Two weeks ago, in a pitiless slam at the Cannes International Advertising Festival judging process-and by extension the current state of advertising "creativity"-we dumped on the Grand Prix winner, a spot called "Mountain" from TBWA, London, for PS2 video games.
The honor came, we despaired, "in celebration of all the wrong values." We dismissed the ad with the faint praise of 2 1/2 stars suitable for a "spectacular demonstration of nothing."
The mail largely supported us, saluting our staunch defense of the Right Values: salesmanship, demonstration, persuasion and plain old information. But a couple of other writers offered a slightly different perspective. They wondered if, perhaps, we weren't a complete moron.
Which, as it turns out, we are, having somehow overlooked the patently obvious.
Oh, we stand by everything else in the column; the industry is indeed in a sorry state for exactly the reason we articulated: its self-defeating fascination with style over substance. The only problem was producing this Grand Prix as the incriminating evidence. Because the bloody glove doesn't fit.
As we observed, "it's an incredible production ... devoted to a seamless illusion: a mountain of humanity playing the world's largest game of King of the Hill. It's amazing to watch the crowds stream through the streets by the tens of thousands, gradually coalescing into a teeming heap. There one person, then another claws his way to the peak and revels for a brief moment, only to be dislodged by the next king."
Our complaint was that this imagery could have been employed by anybody seeking to make a visual point about any mass-marketed project. This is where our spectacular stupidity figured in; we somehow neglected the fact that PS2's online-gaming feature enables every user to himself be part of the e-throng, clawing his way among thousands of strangers toward the top.
In other words: the central, and altogether vivid, metaphor of the commercial.
We can't blame the commercial for being too oblique. On the contrary, making that connection required basically one functioning eye and a pulse. Yet it slipped past us, and we feel like fools.
AdReview may seem like an offhand tirade, but even at its harshest, it goes to great lengths not to be facile or arbitrary or gratuitous. We examine each ad in the context of what we understand the competitive situation to be, what we understand the target audience to be and what we understand the strategy to be. We always try to put ourselves in the head of the target (even if the agency does not). And we do not presume that our particular tastes and sensibilities are the last word.
But we can also veer to the polemical. We hope that our frustration with the industry's intractable superficiality hasn't turned into blinding rage. Our first job is to consider carefully the ad in question, on its merits. Clearly we failed here, accusing Cannes of turning "a molehill into a mountain." Wrong. This ad is a 3 1/2-star mountain, and we, trying to gnaw our way from the bottom of the heap, are the blind and abashed little mole.
Ad Review Rating: 3.5 stars