sic) with our client.”

In his initial statement on the matter Thomas claimed the entries had been removed “because the client needed to have the technology validated for public health and safety reasons”.

However, he opened an “investigation” over the issue after Mumbrella raised questions about the entry, promising to speak to the VML and Transport for NSW. It is unclear if he has spoken directly to the client.

The Australian Communications and Media Authority also questioned claims made in the case study video for Blackspot Beacons, prompting the agency to take its logo off the official website’s supporters section. Screen-Shot-2015-07-02-at-8.47.12-AM

The award entry claimed Blackspot Beacons are being rolled out across New South Wales. However, the ACMA told Mumbrella that just one five-day trial in one location had been permitted and that any further rollout could only take place if it met stiff regulatory hurdles, including overcoming the problem of interference with emergency services radios.

Transport for NSW has refused to answer further questions on the campaign and whether it is going to be rolled out, and VML has not responded to further requests for comment.

The campaign had made it through the first round of judging at the world’s biggest advertising awards and had three shortlistings in the Radio category and one in the Media category at this year’s festival.


Thomas declined to answer follow up questions from Mumbrella, including:

  • How many entries have been withdrawn after the stated cut off date this year?
  • Did you speak to the client in this instance? What did they say about this?
  • What is the official explanation as to why this entry is allowed to be withdrawn from the shortlist?
  • Will VML face any penalty for breaking the rules?
  • Why is an exception is being made for this entry given what the rules of the competition clearly state an entry can’t be entered without client permission and the client has stated it did not have permission?
  • Would the same exceptions be made for an independent agency or one from a smaller network?
  • What message do you expect this decision to send to other agencies thinking of entering the competition next year or another Lions competition?
  • Is Cannes looking at its processes around entry in a bid to stamp out work being entered which has not been authorised by the clients?
  • Does Cannes have a position on experimental work which has only had a limited run and no marketing behind it outside of trade press? If not will it develop one?
Miranda Ward 

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