The Horror

A Cannes Press and Outdoor juror on what he saw and wishes he hadn't.

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The author in Cannes.
I'm a guy who's seen a lot of things. I saw the Pope once, up close. I've seen a man's chest open up and his internal organs slide out like coins from a slot machine. And I've seen a grown man sitting under his desk sucking his thumb while looking through a One Show annual. So there's not a lot that shocks me anymore. But as I was sitting in the Press & Outdoor jury room in Cannes getting three shades whiter while the rest of the festival was outside judging who could look the most like George Hamilton, I saw a few things that made me stop and wish I was that guy under the desk with my thumb inserted firmly between my lips.

I saw a ton of so-called "campaigns" that were really nothing more than one-offs executed repeatedly. For example, there was an idea where a shoe was shot in such a way that its tongue was hanging out to make it look exhausted. It was interesting. But then I saw the next one in the campaign, and the next, each execution just a different shoe but the exact same shot. Who talks their client into wasting that kind of money? And why? You only need one of those and then might as well get on with it. Otherwise, come up with a bigger idea. People are getting incredibly lazy if they think that's a campaign.

Another thing I couldn't avoid, which may not be new, or even bad, but is increasingly prevalent, is the visual metaphor. Thousands of them. I know it's an important tool in many parts of the world where languages vary so widely, but it's beginning to feel like a colony of ants climbing over a half-eaten peanut butter sandwich. Copy's taking a backseat and becoming nothing more than a descriptor. Is this what will happen to poetry? Should music be only instrumental? I hope not. And that's not simply the copywriter in me talking.

Also, it was amazing, and disappointing, to see how many ideas have an identical twin. Sometimes even a triplet or quadruplet. And then there are other ideas that aren't identical but are kissin' cousins. I'm certainly not accusing anyone of stealing (or making out with their cousin, for that matter), but to come across these similarities as often as I did is incredible. I saw two ads for milk that supposedly tasted so good the cow was drinking from itself. Two posters for feeding the hungry that were placed on-site at the event in London where David Blaine suspended himself in a glass box without food for more than a month. Two ads for bulimia that were each placed inside a toilet. Four, yes four, different campaigns against drunk driving where crashed cars were put in the streets with signs on them. Three erectile dysfunction ideas placed on the gate at the entrance/exit of a parking garage. Three campaigns for giving blood that used both Little Red Riding Hood and Santa Claus wearing completely white outfits. And two ads for breath mints where the mouth was replaced with an anus. I could go on and on but that last one should be the final word on this topic, don't you think?

I also picked up on a lot of "themes." You know, the devices that the world's creative gurus use with monotonous regularity. For example, there were a lot of tombstones being used this year. And teddy bears. Oversized Post-It Notes. Barbie and Ken dolls. These things relentlessly haunted me like reruns of The Love Boat. But one of the most grossly overused themes was for lowfat/slimming products where they showed slimness to the same exaggerated effect. Like escaping from jail through the bars. Or falling down a sewer grate in the street (there were several of those). Or standing, unseen, behind a streetlight. Or sliding under a door. Can I stop now? I don't know about you, I'd like to drop a few pounds but I don't want to be that thin.

One last observation came from my being a juror in both print and outdoor. It's incredibly disappointing to see an outdoor ad that's really only a print ad pretending to be a poster. It's so obvious that some people enter a print ad into the outdoor category by putting a reprint up on a telephone pole for 20 minutes while their mother gets a good look at it. Are we really that desperate to fool the jury into awarding us another feline doorstop? Shouldn't outdoor really be, well, outdoor? The Grand Prix-winning print ad for Volkswagen, "Cops," impressed me because when they made it into outdoor they shot it differently. Same idea, but a simpler version of the photograph. They realized that, as outdoor, people would view it differently. I love that kind of thinking.

Anyway, I'll go back to my dark office now and work on some advertising. Maybe under my desk, with a One Show annual and my thumb. Hopefully, I won't create the next Mary-Kate & Ashley of ad campaigns, but if I do, be kind, because it may take me a while to vacuum this stuff out of my head.

Kevin Roddy is partner/executive creative director at Euro RSCG MVBMS/New York. This POV appears in the July 2004 issue of Creativity.

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