A lot has been said about this year's imbroglio; certainly there was no shortage of things to be pissed off about. There was the lack of Grand Prix awards, the meager handing out of Gold Lions in the film competition (11, as opposed to 23 last year), the incredibly hostile reaction to jury president Frank Lowe at the closing awards presentation, the even more hostile reaction when Lowe Howard-Spink won the Agency of the Year award, the poor showing of just about everybody in the print competition (no Gold Lions at all out of 4,300 entries), the rampant speculation that Lowe influenced the juries, the difficulty in getting hotel rooms and the flared tempers at the closing gala as entree to the beach party in front of the Carlton Hotel was denied to all but a heretofore undisclosed VIP list of delegates.
Suffice to say this was one weird week on the Cote d'Azur. "An off, off year," was how Y&R's Ted Bell, one of the American film judges last year, put it. "The whole thing just didn't feel right. Something was troublesome."
How weird was it? Consider this: Tony Kaye, no stranger to odd behavior himself, sent his parents to pick up his Gold Lion for Volvo. Indeed, something just wasn't right, but it's hard to say what it was. The week started off with nothing short of great expectations. The number of delegates was the highest it has been in years, over 5,000, while entries were up in both the film and print competitions, dramatically so in the case of the latter.
The festival has also developed a full-fledged agenda of seminars aimed at promoting Cannes as some kind of continuing ad ed bonanza. There was the McCann-Erickson seminar on interactive multimedia, the Ayer presentation on new film and video techniques, the now-venerable Saatchi & Saatchi showcase of soon-to-be-too-expensive directors, a Kodak-sponsored dialogue between a top spots director (Jeff Gorman) and a DP (Steve Poster) and one of those Wall Street Journal "Meeting of the Minds" gigs featuring stars from its long-in-the-tooth "Creative Leaders" ad campaign.
Sure, some of these events were a little long-winded in terms of content, but at their best they provided a touch of entertaining insight. The high point may well have been scored early in the week at the WSJ gabfest, when BBH's John Hegarty and Neil French of O&M/Singapore squared off against McCann-Erickson's Sean Fitzpatrick, JWT's Burt Manning and Tapas/Ayer's Isabel Yanguas in a classic confrontation of creatively-driven mentalities versus big agency/big client mindsets. Hegarty managed to disparage both McCann's work and its clients in one remark, while French got off the best line of the week when he described his familiarity with the Internet in terms that suggest Hugh Grant's involvement with Divine Brown.
Also preoccupying the festival organizers this year, although delegates probably were largely unaware of it, was the Young Creatives Competition (see page 18), in which young (and rumor has it not so young) creative teams from around the world competed to produce a print PSA in one day.
But the real star of the show is always the work, and there was no getting around the observation that much of it this year just wasn't up to snuff, a charge that some have leveled against the quality of the jury decisions as well. A review of the winning Lions produces some curious results-there are, in each category, a couple of real dogs that have no business being on any showreel, much less the Cannes reel.
For example, Bell and others criticized the Gold award given to a Lowe Howard-Spink spot for Tesco supermarkets featuring the adventures of a woman and her busybody mother. (Another Tesco spot took home a Silver.) A Dutch PSA about sexual harassment, which featured a horny dog humping a man's leg, also mysteriously took at Gold.
Meanwhile, Pepsi's "Diner" spot, in which a holiday detente between Pepsi and Coke truck drivers ends up in a brawl, had to settle for a Silver-the same honor given to an absolutely idiotic Spanish jam spot that suggests you make your jam purchasing decisions not by looking at the label, but by looking through the jar at the product.
The major brouhaha of the week had to do with the jury decision not to award a Grand Prix in either competition. In the case of print, it was attributed to lackluster work-after all, no print entry won a Gold. The festering unpopularity of this move was compounded by the news on Friday (Cannes juries are about as good at keeping secrets as Aldrich Ames) that the jury could not agree on a Grand Prix and hence was not going to name one. It was explained that four spots could have easily achieved Grand Prix status, had enough judges voted for any one of them. (The four in question were a BBH Levi's spot, Nike's "The Wall," the Volvo "Twister" spot from Abbott Mead Vickers/BBDO in London and Pepsi's "Inner Tube.") Since no single spot could muster the necessary votes, the jury punted and gave a "special jury award" to the single highest-scoring spot in the festival: an overlong but nonetheless moving PSA for a British charity for the disabled, called "Eggs."
Once the film competition failed to name a Grand Prix, it seemed there was no convincing the delegates that the fix wasn't on-that Lowe had not influenced the film jury to tighten its standards beyond what was reasonable, presumably to show off how tough his creative standards are. It didn't help that he had spoken of this even before the festival began. Interviewed in May for a profile that appeared in Lions News, the festival's daily magazine, Lowe said, "It may be that in certain categories there is nothing better than a Silver, and in that case we will not give a Gold. The reputation of the jury will be in direct relation to the awards they give."
The argument over whether there should or should not be a Grand Prix awarded every year at Cannes, regardless of the scoring of the work, has been wrangled with before. This year, the pros and cons fell largely into one of two camps, the first suggested by Hatchuel, the second by Lowe. The former compares the festival to the Olympics or something-essentially a competition in which you always have a first, second and third place winner, even if the scores or times are not world class. The contrary view compares the festival to the French wine industry, which Lowe claimed polices itself by refusing to release a wine in any given year if it appraises the vintage as not being up to standards.
A lot of people rejected the wine theory as faulty. "The French wine industry doesn't have such a rule," says Cappelli. "It's an individual choice made by different vineyards. And Lowe is up there representing an industry, and not an individual."
Says Bell of the Grand Prix decision, "It's stupid, insulting, elitist, childish and profoundly wrongheaded." This is a festival, he adds, an event that's meant to be uplifting to people in the industry. Saying the work is not up to standards reflects "the sort of British attitude that we're too good for anything. It's that D&AD crap. It's condescending and phony."
Bell noted that last year, "Hegarty said at the outset that we were here to reward great ideas, and anybody perceived to be voting with a different agenda would be sent home." He adds, "I don't think that message was delivered to this jury."
Ted Sann, one of the American film judges, was interviewed by Lions News early in the week and commented on the print jury's decisions not to award Golds or a Grand Prix. "The logic of not giving a Grand Prix is specious," he said. "Besides, it takes some of the magic away. At any festival there are good years and bad years, but you should let people see the winners and decide that for themselves. I don't like the indulgent aspects of this; it's insulting and it smacks of amateurism. If this happens in the film competition I won't be here Saturday." Come Saturday night he was there, and not looking too happy about things.
Of course, Cannes wouldn't be Cannes without these sorts of flare-ups every couple of years. Barring the mad rush for statues at the Clios a few years back, nothing the ad industry here at home has to offer comes close to the level of passion and involvement that Cannes delegates bring to this festival. They pack the auditorium, lustily booing or cheering the work-and judging by how quickly the audience reaction is made known at the awards shows, it's clear that just about everyone in the room knows the work, having sat through the interminably long short list screenings the day before.
The only question remaining: will Paul Cappelli wait another nine years before going back?u