Print & Publishing Lions Grand Prix Case Study: The Blank Edition

Impact BBDO made history when they picked up UAE's first ever Cannes Lions Grand Prix for 'The Blank Edition'. Here we explore the legacy of the success and what the bold piece of work says about the state of creativity in the Print & Publishing sector.
The Impact BBDO team head on stage to collect their Grand Prix

On Monday 17 June 2019, at about 7.30 PM, history was made on the Palais des Festivals’ Lumiere Stage. The inimitable Juan Senor paused just a beat before announcing that Impact BBDO Dubai had won the Print & Publishing Lions Grand Prix for ‘The Blank Edition’.

As the team behind the work for Lebanese newspaper An Nahar made their way up to the stage to collect their Lion, the audience absorbed the fact that this was the first time any agency from the UAE or wider region had ever won one of the top prizes at Cannes Lions.

There had been ideas that came close. Ogilvy Dubai had won a coveted Titanium Lion in 2015 for ‘The Autocomplete Truth’ and agencies from Egypt, Morocco, Tunisia, The Lebanon, Qatar and the UAE had all picked up Golds at the Festival in the last few years. But this was the first time an idea from the region had been recognised with a Grand Prix.

The case study for the Grand Prix winning work highlights how the simple idea galvanised a nation to act

The idea that earned Dani Richa, Paul Shearer, Tres Colacion and the rest of the Impact BBDO team the prize appeared simple at first glance. In response to a long-running government impasse which had seen politicians fail to form a working coalition, Impact BBDO persuaded leading Lebanese independent newspaper An Nahar to print a highly unusual edition of their paper. In late 2018, after printing the news daily for over 85 years, An Nahar released an entirely blank newspaper.

The simplicity of the final 'Blank Edition' belied a complex idea

But behind a simple premise was something far more significant. In truth, it was an idea that not only delivered incredible results (for one, the political deadlock in the country was resolved in the weeks following the publication of ‘The Black Edition’) but also tapped into several of the global trends in Print & Publishing communications that now define the best work being done within the discipline.

For Jury President Olivier Altmann, Co-Founder, CEO & Chief Creative Officer, Altmann + Pacreau, these trends were initially surprising. Speaking at the Festival, he revealed that his jury had looked for “for strong campaigns that built brands” and been disappointed when they saw there weren’t many “traditional global print campaigns”. However, this feeling was soon dispelled when they started to dig into the publishing and innovation categories within the Print & Publishing Lions .

“Surprisingly, we discovered something fresh: the power of print creativity to promote print journalism.”
Olivier Altmann, Co-Founder, CEO & Chief Creative Officer, Altmann + Pacreau, France
During an Inside the Jury Room session, Olivier Altmann explained how 'The Blank Edition' tapped into many of the themes the jury had observed in the best Print & Publishing work

Speaking on stage during an Inside the Jury session, Altmann and fellow jury member Suzanne Donaldson, Senior Director Creative Production, Nike, highlighted just how exciting this trend was and how ‘The Blank Edition’ perfectly tapped into this growing movement.

“During judging we saw a lot of work about the relationship between creativity and journalism,” Altmann explained. For him, this was a direct response to the situation the world finds itself in in 2020. “Thanks to fake news and snackable content, there’s a responsibility on the advertising industry to promote press journalism,” he added. Donaldson went on to note that while activist work was common in the Print & Publishing Lions, the ideas that stood out were those that were able to combine a hopeful attitude with serious subject matter.

“It’s easy to go dark with dark themes, but the work that rose to the top was more relatable and somewhat aspirational. It was tangible, emotional and was easily understood. Impact was very important to us.”
Suzanne Donaldson, Senior Director Creative Production, Nike, USA

This idea of impact was something that Monique Lopes Lima, Director of Special Projects at Africa in Brazil, also felt emerged strongly during judging. Writing in the Cannes Lions Global Creativity Report, she explained that jury members noted a shift from brands just talking about causes to actually doing something about them. “This year brands didn’t just wave a flag about a subject,” she wrote. “We’re seeing a lot of actions and effective solutions. If your brand is not connected with purpose or is not doing anything to help the world today, it won’t exist in the next five to 10 years.”

The impact that ‘The Blank Edition’ had for the brand and the country were immediate and clear. As well as prompting real political progress in The Lebanon, the work went on to become its best-selling edition ever and attracted $5 million in earned media.

“If your brand is not connected with purpose or is not doing anything to help the world today, it won’t exist in the next five to 10 years.”
Monique Lopes Lima, Director of Special Projects, Africa, Brazil
Prior to the Grand Prix win, BBDO Dubai had success at Cannes Lions with 'Give Mom Back Her Name' which won a Gold Lion in 2015

But what about the impact of the historic first Grand Prix for an agency in the UAE? Impact BBDO were keen to stress that they didn’t start with the goal of winning a Grand Prix at Cannes Lions. Instead they’d focused on delivering the best possible creative solution for a valued client. Or as Colacion put it, "with these ideas, it’s always about the work and the people and putting real insights first". He went on to explain that the primary motivation for creating great work that wins awards should be "to help a lot of people and our clients".

Despite this, the Grand Prix became an important marker for both the agency and other companies operating in the region. Colacion highlighted how the success merely represented the culmination of a lot of work that’s been happening in the region to bring up the level creative communications. For him, Impact BBDO’s success has a dual benefit of both celebrating a single great idea and pushing MENA’s creative output onto the world stage.

Speaking on Cannes Lions TV, Tres Colacion explained what the Grand Prix means for the region and for the agency
“[The Grand Prix] was a long time coming. There’s been a lot of great work [from the region] but the eyes haven’t always been there and now they will be.”
Tres Colacion, Creative Director Impact BBDO

For Paul Shearer, Chief Creative Officer at Impact BBDO UAE, the effect of the win for the region was also significant. Speaking after the victory, he expressed a desire that the success would spur other agencies in the region on to future success. “I hope that it will spur the many great agencies in the region on to further Grands Prix,” he said.

Away from the marco successes that the Grand Prix has brought to the region, Shearer explained that the win has quickly helped Impact BBDO Dubai produce even better work for its clients. Specifically, the success of the work has revitalised the agency’s relationship with the An Nahar newspaper. “Winning the has had a great effect on the client relationship. We as an agency have built an unbreakable relationship with them and are determined not to let them down,” Shearer said, before adding:

“The effectiveness of the campaign has meant we are doing more bold work for An Nahar.”
Paul Shearer, Chief Creative Officer, Impact BBDO UAE

Within the agency itself, the Grand Prix has also had a “positive” impact. It’s helped the team become more confident in their ideas and their work and given them the belief to fight harder for their ideas.

“We [now] have belief in ourselves and feel confident that we can compete with the very best,” Shearer concluded.

The work also had a practical impact on the kind of work that Impact BBDO pitched to clients. For Tres Colacion, it demonstrated that UGC could actually succeed. “I had come to believe that no one participates in [user generated content], and that’s often true – advertisers often pay money to get people to take part,” he explained, adding:

“I learned to throw the rules out the door. This campaign broke all of them. It didn’t rely on media spend, it relied on people to do something.”
Tres Colacion, Creative Director Impact BBDO
Paul Shearer proudly displays the UAE's first Cannes Lions Grand Prix

Instead, the Grand-Prix winning piece of work demonstrated that creating a participatory work that resonates requires the whole team to be honest with itself at the idea’s conception. “We have to start asking, is this worth believing in? Is it worth creating? Is this fun? What am I going to get out of this as a user? Because if it is worth it, then I’ll take part,” concluded Colacion.

'The Blank Edition' might have been a simple idea. But it was an idea who's impact extended far beyond its empty pages. Similarly, the impact of the UAE's first ever Cannes Lions Grand Prix has rippled out from the French stage to put MENA's creativity firmly in the world's spotlight and catapulted Impact BBDO into an elite club of Lion winners that few can claim membership of. 

“Whatever happens it has changed our working lives. We will always be able to say we won the region's first Cannes Lion Grand Prix. For us that’s a real front-page story.”
Paul Shearer, Chief Creative Officer, Impact BBDO UAE

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