* Staff security during these uncertain times;
* Final preparation of our long-awaited advertising manifesto, "And Now a Few Words From Me," in bookstores early next year, so plan your Presidents' Day gift list now; and
* The plumber is coming between 8 a.m. and 12 noon, but refused to specify which day.
Just as well. We have chosen an excellent year not to be in France, what with that nation's recent electoral flirtation with fascism and the certain hostility surge in the wake of its pitiful World Cup showing-not to mention the year's shockingly unfestive output of advertising, which has been very dreadful the world over. (Or, as the French say, in their quaint Frenchie way, "tres dreadful the world over.")
That judgment is based mainly on domestic viewing, plus the 600 or so international spots we've seen in the past year, but it certainly is borne out in Leo Burnett Co.'s annual Cannes Predictions Reel.
As you may recall, Burnett's Paul Kemp Robertson annually haunts the festivals and scours the archives to compile the 50 front-runners for Cannes Lions, an exercise at which he and his predecessor Donald Gunn have been astonishingly successful. As always, this column uses that reel as a point of departure for our Cannes picks. But, like most departures these days, it's a grueling ordeal.
More than a third of Paul's commercial selections are simply not very good. (Or, in French: con carne.) It's not that they shouldn't have been entered in the festival; it's that they shouldn't have been produced altogether. This is hardly Paul's fault, however. It's to his credit that he managed to forage the wasteland for two dozen spots that are worthy and, in some cases, genuinely surprising. Surprise No. 1? The home country is actually well represented.
Yes, France, a nation that has stubbornly resisted producing watchable advertising lest it be been seen as lining up with the United States and Britain, has three entries that should win Lions. One from CLM BBDO, Issy les Moulineaux, is for Pepsi-Cola Co., about a martial-arts rite of passage. The odd forehead tattoo on the kung-fu masters turns out to be from collapsing a Pepsi can with their heads. Another spot, from Leagas Delaney, Paris, for Ikea, is about why you need to organize the house (see the baby playing with the vibrator). Finally, there is a magnificent verite look, from Jean & Montmarin, Paris, as a woman tearfully packing and preparing her family for a long separation.
She's on her way into the bathroom, constipated. Try Dulcolax. Bravo, monsieurs! Fraternite! Egalite! Regularite!
Another pleasant surprise is that Nike is back, in force, with several U.S. spots from Wieden & Kennedy, Portland, Ore., that almost make you forget the company's twin, late `90s shames. We refer, of course, to those awful East Asian sweatshops and, more horrifying still, the Alpha Project. Well, the slump is over. One lovely, surprising, intricately choreographed spot shows Manhattan street life as an ongoing game of mass "tag." The other shows a woman jogging only in shadows. Both films are beautiful, gently witty and inspiring. The message: Play.
Another advertiser has the same message, and another complexly produced commercial from Bartle Bogle Hegarty, London. But Xbox's solution isn't physical; it's digital, both in its product and it ad. All kinds of computer effects go into this wry look at the human life cycle: a newborn being propelled from his mother's loins right into orbit, where he ages over the course of 60 seconds and crashes to earth into his own grave. Life is short, it turns out.
This spot could win the Grand Prix, and would deserve it, but for Cannes' predisposition against extravagant production, which bodes poorly for production-rich, concept-poor spots for Levis Engineered Jeans (Bartle Bogle), the BBC (Abbott Mead Vickers BBDO, London) or Reebok ( Lowe, London). Xbox happens to be a case where the concept is equal to and deserving of the computer effects, but that probably won't matter.
So who will win the Grand Prix? It could be Nike. It could be a Dutch lotto ad, from Result DDB, Amsterdam, about a guy asking for big favors from other guys to discover who really is his friend-in preparation for being a millionaire. It could be Lowe, London, for a weird and wonderful Heineken campaign that uses an ultra-cheesy easy-listening music act to blackmail viewers into buying Heineken, or else they'll keep running the spot. In the last of the series, in advertiser gratitude to compliant consumers, the performers are sacrificed to lions.
Another wonderful spot, from Mother, London, for Cup-a-Soup, shows marathon runners stopping along the course for hot instant soup. A hilarious display of the one place where the product isn't convenient.
In the end, though, the top prize is likely to go to a dog.
No, not one of Paul's crummy picks. To an actual dog. Maybe the best ad in the world in 2001 was done by Saatchi & Saatchi, Torrance, Calif., for the Toyota Celica coupe. It shows a dog, barking and chasing the Toyota. The thing is, the car is parked at the curb and the dog just runs into the bumper-WHOOMP-because, even if the Celica's just sitting there, "It looks fast." Brilliant.
Still, we've got to go with our own animal instincts, and throw our lot with another spot, equally funny, equally simple, equally unexpected. It's from Lowe & Partners, Singapore, and it begins with a little dog scampering through his little doggie door into the house. But when he gets inside he seems puzzled. The dog looks around, scuttles back outside, checks the exterior to make sure he's in the right house, and runs back in. His masters have redecorated at Ikea.
All right, "1984" it isn't. But it is funny, charming, counterintuitive and yet a vivid statement of the brand's offer: the chance to stylishly transform your environment almost instantly. It also passes the repeated-viewing test. A Cannes Grand Prix winner, of course, has to have legs-and this spot has four of them.