A DROUGHT YEAR AT CANNES

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Regarding the curious lack of Grand Prix winners at this year's Cannes International Advertising Festival, we have to ask whether this festival should be seen as a horse race or an entrance exam. In the former, whether the field is fast or slow there's always a win, place and show; in the latter, those who simply don't measure up don't get in.

That's the crux of the issue at this year's festival, one of the most contentious and raucous affairs in years. As presided over by jury president Frank Lowe, chairman of Lowe Group, who has surely added another chapter to his growing legend with this episode, the film and print juries were unusually stringent in their evaluations and stingy in their presentations of awards.

Mr. Lowe addressed the issue head on, asking if the festival's purpose is to honor excellence in advertising or to hand out Gold Lions? We say both. The desire to celebrate truly exceptional work needn't deny recognition, and reward, for the very good.

Unable to select a Grand Prix winner from among four competing TV spots, this year's Cannes jury instead bestowed upon a public service announcement something it called a "special jury award" for achieving the highest overall score. The delegates' reaction to this, the unusually small number of Gold Lions in the film competition and the lack of a Grand Prix or any Gold Lions at all in the print competition, spilled over into an ugly "gala" closing evening of catcalls and heckling.

Speculation was rampant that the print and film juries were influenced by Mr. Lowe's desire to demonstrate how high his personal creative standards are. Maybe so, but the juries took a measure of the work and voted their minds. The results speak for themselves.

In this most subjective of businesses, full of "expert" opinions, an advertising award jury's decisions can, and will, be second-guessed. But we believe those who did so at Cannes are more angered by what they perceive as an affront to their industry than by a critical assessment of the work.

As for the festival, next year will see different ads, different judges and different values and standards. And Cannes, its reputation oddly enhanced by yet another good, juicy imbroglio, will go on.

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