Cannes 2009

Jeff Goodby: 'We Are Becoming Irrelevant Award-Chasers'

Creative Leader Calls for Focus on the 'Famousness' of a Piece of Work

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(AdAge.com) -- I call it the "cab test."

When you get into a taxi and tell the driver that you're in advertising, they often ask you whether you've done anything they might be familiar with.

Well, have you?

Ironically, the more awards you've been winning these days, the more likely the answer is "No."

It's fast becoming clear that the majority of things we're rewarding, as an industry, are either small or marginal efforts for legitimate clients, things we made for real clients that the clients seem not to have ever heard of, or out-and-out fakes.

Some of these projects are well-intentioned since, at the very least, they are meant to "inspire" us when we work on bigger, better-paying accounts. But without getting into whether this kind of activity is immoral or just plain chickenshit, I'd like to point out a graver toll it's taking on us all: It's making our business less famous. Less fun. Less public. Less about any of the reasons you probably got into it in the first place.

We've created a system that rewards work that is increasingly unknown to anyone outside the business. We have become connoisseurs of esoterica. And in the process, we're becoming more about us, and less about changing the world.

We are becoming irrelevant award-chasers.

Sure, some of the best things we make nowadays are internet experiences with necessarily specific, limited audiences -- that cab driver might not be expected to see them. But for the ones I'm talking about, the only intended audience is, well, us.

Ghost ads are symptom of the malaise
There are big, obvious signs of this syndrome everywhere, of course. The controversy in Dubai this year led to the rescinding of a big bag of awards and an Agency of the Year accolade (and may queer a host of end-of-the-year tallies). There was the apparently fake J.C. Penney commercial that won at Cannes last year. The list goes on.

But beyond the nakedly exposed fakes lies a gray area of questionable stuff that is perhaps even more dangerous. At the Andy Awards this year, we gave a gold to a lovely magazine spread campaign for an FM radio station -- but you had to wonder how such a station had the money to produce and run over 14 versions of such lush creations. And I have heard three different people from New York City -- parents who are in our business -- say they never got even a whiff of that widely-awarded school cell phone campaign.

As I say, this is not yet another complaint about ghost ads. It's a protest against the people who compliment things for being "well-entered." It's a warning that we are, in effect, making things that serve our own agency brands instead of serving our clients and making a difference in the minds of the world.

Making marketing famous again
I want us all to be famous again, outside the walls of our agencies. How can we accomplish this?

Well, I think we have to demand that awards judges take into account the sheer "famousness" of a piece of work when they make their determinations.

Not whether the stuff worked -- we are all quite good at making entry videos that make that case. (Judges parody these now as they watch them.) Not whether the stuff is new or ingenious -- yeah, we all want that. I'm talking about naked fame. Whether it's something you've ever heard of.

I don't think that it's wrong to have international judges -- people who are probably among the most media- and internet-savvy types on the planet -- mark things down a bit if they've never heard of them. For the good of our business. For the good of us all.

Bob Garfield recently complained that Cannes had become irrelevant because advertising forms had descended into "chaos." Giving free rein to the fame factor helps make such quibbling irrelevant. No one feels uncomfortable celebrating "Whopper Sacrifice" or "Mac vs. PC" or Coke's "Happiness Factory."

Think about it the next time you get in a cab. Think about it when you consider what will make you want to get up and go to work tomorrow.

Do it for the fun we'll all have.

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