The life expectancy of the TV commercial is about five minutes, but here we all are, barely clothed, hanging on for dear life on the French Riviera doing everything that still feels good.
What? You don't believe the digital revolution is going to swallow this all up whole? Well, not a minute ago, at a temporary loss for Anna Nicole's name, we Googled "busty heiress." We got 221,000 hits, 195,000 of which mentioned her. In other words: the internet is God. TV, sooner or later, will bow humbly before it.
But not yet. Not here. Here they're still into idolatry, so let's play along one more time and help them worship the Golden Calf. Or Lion, or whatever.
This year it's a pretty easy job. Working as usual from the Leo Burnett Cannes Predictions Reel, a compilation of four dozen spots that have reaped trophies in competitions worldwide, there are but three credible contenders for the film Grand Prix and only one truly worthy.
Oh, there's plenty of fine work represented, including some surefire Gold Lions, but the film jury should have things wrapped up Friday in plenty of time to booze themselves numb like everyone else.
For instance, we simply love a spot for MTV from Young & Rubicam, Buenos Aires, Argentina. It's about a rocker who is approached by his young daughter to ask where she came from. His reply is a montage of sexual debauchery that takes your breath away, and leaves the little girl slack-jawed. Hilarious.
There's also a pair of ads for Orange, the U.K. wireless provider from Mother, London, which eschews the typical price-and-range stuff to focus on relationships. One is a slow-motion choreography of a middle-age husband and wife so intimate they can dance wordlessly together through the ordinary business of leaving the house in the morning. It's charming iteration of a strategic breakthrough.
No strategy present in an ad from Leo Burnett, Oslo, Norway, but it's another laugh-out-loud payoff. The spot opens, like a gazillions spots before it, with a lonesome sperm making its way toward a distant uterus. But the poor thing doesn't know how distant; it hits a dead end because ... well, just because. The sponsor is the Oslo Gay Festival.
We also can't resist the deep weirdness of two American campaigns for fruit-flavored candy, Skittles and Starburst, from TBWA/Chiat/Day, New York. In one of the Starburst spots, a teenager fearful of having to share his candy with friends hears a voice that tells him to pre-emptively attack them. It's sort of Norman Bates meets George Bush, but it's funny. So is the Skittles spot about a guy on a job interview. He doesn't have much experience, but he does have a long, prehensile beard that strokes and feeds Skittles to the interviewer. It's all very odd, but it does set the brands psychographically -- or maybe psychopathically -- apart.
Still, no Grand Prix candidates there. For most of the year, the front-runner was "Big Ad," a wildly overproduced Australian spot from George Patterson Partners, Melbourne, for Carlton Draught. A sendup of all adstravaganzas, but most particularly those perpetrated by British Airways, it shows throngs of colorfully clad warriors madly converging -- to form a bird's-eye-view animation of someone quaffing a brew. This to the music of Carmina Burana, rewritten to conclude: "This ad better sell some blooooody beeeeer!" It did.
Another favorite, from Fallon, London, for the Sony Bravia TV, is also a complex production, but as unpretentious as Carlton is overblown. It shows thousands of colored balls, most in super-slo-mo, bouncing down the hills of San Francisco. The reds, blues, yellows, oranges, purples and greens seem to glow, promising "Color like no other." It's a promise kept.
And it is simply lovely. But in the end, the best commercial of the year is simply much better -- much better than Sony and even much better than the four-star "Big Ad." It's from Abbott Mead Vickers BBDO, London, for Guinness, and it is in every way a masterpiece.
Three young blokes sit at a bar sipping pints of creamy Guinness. Then the film starts going in reverse -- out of the pub, onto the street, into prehistory, dinosaur life and all the way back to primordial slime. All this to Sammy Davis Jr.'s swinging rendition of "Rhythm of Life."
"The Rhythm of Life is a powerful beat, puts a tingle in your fingers and a tingle in your feet. Rhythm in your bedroom, rhythm in the street. Yes, The Rhythm of Life is a powerful beat. ..."
And so on. Eventually, the three guys are devolved all the way back to prehistoric mudskippers, just crawling out of the seas, and the familiar tagline: "Good things come to those who wait." They sure do. Be patient long enough and you'll find a flawless DGI production to an irresistible piece of music propelling a brilliant, astonishingly witty new iteration of a longstanding, unique positioning. This isn't just great advertising; it is perfect advertising.
It also happens to be quite a nice metaphor for the Cannes Festival itself.
Not the being patient part. There is, after all, a big difference between patience and denial. But one can't help notice that the heroes of this commercial, like most everyone else stumbling along the Croisette this week, are drinking themselves into prehistory.