Cannes 2009

Bob Garfield: Do You Even Remember Any of the Lion-ized Campaigns? Thought Not

Obama Effort Worked, but Nothing About It Was Creative or Inspiring

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NEW YORK ( -- And the Grand Effie goes to ... the Obama/Biden integrated campaign.

Yes, if any further evidence was needed that advertising -- and especially the Cannes International Advertising Festival -- doesn't even know what it is anymore, the big winner on the Cote d'Azur is a collection of social-media initiatives, e-mail blasts, online videos and broadcast ads (not a single one of which survived in memory beyond November).

Oh, it's worthy all right, in the sense that it embraced and advanced the digital state of the art, not to summon extravagant special effects but to win customers for the client. Those are very good reasons to recognize a campaign -- but, let's face it, not too Cannes-like.

Historically, the only place "effectiveness" had any standing at Cannes was in rationalization, such as the famous Donald Gunn/ Leo Burnett exercise in numbers crunching that putatively correlated awards-show success with marketplace success.

The data were squishy to begin with but mainly irrelevant, because they ignored the zillions of client dollars squandered on Cannes wannabes that go on to win neither trophies nor customer business. (It's the NBA problem. For every junior hoopster who gets a college scholarship and goes on to pro riches, thousands of kids throw away their futures on the basketball court.)

The other measure of impact is what Jeff Goodby calls "fame" -- the work that breaks through the confines of the media buy to enter the mass psyche and the cultural conversation. "Whassup" is a splendid example. Dove's "Evolution" is another.

Of course, so is the Snuggie.

And, by the way, so is President Barack Obama himself -- but not the advertising for him. Except for the marvelous, irresistible, transcendent music video -- which was not part of the official campaign -- the messaging was as creatively barren as it was tactically brilliant. There was no "Morning in America" in this campaign. No "Daisy." No any single thing that stood out. Cannes has just awarded two Grand Prix to a back office.

It's like giving the best-picture Oscar to the turn-off-your-cellphones announcement.

For two decades, AdReview has assailed the skewed values that fuel Cannes and the rest of advertising's ego sub-industry. But we must admit to befuddlement at this hairpin turn. Can't this festival adapt to a changing world and still honor what you people like to call "creativity"? Shouldn't recognition go to those who exhibit startling ingenuity in messaging -- not technological ingenuity in dispersing the message but imagination in the message and medium themselves?

Or maybe we're missing something. Was there an Obama e-mail that really touched the soul?

What was 'Carousel' for?
But let's never mind Titanium and Integrated. Let's put Obama mania aside. The real story from the south of France is an identity crisis on a Grand Prix scale. For instance, for the third year in a row, the big winner in the so-called film category went not to a TV commercial but to an online video -- which suggests a healthy trend away from Chaos Denial. On the other hand, the totally cool, dimension-bending shoot-'em-up from Tribal DDB, Amsterdam, had absolutely nothing to do with anything but itself. We suppose there is a nominally advertised product, but "Carousel" offers no clue as to what it might be.

Now that's Cannes-like.

As the digital revolution renders the old values not so much discredited as immaterial, the panic is palpable. It's like something out of "Chinatown," with Faye Dunaway shouting about the pretty little girl: "My sister. My daughter. My sister. My daughter."

They were both true. But she was out of her mind with the tragic ambiguity of it all.

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