Campaign pulled from Cannes Lions shortlist after client reveals it didn’t sign off on entry

A public safety campaign shortlisted at the Cannes Lions was entered without the authorisation of the government client, used the logo of another public body without permission, and made a misleading claim about the work, Mumbrella can reveal.

However, despite Transport for New South Wales saying that it did not authorise the entry from digital agency VML, and the Australian Communications and Media Authority questioning claims made in the case study video for Blackspot Beacons, the organisers of the awards festival have not disqualified the entry.

Blackspot Beacon

A few hours after Mumbrella approached VML regarding Transport for NSW’s disowning of the entry, the organisers of the Cannes Lions agreed to allow the agency to withdraw it. The Cannes rules state that awards must have client sign-off or face disqualification.

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

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.

The campaign was quietly removed from official Cannes Lions shortlists yesterday, whilst the website for the project, the case study video and related blog posts were pulled down from the web late yesterday.

Cannes Lions CEO Philip Thomas claimed the entries had been removed “because the client needed to have the technology validated for public health and safety reasons” He said that there had been no disqualification.

At the time of posting, Thomas has not responded to a follow-up question asking why the entry was allowed to be withdrawn rather than disqualified when the rules state “entries cannot be cancelled or removed from the competition after 15 May 2015“.

A spokesperson for VML told Mumbrella in a short statement: “We were asked to remove the entry from Cannes and we have done so in consult (sic) with our client.”

Last night VML managing director Aden Hepburn removed a posting about the campaign from his Digital Buzz blog, while sister agency GPY&R Brisbane has also removed a post on the campaign from its Digital George blog.

digital buzz blog post pulled

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 last week’s festival. The shortlisting of the entry contributed points towards VML’s owner WPP winning the title of Global Holding Company of the Year at the competition.

Cannes Lions festival CEO Philip Thomas

Cannes Lions festival CEO Philip Thomas

Festival CEO Thomas confirmed the four shortlisting points have been stripped from WPP’s tally but said “those points would not have affected the outcome”, although he declined to disclose what the winning margin was.

When approached for clarification, Transport for NSW issued a brief statement that read:

“Transport for NSW did not produce the ad in question or authorise its submission in the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity.”

According to the rules of the Cannes Lions: “Entries cannot be made without the prior permission of the client/owner of the rights of the case”, and organisers can request that entrants provide a copy of the permission.

Agencies found “to have deliberately and knowingly contravened any rules relating to eligibility may be barred from entering the awards for a period of time following the Festival as specified by the organisers” according to the Lions website.

The work was entered into the festival with Transport for NSW listed as the client.

Screen Shot 2015-07-02 at 8.21.48 pm

An excerpt from the Media Lions shortlist

VML is on the NSW Government agency roster, meaning the agency can respond to briefs and pitch ideas to different departments. It is unclear whether the Blackspot Beacons campaign came about as the result of a client brief, or was proactively pitched by the agency.

The campaign uses beacons mounted on signposts to broadcast a message to alert drivers to dangerous conditions or blind spots ahead on the road. The broadcast overrides the car’s radio system when the car is approaching the danger spot, with the normal radio broadcast resuming once the message is delivered.

Similar technology is already deployed in tunnels around Sydney.

After being asked about the project by Mumbrella, the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) requested its logo be removed from the supporters section of the now deleted website for the project.

In the case-study video (which it has since deleted from Vimeo), the agency also claimed “Beacons are being deployed across NSW to its most dangerous and deadly roads”.

An ACMA spokesperson told Mumbrella:

“The ACMA has not licensed this technology for operational deployment. Any such roll out would be unlawful.”

On its request to remove its logo from the Blackspot Beacons website, the spokesperson added: “The ACMA’s trial guidelines makes clear that the issuing of scientific trial licenses does not imply ACMA support for the technology or imply that the ACMA would issue long term licenses.”

Blackspot Beacon

The ACMA said the technology would need to be reviewed by the emergency services before it could be given permission to be rolled out. (The full ACMA statement appears below).

The spokesman for VML said: “The tech has potential for not only road safety, but other applications like traffic diversions or warnings in other emergencies. The NSW rollout was an ongoing conversation with a client; we’re also in conversations with other state and national organisations.”

Miranda Ward

Statement from Transport for NSW: 

Transport for NSW did not produce the ad in question or authorise its submission in the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity.”

Transport for NSW Blackspot Beacons campaign statement

Cannes Lions CEO Philip Tomas’ responses to questions from Mumbrella:

  • Why are these shortlistings no longer visible on the shortlist section of the Cannes Lions website?


  • Have they been disqualified?


  • If not, is Cannes considering disqualifying them?


  • The client has told Mumbrella in a statement that they did not grant permission for entry into Cannes. Are you already aware of this, or do you have any plans to investigate?


  • If the entry has been disqualified, will VML be barred from entering next year (as Cannes warns can take place under the rules)?


  • Given that VML is part of WPP, would we be correct in thinking that these shortlistings contributed four points towards WPP winning Holding Company of the Year?


  • By what margin did WPP win Holding Company of the Year ahead of Omnicom?


The response from the ACMA in full:

The Australian Communications and Media Authority provided no support for the five day blackspot beacon trial either in financial or other terms, apart from issuing a scientific trial transmitter licence for a limited duration test.  The ACMA’s trial guidelines makes clear that the issuing of scientific trial licences does not imply ACMA support for the technology or imply that the ACMA would issue long term licences.

The ACMA will be requesting that the ACMA logo on the blackspots website be removed and the wording suggesting ACMA support also be removed. The website also contains a video suggesting that these blackspot transmitters are being rolled out through NSW. The ACMA has not licensed this technology for operational deployment. Any such roll out would be unlawful.

The ACMA would need to address considerable regulatory challenges to permanently authorise a device that purposefully interferes with broadcast transmissions. Given the critical role of radio broadcasting in emergencies, this is unlikely to be contemplated without the full and informed support of the emergency service community, and following proper consultation with broadcasters themselves.

As such, the ACMA has referred the matter of over-broadcasting technologies to the Capability Development Sub-committee of the Australian New Zealand Emergency Management Committee for consideration of referral of this issue to the broader emergency service organisation community. The ACMA has asked that the ANZMEC seek the views of emergency management experts on whether this technology should play a role in emergency management and how that might impact on existing broadcast arrangements. The ACMA understands that the technology is now being considered by ANZMEC members.


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