Garfield's Sinners and Winners

Despite Digital Revolution, TV Spots Still Have Plenty of Life

By Published on .

That sunny, moneyed thoroughfare isn't the Croisette. It's Sunset Boulevard, where a Norma Desmond of an industry basks in gilded palaces, preening for one last close-up, dwelling delusionally in its glamorous past.

Garfield's Cannes picks

This year's Cannes will feature examples of breathtaking ingenuity and understandable absurdity.

Part 1:

Ad Age's wall-to-wall Cannes coverage

If Leo Burnett's Cannes Predictions Reel is any indicator -- and it always is -- the 55th International Advertising Festival will be a spectacle of decadence borne of desperation. Of Burnett's 50 candidates, no fewer than 11 constitute a category we call "criminal overproduction of a slight or nonexistent idea" -- a Cannes fixture always present but seldom in such poignant profusion.

Herringbone, an Australian clothier (M&C Saatchi, Sydney), gives us a tedious drama about a man with tiny hands. The Madrid Metro (McCann-Erickson, Madrid, Spain) imagines a subway in a Philippine village. FedEx ( BBDO, New York) declares its service superior to gigantic carrier pigeons. Brylcreem (WCRS, London) CGIs a guy in a magically convenient flat, because Brylcreem -- catch your breath -- is easy to use. Skoda Fabia ( Fallon, London) builds a vehicle out of pastry.

It's all so grotesque but not hard to understand. Burnett's predictors, Cannes and all of advertising are struggling with the ascendancy of the internet. Not only is online marketing making the ad industry obsolete, it's really boring to watch in an auditorium. The festival has always been, foremost, a pilgrimage for the cult of TV spots. Beyond the lip service and perfunctory recognition of digital reality, it still is. Please note that a hot ticket once again will be the Saatchi & Saatchi New Directors' Showcase.

There will be no New Code Writers' Showcase.

Fear not, though. There are detours around Sunset Boulevard. Cannes will still feature examples of breathtaking ingenuity.

Shreddies (Ogilvy, Toronto) turned its woven-wheat cereal squares 45 degrees and "relaunched" them as Diamond Shreddies. Brilliant and hilarious. Coke Zero (Crispin Porter & Bogusky, Miami) brought actual intellectual-property lawyers to its Atlanta headquarters for meetings with (fake) brand-Coke execs about suing Coke Zero for "taste infringement." Even more ingeniously in the hidden-camera realm, the same agency told Burger King customers the Whopper had been discontinued and filmed the outrage. Then there was Crispin's BK tie-in with "The Simpsons Movie" -- an online campaign which, among other delights, enabled users to "Simpsonize" their own images. A perfect mechanism for virulence.

JWT, Sydney, gives us a teenage girl jumping hysterically with joy when her folks show her a shiny new compact in the driveway with a big gift bow on top. What she doesn't know is that it's a Thrifty rental. To demonstrate that drivers miss what they're not expecting to see, Transport for London (WCRS, London) gets viewers to focus so hard on athletes passing a ball around that we don't notice, in the players' midst, a bear doing the moonwalk. Standing ovation here.

For Grand Prix consideration, those entries lack only transcendence. Three others do not.

To us, the campaign of the year is for Microsoft Xbox's "Halo 3" (McCann-Erickson TAG, San Francisco). The centerpieces of the multiplatform effort are three video spots, each of them documentary "interviews" set 500 years hence, after the epic battle between humanity and the aliens. These reminiscences of final battle are virtuoso performances, by the actors, director and writers all. Then, online and off, indoor and out, the narrative was dangled before the audience, and the audience responded by making "Halo 3" the most successful entertainment launch in history.

But will jurors appreciate the detail and expansiveness of the campaign or suffer info-overload? We fear the latter.

No such risk with "Gorilla," the charming and unexpected commercial/viral for Cadbury Dairy Milk chocolate (Fallon, London). It's a close-up of an ape reacting to an old Phil Collins track. Why? Not clear. Then the drum solo begins; pull back to reveal the gorilla is playing the drums -- quite soulfully, we might add. The strategy was to change perceptions of the brand. It worked. But more to the point: a drumming gorilla for a chocolate bar? It's one of those ads that leaves you in awe of the (right) brain that conceived it.

As arresting and fun as "Gorilla" is, it lacks something in heft. That's why we think the Grand Prix will go elsewhere: to BBDO, New York, for Monster.

As we said back in February, the computer-animated spot is based on a simple, powerful idea and exquisitely produced. It is, indeed, something poetic as it wordlessly portrays the saga of a stork, braving distance and the harsh elements, to deliver a baby boy to his new home. After the journey, in close-up, the baby opens its mouth wide.

Cut to years later: an adult man yawning, after dark, in the cluttered office of his mind-numbing, dead-end job. It is the baby, all grown up. Now the stork perches by the office window and peers inside, disappointment etched into its face. Then the super: "Are you reaching your potential?"

It's a masterpiece -- provided you register that infant and the adult are the same guy. We wrote that the edit falls just short of selling the transition. The babies at BBDO threw a tantrum, but we still think so. We also think, however, that everybody on the jury is familiar with the spot and will suffer no confusion whatsoever. That leaves only "masterpiece," and those don't come along too often.
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