The dirty little secret of "ghost" ads created for award competitions is being dragged out into the open as two Bronze Lions awarded at last month's International Advertising Festival in Cannes, France, are sent back.
The unprecedented return of the Lions by Lowe Lintas & Partners Worldwide's Australian office comes as the festival inquires further about a third Bronze print winner, from Grey Shanghai.
Questions are being raised about that ad's eligibility because, although client Electrolux confirmed it approved the execution, Grey is not Electrolux's agency and Grey Shanghai Creative Director Larry Ong admitted the ad was created in order to enter the Cannes festival--and ran just once to qualify.
There has long been grumbling about agencies that enter so-called ghost ads at Cannes or other shows merely to win awards, with some people believing the practice is fairly widespread. But Romain Hatchuel, CEO of the Cannes festival, said Lions have never before been returned to that show.
"This creates a healthy precedent for those who would think in the future of entering ghost or scam ads," he said. "It will always be an issue. You can't prevent some people from breaking the rules."
After Australia's Taronga Zoo complained about Lowe Lintas' award-winning print ad at Cannes--saying the ad had been rejected because it portrayed animals in a manner contrary to the zoo's philosophy--an internal investigation at the agency turned up a second ineligible ad that won at Cannes, along with at least one suspect ad entered into another show.
"I am personally appalled at these indefensible breaches and have put in place all possible procedures to make sure this never happens again in any of our agencies," said Lionel Hunt, executive chairman of Lowe Lintas Oceania.
The agency is withdrawing all its entries in Australian ad contests.
The ad that started it all, for the Taronga Zoo, "was clearly ineligible on all possible grounds," said Mr. Hunt in a statement last week. "The Taronga Zoo was not a client of Lowe Lintas Sydney, the advertisement had never run and obviously the Taronga Zoo had not given its permission for the entry."
Following the investigation, the agency's creative director, Marc Schattner, resigned, and more ghost ads were discovered. Mr. Hunt quickly returned a second Bronze Lion, awarded to a TV spot for Artel Australia's plastic containers that he said was "ineligible for similar reasons."
Mr. Schattner could not be reached for comment at press time.
"In other award shows," Mr. Hunt added, "we have found that there is at least one other illegitimate Lowe Lintas Sydney award, for a Jif poster at the New York Festivals, and there may well be others not yet identified."
The issue has become sensitive in Australia, where advertisers are clamoring for tougher restrictions on ownership of ad campaigns. Sara Morton-Stone, general manager of the Australian Association of National Advertisers, said advertisers should sign off on entries to award shows.
"Agencies can be very precious about ownership of creative, but advertisers must have the right to protect their name," she said.
Unlike the Lowe Lintas ad, the print Electrolux execution that won a Bronze Lion at Cannes did run. But its submission, which Mr. Hatchuel said he has written to Grey about, raises the controversial issue of ads created solely to enter awards shows.
Grey does not handle Electrolux but hired a creative, Bok Chek Kiong, from its shop, Saatchi & Saatchi.
The creative had an idea for an ad showing an empty turtle shell, implying the powerful vacuum sucked the turtle from its shell. Grey's Mr. Ong admitted the agency "only ran the ad once" in a Chinese newspaper "so it would qualify" for the Cannes festival.
In a letter to Mr. Hatchuel dated July 7, Cathy Chen, Electrolux's national marketing manager-Greater China, confirmed that she approved the ad and that it ran in a Chinese daily on April 29, 1999.
Contributing: Normandy Madden in Hong Kong
Copyright July 2000, Crain Communications Inc.