Just Review It

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Dan Wieden is no Donny Deutsch. It's difficult to think of anyone on advertising's A-list who seeks the spotlight less than the co-founder of the world' s best-known remaining independent agency, Wieden + Kennedy. So one might be forgiven for questioning just why, after turning down the suggestion in the past, Wieden accepted the offer from the Cannes International Advertising Festival's CEO, Roger Hatchuel, to be the Film and Print jury president at this, the 50th annual Festival. After all, for the month of June at the very least, Wieden becomes the public property of the world advertising industry and its attendant press. The interview requests began in the early spring; Wieden started to make contact with his fellow jurors soon afterward. He then began to formulate a strategy for the awards to head off the annual criticism that they are outmoded (the inaugural Titanium Lion, an award for the most provocative work of the Festival across all categories, was just one result).

Then there is the intense, exhausting week of judging itself; the filtering out of the bloc voting and the scam ads; the twin nationalistic ordeals of the show and its accompanying press conference; and then weeks or even months of subsequent criticism. So why do it, Dan? "It's true, I'm reticent about festivals in general, but there was some pressure to do it from inside the organization here, and it' s a very prestigious thing in its 50th jubilee," Wieden says. "I'm looking forward to having a look in-depth at the work from around the world and to freshen my perspective with some of the conversations that will take place." That's his somewhat earnest response, and he wouldn't be drawn beyond it. But it's safe to say that Wieden has a love-hate relationship with awards shows. Obviously, his agency has done extremely well over the years, although he claims W+K used to "forget to enter in the early days. A lot of times, festivals and competitions appear to become more important than the actual work itself," Wieden argues. "In the early days, a lot of our really interesting stuff didn't win, and then some shows tended to create their own aesthetic. But it's been good for us as an agency to enable us to grow, and for individuals to further their careers."

He says he's delighted that Nike CEO Phil Knight has been chosen as the first Advertiser of the Year to have been so honored twice, but it had nothing to do with the selection: "It was the Festival's choice," he insists. Knight himself says, "The art in our advertising is managing creativity. The MVP here is Dan Wieden. He is a very creative guy; very bright, very intense. I like him and his Oregon roots. The web grows between his toes." Quite. For his part, Wieden is able to articulate just what it is that makes the Nike work so special, and such a perennial winner, while acknowledging that Knight and he do not see much of each other these days. "There's a kind of freedom with Nike," he begins. "There's an incredible amount of pressure generated both inside our place and theirs to do something special and - normally, you'd be brain dead by the time you have done 21 years of that, but . . ." The other great trick, Wieden insists, is that "Nike wants to be surprised and amazed by us. It's about working out which creative, which director would be perfect for the task. There's no trying to second-guess the client."

This is as evident in the amount of business the agency loses as well as wins, from Coca-Cola to Miller Genuine Draft. But despite its work for Amazon, ESPN and others, he accepts that he would be surprised if many Cannes attendees knew the agency for campaigns other than Nike. Not that it's been all smooth sailing with Nike, either; notably, the times when the client added 180 and Goodby, Silverstein to the roster and when the "Just Do It" slogan was dropped. The history of that relationship is detailed elsewhere in this issue (see p. 28), but there's no doubt that Wieden is the president of the jury this year because of it.

As for this year's judging, Wieden has been clear about what he wants from his jurors in their pre-Cannes meetings. "We'll try to make sure that we pick work across the board that challenges us - and we'll keep the scam ads out." It's a challenge that has proven too much for several of the most famous names in advertising, but in order to get there, the man who describes himself as being "only too happy to lie on a beach with a good book," will likely be the only adman in Cannes who will not get to do just such a thing at any stage of the Festival week.

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