Recently, Haigh and I were chatting at yet another awards show where Guinness had been honored, when he became insistent. "Make sure if you write about this," he said-meaning Abbott Mead Vickers BBDO's great "Surfer," "Bet on Black," and "Snail" campaign-"you make it clear that sales went up. It drives me crazy that people don't get that. Without the sales going up, it's meaningless."
For Haigh, substitute August Busch IV. In an interview this year (Ad Age Global, February 2001), the scion of the famous brewing dynasty spoke of his pride in the "Whassup?!" work of DDB Worldwide, Chicago, but only because the great creative led to Budweiser's 5% growth in supermarket sales over the past year.
This is obvious, perhaps, but too easily forgotten as much of the global creative advertising community heads for the 48th Cannes International Advertising Festival next week. But as the prediction-mill whirs into action, the party invitations fly and a couple of dozen innocent creative directors prepare to be locked in a dark judging room by jury chairman Bob Isherwood, creative director of Saatchi & Saatchi Worldwide, the point of it all can easily be lost.
When awards competitions such as the Cannes festival were conceived, the idea was to encourage advertisers to use the new TV medium by demonstrating how creativity could make a brand famous. Over the next few decades, much of the work most awarded by juries on both sides of the Atlantic was also the most popular with the public. Think of FedEx, Pepsi, Perrier, Hamlet, Heineken, Levi's, Nike, Volkswagen and previous Budweiser and Guinness campaigns.
Somehow, subsequently viewer and jury became disconnected. The advertising world started rewarding work that was either too obscure to be seen by the general public or too esoteric to truly resonate. Perhaps Chiat/Day's "1984" spot for Apple Computer, arguably the most admired commercial ever made, was in part to blame. The spot was famously aired only once. Its astonishing visual pyrotechnics made it an icon for an ad industry that has since viewed it endlessly on reels.
But the TV viewer hasn't seen "1984" endlessly, nor would it be judged the public's all-time favorite. Neither will the public recall many of the post-production enhanced directorial extravaganzas of the late '80s and '90s. More viewers will remember the late Remington Products president, Victor Kiam, and his "I liked it so much I bought the company."
Of course, the Cannes jury should not simply be voting for the most populist work, but this is a plea to not be scared of it. Last year's "Whassup?!" victory was as uncontroversial as one can remember in recent times. It proved that "fresh" need not mean "oblique," and that accessible advertising can be inspiring. The public and the industry love it in equal measure. Most importantly, it sells Bud.
Budweiser, Guinness, the WowWow and Nissin noodles campaigns from Japan, the Netherlands' Central Beheer, Sony, Nike, Levi's, VW-be it the U.K., U.S. or Brazil-all of these perennial standard-bearers of excellence never forget that the purpose of most advertising is to sell product. Is advertising art? Yes, it is. But not fine art existing in a vacuum without responsibility to its patron. Advertising is, quite simply, applied art. The Cannes festival is there to reward and encourage the finest possible use of this applied art. Over to you, Bob Isherwood.
Stefano Hatfield is managing director and editorial director of Ad Age Global.