Going, Going, Gunn

By Published on .

Being the best isn't easy. And no one knows it better than Donald Gunn, the former Leo Burnett advertising guru to whom recognizing and ranking the best creative in the world has been a passion, hobby and job for almost four decades.

"Even before it was my job to know what was good and bad, I was always interested in seeing what the very best commercials were every year," says the 59-year-old Scot, who has frequented the Cannes International Festival religiously since 1975, serving as its president for the past two.

Earlier this year, Gunn decided to hang up his ad hat for good, after a 36-year career with Burnett, where he served first as an account executive, then a copywriter, a creative director, and finally as director of Burnett's Creative Resources Department in Chicago, its comprehensive commercials library. Gunn was looking forward to settling down to a quiet life with his wife Sarah and three children, ages 7 to 12, at their home in the English countryside. But then, one portentous June morning, Gunn woke up with something all advertising retirees dread: an idea.

"We have all these awards shows all over the world," he says, "but there's nothing that brings all the results together." (The closest thing to it was Creativity's annual Zenith List; see our July/August issue). Thus,The Gunn Report was born. Seems like a natural for a man who, for the past 13 years, has produced the Cannes `prediction reel,' on which his top 50 picks are showcased. That reel, Gunn boasts, has identified the Grand Prix winner every year but one.

The Gunn Report, published a little over a month ago, combines the scores from 22 TV and 10 print competitions from around the world, ranking the 50 most awarded television spots, print ads, directors, brands, agencies, countries, production companies, and networks of 1999. Its author insists the venture was not intended as a comeback, but was simply something he couldn't resist. "When you've worked in advertising all these years, and your job is to have ideas and then you have a really good one, you feel compelled to execute it," he says.

Gunn believes that over the past 20 years, agencies have spent far more time on planning campaigns than on generating great ideas. But he's no pessimist. He thinks the recent onslaught of dot-com advertising, with its edginess and get-me-out-there-now attitude, may wake up the sometimes staid, play-it-safe industry. "Dot-coms may bring a return to the foundations of advertising, in which you assess the situation and, under pressure, have to come up with a good quick idea and get it out," he says.

In fact, the campaign for Outpost.com, from Cliff Freeman & Partners,won The Gunn Report's top spot in the Most Awarded Commercials category. "It is deliberately politically incorrect," he says of the spot series. "That streak of rebelliousness is an ongoing theme in a lot of the good stuff this year."

Gunn plans to release The Gunn Report again in 2000, as a way of "keeping in touch" with the industry he can't seem to shake. But after that he hopes to pass the torch and make another attempt at exile. "My family's my main project," he says. "We have lots of traveling to do, and projects in the house and garden." Gunn also hopes to take up art again. He'd like to try sculpting, but hesitates. "I can see a definite danger there," he shudders. "I become so interested in things that I often get wrapped up in them. It would be almost like being back at work."

In this article:
Most Popular