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Maybe that's why they were cranky in Cannes last year: The advertising industry didn't get its usual dose of self-congratulatory back-slapping.

No such shortages in 1996, however. Everyone left the International Advertising Festival last month smiling, especially the hundreds who took home a Lion. At least twice as many prizes were awarded than the year before. Better yet, this year's Grand Prix honors went to entries from Japan and (for the first time) Holland, underscoring the festival's truly international scope and displacing, momentarily, U.S. and U.K. ad makers.

So the difference between the 1995 and 1996 festivals was like night and day. That said, was the work in 1996 appreciably better than 1995? Ironically, in a survey of the juries conducted for Lions News, the official daily magazine of the festival, most didn't think so. Yet Cannes jury president Michael Conrad of Leo Burnett Co. and his judging panels presided over what could be characterized as a love fest of sorts: Everyone went out of their way to put the work, the competition and the state of advertising's creative product in the best possible light.

Perhaps it is all meant to exorcise sour memories of last year and Lowe Group Chairman Frank Lowe. Mr. Lowe, the 1995 Cannes jury president, sent that year's festival crowd home outraged by the judges' stinginess in handing out honors (the Grand Prix was not awarded in either the print or film competition) and by Mr. Lowe's own gruff assessment of the quality of the work entered. If it was not up to snuff, said Mr. Lowe, then it didn't deserve the highest accolades.

We have to ask if the ad business is sometimes better served when competitions such as this are tough on the work. Whatever can be said about Mr. Lowe's intentions, the ensuing bitterness and rancor it engendered could come across to some as self-indulgent whining.

That the 1996 festival more than made up for last year's penuriousness seems to suggest that, when it comes to awards, the agency community just can't get enough.

The u.s. supreme court closed its 1995- 96 session last week with one last action on a significant advertising case. The justices took Baltimore's controversial ban on outdoor tobacco ads and sent it back to a very uncertain fate with the U.S. court of appeals that once had approved it.

What is different this time, thanks to the court's hard-nosed ruling in striking down Rhode Island's liquor price ad ban earlier this year, is that the lower

courts are now under instructions to ask more-much more-from government bodies that want to suppress truthful ads to serve some worthy social purpose.

In Baltimore's case, the city council argued that outlawing outdoor ads for cigarettes, except in certain commercial areas, would further its efforts to curb illegal underage smoking. The same rationale supports a similar Baltimore law that would bar outdoor alcoholic beverage ads, an ad ban that is now also in legal limbo.

Reviewing courts have too often been lenient with local governments that sought to quash commercial speech to ameliorate social problems. No longer. The Supreme Court has said: If banning ads deters underage smoking or drinking, and does so better than other measures that don't involve restricting speech, then muster the facts first.

After years of conflicting signals from the Supreme Court, that's finally Baltimore's burden of proof, and rightly so.

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