My Dearest and Most Respected Madame or Sir

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Greetings and Salutations!

I am the solicitor for the family of the late Scrooge McDuck, who succumbed to the Avian Flu. His entire fortune of $100 billion is deposited in numbered accounts....

This is what most of our email looks like, plus a lot of opportunities to purchase Vicodin from Mexico and some residual hate mail for being a Daimler-Chrysler-hating queer apologist, which, we are informed -- having taken issue with the Dodge Caliber "Fairy" ad on grounds of sissy bashing -- obviously we are.
News, Photos, Audio and Video from Cannes
News, Photos, Audio and Video from Cannes

Luckily, we have a spam filter. This culls out 95% of unwanted commercial pitches, and also about one urgent message a day which we never see because we have no patience to sort through the spam.

Up until today, we imagined this to be a process somehow unique to the Internet, especially since the FTC cracked down on telemarketing. But then, in a seminar given by Wunderman's Simon Silvester and Shawn Burns, the scales were scraped from our eyes.

TV commercials, print ads, outdoor, banners -- in Silvester's view -- are all spam, because they all arrive unsolicited, begging for our attention. Alas, there are no spam filters for media advertising. Whether it's a 90-second cinema ad or a cigarette-butt trap in a urinal, whatever the message is we're pretty much stuck with. There are but two filtration mechanisms:

#1 our contempt

#2 the genius of the ad makers to overide #1. Another term for this is "creativity." If this were a perfect world, this Cannes Festival would be a testament to #2. Alas, as the advertising industry has evolved, the so-called creative world is too preoccupied being seductive and amusing that it tends to forget to do so in the service of a commercial message. It's as if the Scrooge McDuck scam had gotten past the spam filter and ended exactly where it did: before reaching the business proposition.

You can see a lot of commercials here and look at a lot of print ads, yet walk away with the weird feeling of not having been advertised to. It's not a bad feeling, necessarily, unless you're the poor sucker who paid for the exercise.

For whatever reason, there are some categories of entry here where that happens not very often. One such is ambient media, which tends to reward pure ingenuity in message transmission. For those among us utterly soured to the masturbatory nature of modern advertising, strolling around those entries offers at least a modicum of hope.

There was the one from Ruf Lanz Werbeagentur, Zurich, for Swiss Accident Prevention. For a few pfennigs, they wrapped mannequins in plaster gauze and placed them around the slopes at St. Mortitz and Gstaad, next to little signs warning against reckless skiiing.

In Chicago, to promote the restoration of the popular Nazi U-Boat exhibit at the Museum of Science and Industy, Leo Burnett covered manholes with decals depicting a submarine hatch, announcing the return of U-505.

And, because he has more interest in self-promotion than self-respect, Belgian attorney Karel Byl hung full-size cutouts of a naked man (the fellow's privates shielded only by the contact info and the headline "Need a divorce lawyer?") in the closets of seedy no-tell hotels. Talk about a targeted audience.

Yeah, if you buy Silvester's argument, all of those gimmicks are quintessentially spam. But through the sheer force of ingenuity, they all burst through the filter. And once they did so, they wasted not a moment -- or a dollar -- getting to the point.

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