At last year's International Advertising Festival, the British jury president's imperious presence-and his declaration of refusal to award Lions to pedestrian entries-cast a pall over the entire week. Then, after his deadlocked TV and print juries fulfilled his prophecy by issuing no Grand Prix and only 10 Gold Lions, the anger and resentment cast a pall over the 1996 festival, as well.
In Cannes this year, the ghost of Frank Lowe's presidency haunted the screening rooms, the dinner tables and the teeming bars of the Hotel Martinez, where the same three questions were on everyone's lips: Would there be a repeat of the heavy-handed snubbing of the world's best work? Would you have sex with me? Would Michael Conrad and his 1996 panel hand out Lions indiscriminately, erring on the high side just as the 1995 jury erred on the Lowe?
The answers, for the most part, were "no." Although the number of print and poster Lions was the highest in years, when it came to overall awards on TV and cinema spots, Conrad's jury was actually stingier than Lowe's. Could it be, considering the peculiar balance of vanity, ego and predominantly horrible advertising the festival is, that Frank Lowe had a cleansing effect on the Cannes ecosystem?
It could, indeed. In fact, maybe just a little more cleansing is in order, for among the generally superb Gold Lion winners and the generally creditable silvers and bronzes was a silver for Advico Young & Rubicam, Zurich, that left the audience in stunned disbelief. The spot is called "Fly."
It opens with a beach scene, where a man stands facing the sea, viewed from the rear. In the background, we hear a music box version of "Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairies." Then we hear the buzzing of a fly, which, soon enough, lands on the guy's buttock. This we see in close-up, as he swats the large insect away. A moment later, the fly returns, this time closer to the crevice of his cheeks, and again he swats it away.
Then the product shot: a roll of Hakle toilet paper.
"Hakle," says the onscreen type, "for ultimate cleanliness."
Oh, yes, the ultimate problem/resolution spot, the ultimate assault on viewer sensibilities and the ultimate evidence that standards of taste are being chipped away incrementally.
This is what the Swiss watch? In one moment of crystalline vulgarity, a perverted grocer in a supermarket aisle fondling toilet paper suddenly looked, in comparison, like subtle genius. Some in the audience whistled, as is the Cannes crowds' obnoxious wont, but the loudest noises were groans and gasps of incredulity. Legendary ad director Joe Pytka, who recently shot a commercial featuring a stripteasing transvestite, recoiled in horror. And throughout the Palais auditorium 2,000 others stirred in their seats, their jaws down and their hackles up.
The irony was thick. Y&R's best Cannes entry-the Sydney office's campaign for UV sunscreen-had been notoriously withdrawn by order of client Colgate-Palmolive Co. following a handful of complaints about the ads' racial theme. Racial indeed their premise was, but racist in no way whatsoever.
Clearly, the wrong decision was made. For the sake of the viewer, and for the ultimate cleanliness of the integrity of the festival, what should have been pulled -what should never have seen the bright, ultraviolet light of day-is "Fly." Silver Lion? Frankly, it was an outrage.