A Towering Achievement in Art Direction

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Sit down and try to breathe normally.

It appears -- if the annual predictions reel compiled by Leo Burnett Co. means anything (and it always does) -- that

Apple's iPod 'Hip Hop' silhouettes ad is Cannes' most likely the Grand Prix winner.
the 2004 Cannes Lions Advertising Festival will be infected with good advertising.

They're strategy-based!
Not just funny, cool, extravagantly produced advertising. Good advertising. Good, clever, strategy-based advertising likely to generate sales for the client.

You OK? Try putting your head between your knees.

We'll get to the Grand Prix prediction presently, but let's first marvel at this outbreak of sanity: of the 50 commercials handicapped by Burnett, 15 of them announce a compelling product benefit, and seven actually employ a legitimate USP. Three of those happen to come from Thailand, so maybe the infection is isolated, but epidemiology is in our favor.

Some unique selling propositions
Thai Mobile, flogging its relative affordability, talks about the alternative to SMS messaging: an exhausted carrier pigeon. A Brazilian spot for Lycra stockings shows a bank robber with head hosiery so sheer everybody in the bank calls him by name. An Australian Olympus camera spot features a safari tourist panicked by a charging lion, although the lion is far away, enlarged to menacing proportions by the 10x telephoto.

HSBC bank in the U.K. uses a Chinese business-dinner misunderstanding over a repulsive eel entree to emphasize the importance of understanding diverse cultures. Soken, a Thai brand of DVD player, shows a guy talking about seeing Kill Bill: Vol. One on video. But he keeps stuttering ... because his inferior DVD player skips. Unif Green Tea, also Thai, shows the battle between caterpillars and farmers for the tea plants' top leaves. And, in a bit of cinema verite from Puerto Rico, Procter & Gamble's Ace detergent catches a woman sniffing a pair of men's drawers on her clothesline -- not because she's kinky but because they smell so fresh.

There are, of course, many ways to spin a cat. Many of the Cannes entries are brilliant minus any hard sell. Sony PlayStation 2 Ratchet & Clank ( TBWA, Los Angeles) comes to mind. But it appears that the cult of mindless showing off may finally be in some sort of remission, and if so we can all rejoice.

Top five contenders
We can also savor the five top contenders for Grand Prix. An ad for the U.K. directory assistance number 118 hilariously sends up of last's year's Honda "Cog" chain-reaction video. A U.K. spot for the PS 2 (TBWA) digitally creates a mountain of humanity to astonishing effect. Nike (Wieden & Kennedy, New York and Amsterdam) offers the year's best one-two punch: an outsize game of "Musical Chairs" and the magical "What if," in which various superstars are seen in action -- in the wrong sports.

Our best guess for the Grand Prix, though, is for Apple iPod (TBWA). The colorful "Hip Hop" silhouettes are not only striking, they're a rare example of advertising-as-USP, in which the Day-Glo images are synonymous with the unique product they represent. It's a towering achievement in art direction. So you can stand up now ...

... and applaud.