Bob Garfield Cannes Predictions

GARFIELD'S PICK FOR CANNES GRAND PRIX WINNER: 'GRRR'

Honda Spot Features Animated Flock of Flying Diesel Engines

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That Honda commercial from Wieden & Kennedy, London. What are its chances?

Well, let’s see. It’s unusual, unlike any car ad in history. It’s irresistible, guaranteed to hold the audience’s attention for 120 enchanting seconds. It has legs, as delightful upon 20th viewing

'Grrr' was made by the same Wieden & Kennedy crew that made 'Cog.'

as the first. And the message is somehow explicitly about both the particular product and the brand philosophy.

It’s a Grand Prix loser.

And we can prove it.

Because it lost two years ago to a cute little commercial about a lamp, long since forgotten.

A hilariously stupid decision
The not-best-in-show we refer to, of course, is “Cog,” one of the greatest ads ever made, which was deemed too unoriginal to be worthy. That decision was hilariously stupid on many grounds, among them: 1) Novelty doesn’t sell anything, 2) Cannes, year after year, is rip-off central, including many a Lion and a Grand Prix or two, 3) the “Cog” Rube Goldberg device was, in fact, entirely original, because the device was constructed using only parts of the Honda car.

Sniffing at it for using a Rube Goldberg device is like sniffing at digitization because it uses 1s and 0s.

So we’re just dying to see how this year’s Honda spot -- i.e., “Grrr,” the best ad of the year worldwide -- fares with the creative elite. The whimsical two-minute cartoon atop the Garrison Keillor ditty about clanky diesel engines also is unusual, irresistible, indefatigable and selling-point intensive. Of course, it’s derivative, too.

Animation? That has so been done. And a jingle? P-ullease.

What “Grrr” does have going for it is the nauseating paucity of competition. Once again the intrepid souls of Leo Burnett have scoured the world’s festivals and competitions for the most lauded commercials of the year to produce a reel of 50 best bets. God bless them. It’s a thankless task, because even this shortest of short lists is replete with work that never should have been produced in the first place.

But let’s not obsess about the pointless, ostentatious and ill-conceived. This is a festival, so let’s be festive and celebrate -- or, shall we say, lionize -- the work deserving of gold.

Quiet works of genius
While “Grrr” doesn’t have many credible challengers, on display nonetheless are some quiet works of genius. One is for Canon, from Leo Burnett, Melbourne. It shows what appears to be an animated rodeo bull-riding event fashioned out of Legos. The first impulse is to roll your eyes -- yeah, as if any kid can build something like that. But then the payoff: These aren’t Lego figures at all. They’re digital-camera images with such poor resolution that they’re pixilated into Legoblivion. The solution: Canon Digic technology, a complicated execution of a simple observation.

From the same agency, simplicity is found not only in the solution, but in the brand benefit: Two McDonald’s spots showing quick-cut montages of the unbearable complexity of life, juxtaposed with the straightforward cheeseburger: meat, cheese, bun and pickle.

But the inspired storytelling gets simpler still. An intriguing spot from Publicis Conseil, Paris, shows a guy using his Sagem X5 mobile phone to photograph various mundane objects: toilet, taxi, condoms, hamburger, coin-op washer, etc. Why? Ah. He’s on his way to Tokyo, where he uses the images to ask his way around. “Smart thinking,” the slogan says, and that’s for sure.

Likewise a commercial from DDB, Berlin, featuring two little boys sitting on a front stoop. One is shifting imaginary gears, with all the jerking/whining sound-effects. The other boy does the same, only in a steadily more high-pitched hum. Because his dad has a Golf, with a Direct Shift gearbox.

Gene Kelly breakdancing
Alas, that spot will probably be trumped by one for Golf via DDB, London. This one digitally manipulates Gene Kelly’s famous “Singin’ in the Rain” number to have him breakdancing. “The original, updated,” is the message. Fun, for sure, but much more about the video gimmick than about the merchandise. (The ultimate expression of that problem comes from Citroen and Euro RSCG, London, which digitally animates a Citroen C4 transforming into a dancing robotic beast. “Alive with technology,” is the tagline to that one. Yeah, the ad is. We have no data about the car.)

Production, production, production. This is Cannes, after all. Therefore, we also can’t forget funny, funny, funny. There are real crowd pleasers here, such as a series of spots from Colby & Partners, Santa Monica, Calif., for Red Tail Ale. They show men stuck listening to women chatter on about the drivel women chatter on about -- relationships, for example -- until the men’s heads explode. “Men are brewed differently,” the title card says. “So is Red Tail.” Pretty damn hilarious.

Same goes for a spot from Downtown Partners, Toronto, for Sportchek athletic gear. A club hockey player skates off the ice after practice and starts spewing the brainless cliches of all off-ice hockey interviews -- “gutcheck time,” and so on. Only he’s speaking to his wife, who has come to pick him up. But he’s dressed like a pro, so he behaves like one.

Altoids' laugh-out-loud spot
Then there’s the Altoids spots from Burnett, Chicago, which mimic a travelogue to exotic and primitive Altoidia, where the natives are so used to the ultra-sour candy they can feel no pain, even when being shot in the ass with an arrow. Sadistic and laugh-out-loud funny.

Yes, political correctness takes a holiday this year. One of the funniest spots shows a montage of two men giddily wending their way toward domestic partnership. But it’s all a nightmare, beginning with an overnight airline flight in which 4A slides in his sleep half on top of 4B. The advertiser is Virgin Atlantic, via Net#Work BBDO, Johannesburg, promoting the portioned seating of the Upper Class Suite. “If you’d wanted to sleep with him, you’d have married him,” the voice-over says.

A Super Bowl spot
Finally, we’re also dying to see what happens with FedEx’s Super Bowl spot, from BBDO, New York. It’s a hilarious compilation of all the elements required for the perfect Super Bowl ad -- celebrity (Burt Reynolds), dancing bear, sexy cheerleaders and so on, including “Product message (optional).” You can say that again. The ad cost $3 million or so, and itself offers no product benefit whatsoever. It’s a gratuitously entertaining TV commercial about gratuitously entertaining TV commercials.

We’re assuming it will win a Lion. After all, it’s totally original.

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