Cannes 07

Day Five: Advertising's Environmental Wreckage

Though Confined to La Croisette, Matthew Creamer Thinks Al Gore Wouldn't Be Happy

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CANNES -- The dawn sky was the color of a bruise, entirely appropriate given the state of people and things after 5 a.m. at the triangle of Gutter Bar, Hotel Martinez and the beach.
Matthew Creamer contemplates Al Gore's green message while surveying the early morning's street trash outside the Gutter Bar.
Matthew Creamer contemplates Al Gore's green message while surveying the early morning's street trash outside the Gutter Bar.

The crowds had been whittled down to just a couple hundred, many still swilling from bottles of rose and red wine or smoking, but the collective detritus of the masses was evident. Bottles shattered in the streets, bar glasses shoved on to every available surface. A street cleaner futilely sprayed its chemical solution over the mess.

Less than 12 hours later, Al Gore would stand up in front of a full Palais auditorium and then some and beseech the audience to get involved in his effort to defeat global warming, a movement that just about everyone agrees involves less consumption. In so doing, the former vice president let loose the irony of all ironies: the notion that this festival, which bursts like an appendix over this town's restaurants, bars and streets, could be the locus of any thought of sustainability, of conservation.

Nevertheless, Mr. Gore, wearing a dark, slightly tent-ish suit that failed at masking his girth, dutifully translated his now inescapable environmental message for the ad audience. Mr. Gore said he is set to unveil a seven-point pledge to take personal action.

Acknowledging the new, more consumer-generated ad environment and the political world dominated by focus groups, he said that "communications is the key. Advertising is part and parcel of this. ... Elected representatives are always testing messages so the messaging has to be part of this.

"Advertising has often been seen as crass and exploitive, focused on means over ends. Let's show them it actually has men and women who care."

Which is not to say that the contradictions are entirely lost on the Cannes delegation. Just before 5 a.m., I was standing stupidly on the median's La Croisette, feeling rough like the exhaust pipe on a Ford pickup and surveying the damage with a creative director I know.

"This is just great," he sniffed. "A great message to leave. The advertising business came here and broke bottles and left their crap everywhere."

It's hard to say, of course, what Mr. Gore would think if he, maybe surrounded by his Secret Service entourage, could see the sun lighten the black sky while outside lay the Gutter Bar wreckage. He probably wouldn't give up the standing ovation the crowd gave him, many of which would go on to the beach and join the revelry at huge parties thrown by DDB and Leo Burnett.
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