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CANNES GRAND PRIX WINNER CELEBRATES WRONG VALUES

'Mountain' Is More an Ad for Its Director Than Its Product

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Client: PlayStation 2
Agency: TBWA, London
Star Rating: 2.5

The running joke at Cannes last week had all the hip agency bon vivants sneaking around to overindulge out of client view, like ninth graders

'Mountain' is a spectacular demonstration of nothing.
ducking behind the bleachers for a smoke.

Well, maybe during party time they hid their profligate ways from the people who pay the bills, but they certainly revealed themselves in the jury room. Once again, in celebration of all the wrong values, the Cannes International Advertising Festival awarded the film Grand Prix to a spectacular demonstration of nothing.

Art and science
Last year it was a very witty lamp ad that got the prize because it was, you know, funny. This year, it was a triumph in the art and science of cinema, from TBWA, London, titled "Mountain."

Oh, it's an incredible production, with God knows how many extras and how much computer memory devoted to a seamless illusion: a mountain of humanity playing the world's largest game of King of the Hill. It's amazing to watch the crowds stream through the streets by the tens of thousands, gradually coalescing into a teeming heap. There one person, then another claws his way to the peak and revels for a brief moment, only to be dislodged by the next king.

Shirley Temple singing
All of this to little Shirley Temple singing the spiritual, "Get on Board," from the 1936 flick Dimples.

The gospel train is a comin'
I hear it yes at hand
I hear the car was movin'
And a rumblin' through the land
Oh get on board, get on board, get on board
There's room for many a more ...

The scratchy track is a wonderful, textured and unexpected accompaniment to the modern, urban setting of the screen action -- much as five years ago Marlene Dietrich's rendition of "Falling in Love Again" provided textural counterpoint for Mercedes. In this case, though, it's the only element of the commercial that actually amounts to advertising. The lyrics, after all, constitute a call to action for the brand -- which happens to be Sony PlayStation 2 but, of course, could be almost any brand of any category in the world.

Which, of course, is why "Mountain" is more of an ad for the director than for the client, and thus a definitive example of production values utterly displacing advertising's raison d'etre: selling goods and services to people in exchange for money.

An act of defiance
You'd be forgiven for seeing this Grand Prix as an act of defiance from an agency community resentful at having the grown-ups crash their summer camp. It's especially suspicious considering the failure of the Apple iPod's silhouettes, from TBWA/Chiat/Day, to even make the shortlist. After all, why honor a campaign whose imagery is uniquely synonymous with the product itself, which, in turn, is the only breakout brand among dozens in an otherwise totally generic digital-audio-player category?

More maddeningly, this was a rare year in which smart, compelling brand-centric ads were well represented at Cannes. As recently as a week ago, we were musing about the possibility that serious business values had infected the industry.

Alas, like the jury, it seems we were simply making a mountain out of a molehill.

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