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HBO 'Voyeur' Collaborator Calls Cannes Prizes Unfair

By Published on . 9

Last week in Cannes, BBDO's campaign for HBO brought home the Omnicom Group-owned agency and its creative chief, David Lubars, a lot of hardware. Now "Voyeur" is offering a tense look inside the often uncomfortable relationships between ad agencies and digital specialists when it comes to the question of who takes credit for award-winning work.

In an interview, Michael Lebowitz, co-founder and CEO of Big Spaceship, one of the shops instrumental in executing "Voyeur," criticized both BBDO and the awards system for not giving due credit to his firm for its role in a campaign that crossed from outdoor to digital to film. The campaign picked UP a number of awards at festivals this year, and in Cannes it earned two Grand Prix trophies in the outdoor and promotion categories, five Golds, a Silver and a Bronze in media, cyber, design promotion and film, with the bulk of the credit attributed to BBDO, New York.

Game has changed
Mr. Lebowitz said the fact that the festival rules permit a single winner for an award reflect "an awards structure that hasn't adapted" to a changing agency landscape. As the digital world allows marketing campaigns to become more complex and touch consumers in more and more ways, agencies are often not the lone source of creativity that they were in pre-internet days. Increasingly, agencies are becoming a kind of hub that marshals other resources, from digital experts to production companies, on behalf of clients.

The awards system hasn't kept up with the change. Nor, in Mr. Lebowitz's opinion, has BBDO.

"I don't think that BBDO is completely innocent in this," he said. "I tremendously admire what BBDO did ... they shot an incredible piece of film. But to qualify us as a production company is to sell short the tremendous amount of insight it takes to take a traditional piece of media and put it out into the world in a natively digital way. Certainly, a lot of people came up to me and said 'sorry' when I was in Cannes."

Lubars defends agency's role
In an e-mailed statement, Mr. Lubars said his agency, as "the source of the idea," deserves the credit it received.

"Ideas are timeless," the statement read. "Ideas are what inspire people. Ideas are the root of all execution. On 'Voyeur,' BBDO thought of the idea, shot the idea, then brought in Big Spaceship to do what they do. They did a great job (and we've made every effort to acknowledge them). What's the issue? Maybe Cannes should consider the idea of a Palme d'Or for digital production." The issue -- and this is something that was discussed at the bars and beaches of Cannes -- is how to update an antiquated system set up to make old-fashioned ad agencies look good. Many expressed frustration that, despite changes to the agency landscape that created a division of labor wherein lots of people now do the work, the awards -- which in Cannes, anyway, don't allow for multiple winners to share the same award -- continue to make it seem as if the ad shops are king. Formed in part because of this issue, the Society of Digital Agencies, of which Big Spaceship is a member, is expected to issue a rallying cry today urging the ad industry to better recognize the collaboration between big established agency players and lesser-known, nontraditional shops.

'A larger problem'
"This isn't about digital agencies getting credit," and "it's not just about BBDO and Big Spaceship," said Mr. Lebowitz. "It's a larger problem, and it's about shifting the tenor of the industry overall."

"We are in a brave new world, a networked world, and you will never find a single agency that can handle all the various works of executions," he said. "Anything that runs against innovation and collaboration succeeding should ultimately be choked out."

Whether Cannes organizers will listen remains to be seen.
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