Cannes 2009

Garfield: Cannes Doesn't Matter Anymore

... and Neither Do the TV Ads It Celebrates, Believes Chaos Scenario Author

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They should give Crispin Porter & Bogusky every statue on Monday and send everybody to the airport. Gold. Silver. Titanium. Plutonium. Whatever.

Because first of all, apart from Burger King, the advertising year was a black hole worldwide. Besides, at this stage of Cannes' history, what's the point?

BURGER KING: Fast-food 'virgins' in far-flung international locations get their first taste of Whoppers and McDonald's Big Macs.
BURGER KING: Fast-food 'virgins' in far-flung international locations get their first taste of Whoppers and McDonald's Big Macs.
The International Advertising Festival is convening in the midst of, well, chaos: not merely recession but the growing irrelevance of all the flashy mini-cinema long featured there. Which is why everybody present will mouth the same pieties: "It's not about film or print or outdoor. It's about the idea. It's about solving communications problems and building brands and building customer relationships by any and all means." That sort of rhetoric.

Why not? It's all absolutely true. Then, having recited the new catechism, off they will head to screen TV commercials, or to a yacht party, the Majestic patio, Colombe d'or or the beach.

Because that's what Cannes is about ... as is every other ad festival, more or less. It's simply just not all that entertaining to sit through four-minute promo videos about a website or experiential-marketing event. And it's sure harder, under those circumstances, to suspend disbelief and imagine yourself an artist vs. someone who sells deodorant and cellphones and deathburgers for a living.

But if it really is all about the work, we suggest traveling with plenty of seratonin inhibiteurs du recaptage. It is a disaster.

Or, it is a disaster if the annual labors of Leo Burnett Co. to find the 50 Lion front-runners, based on other awards shows and industry buzz, are any indication -- and they always are. Year in and year out, the Burnett Cannes Predictions Reel has been an uncanny harbinger of things to come. We ourselves have used it to predict, with consistent accuracy, the category Golds and Grand Prix itself. This year it presages mostly shame and disbelief.

LONDON TRANSPORT: A spot promoting safety makes 21 subtle changes.
LONDON TRANSPORT: A spot promoting safety makes 21 subtle changes.
For instance, on the reel there are only 29 actual TV commercials. Fair enough. In the spirit of recognizing the new realities (see third paragraph, above), Burnett has been agnostic about medium. The problem is, of the 29, only four are by any rational standards award-worthy: Himani analgesic cream (Publicis Ambience, Mumbai) in which real people are used like modeling clay in a cartoonish busy-city tableau; London Transport (WCRS, London), in a new version of "It's easy to miss what you're not looking for" safety campaign, this time staging the denouement of a whodunit, and changing 21 details of the shot before our eyes without detection; a weird, weird, weird but inarguably memorable spot for Esthe Wam depilatory (Ogilvy & Mather, Tokyo) in which a woman bowler glides down the lane with her ball, and loses a perfect game because a single underarm hair peeks through its follicle to change her/the ball's course; and Burger King's "Whopper Virgins" campaign. More on that later.

QUEENSLAND TOURISM: Help-wanted ad for caretaker on Hamilton Island.
QUEENSLAND TOURISM: Help-wanted ad for caretaker on Hamilton Island.
This leaves 31 other entries, from online videos to billboards to websites to widgets to experiential-marketing events to publicity stunts. They are for the most part forgettable, too, and some are simply terrible. What could have possessed anyone to flag JC Penney's overwrought, overly long, underly clever, way-underly acted, written and directed 4:45-second viral "Beware of the Doghouse?" The work, from Saatchi & Saatchi New York, is a threadbare battle-of-the-sexes gag, unendurably drawn out, in service of a crap piece of JC Penney jewelry that hardly constitutes a romantic ideal. Equally bewildering were the selections of a childish, highly filthy riff on pornography for Diesel (The Viral Factory, London) and an animated Monty Python Meets Quentin Tarantino bit of violence porn from Amnesty International (Leo Burnett, Lisbon, Portugal).

Sure enough, most of the best ideas had little to do with advertising as Cannes has always known it.

Queensland Tourism, which used help-wanted columns to advertise "the best job in the world" (caretaker on the Great Barrier Reef's Hamilton Island, $8,000/month plus villa) from Cummins/Nitro, South Brisbane; a Red Cross "store" in Lisbon fitted with all the retail trappings to sell hope (Leo Burnett, Lisbon); Fiat Eco-Drive (the Nike Plus of cars, allowing you to download your driving data and analyze it for eco-friendliness) from AKQA, London; an elaborate web experience called Hotel 626 for Doritos from Goodby Silverstein & Partners, San Francisco; an exquisitely rendered bit of video mayhem for Philips (Tribal DDB, Amsterdam);

T-Mobile's dancing flashmob at Liverpool Street Station (Saatchi & Saatchi, London); Diageo Pampero Rum (Leo Burnett, Lisbon), which created an audio "Museo Efemero" walking tour of street art about to be eradicated by a Portuguese city; the Barack Obama new-media campaign (Obama for America, Washington) and Crispin's diabolical, astonishingly brilliant "Whopper Sacrifice" stunt, which gave you a free Whopper if you'd de-friend 10 Facebook friends.

ESTHE WAM: Spot for depilatory shows a woman stopped by a single, pesky hair.
ESTHE WAM: Spot for depilatory shows a woman stopped by a single, pesky hair.
For whatever reason, Will.i.am's lovely, inspiring, celebrity-studded music video for Obama -- the one that turned an Obama speech into lyrics -- is not a stand-alone entry, or that would be our Grand Prix choice. In terms of marketers of any scale, that pretty much leaves Burger King, which not only came up with the deliciously subversive Facebook gimmick, but also contrived to do the "world's purest taste test" by taking Whoppers and Big Macs to godforsaken destinations in the Third World and letting the locals pick a favorite. Having ourselves failed for years to acknowledge the post-modern appeal of the grinning King grotesque, we bow humbly before his majesty.

The film category is dead. Long live the King.

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