Cannes 2010

Our Lions, Our Selves: Life in a Post-Award World

Agency Creative X Weighs in on Cannes, Scam Ads and Why They Exist

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It's that time of year again. A time for ad superstars and aspirants to temporarily overthrow a tiny, crescent-shaped village on the French Riviera for a week of champagne-fueled mayhem. A time when swimming pools are trashed, wedding vows are tested, absentees are jealous, and real men drink rose unashamed. Cannes is here. And hopefully, with a little luck and some new regulations, this time around we can keep the show free of the scandals that have rained on the parties of previous years.

The other day I asked a fellow creative roaming the halls if he thought the new restrictions would cut down on so-called scam ads at Cannes. After nearly spitting coffee on his shirt (it was probably a little early for any non-World Cup related banter), he composed himself and delivered a well-put contrarian view. He suggested that maybe the business actually needs scam ads. How else, he argued, would us ad folk be exposed to the highest levels of creativity, and inspired to do even better?

So maybe this was a slow pitch over the plate. Obviously, selling the ad is part of the ad itself. Otherwise you've got a home run derby: balls hit out of the park with no challenge, no effect on the season. Many of us know creatives that are capable of doing great fake work, but when it comes to the realities of the business, they just hit a wall.

And what if we take the fake stuff out and the show just doesn't have that sizzle? Well, that's called an honest snapshot of the industry at present time. Ever see an award book from 1982? Surely those copywriters would rather have been doing short films, but the fact is, getting clients to sign off on puns was probably an accurate historical record of where our clients were, and possibly even what was working.

I admit it's not exactly hard-hitting editorializing to come out against scam ads.

But what would be anathema, especially as a creative, and especially this week, is to question the system that places so much weight on Cannes, and award shows, period. After all, how else can we measure our worth? And for an industry that seems as often as not to thrive on not producing anything at all, where else do we look for an incentive to fight the good fight? To reach for the highest levels of, there's that word again, "creativity"?

As most people know, for most creatives, awards are all we're judged on. Our careers are inseparable from them. They're food on our tables. And being wined and dined on the French Riviera doesn't really suck either. And so, scam ads still have their defenders, and perpetrators. And every day even the majority of the honest ones will still complain about a client who just doesn't "get it," reflexively arguing to keep a print ad "clean." Perhaps with an eye -- conscious or not -- towards emulating the kind of work we saw in the show.

If I'm perfectly honest, I can't say I've always been an exception. And yet, I also can't say for sure that taking out the body copy or making the logo smaller sells more product. Especially when common sense dictates that it actually may not.

One of the industry's dirty little secrets is this: There are plenty (if not the majority) of creatives out there who will never ever look back at the results or even the awareness of an ad they've worked on. To take it further, most of us will probably make it to the conclusion of our careers without ever picking up a book on marketing. Or consumer behavior. And why should we? What are the chances we'll be asked about any of it in a job interview? Or a trade mag? Or ever?

Maybe, just maybe, if we were one day rewarded to produce results, albeit in a cool way, we might still argue about the means with the client, but at least we'd be working toward the same end. If we aligned on exactly what we were trying to achieve, we might have just as many fights, but at least they'd always be honest, well-researched fights based on something other than a gut feeling or the hope of a trophy about exactly how to achieve the same goal.

As anyone who's dated one will tell you, creatives aren't exactly numbers-oriented people. It's just a left/right brain thing. But in this age of information, maybe one suggestion is for the account people to fill us in on what's having what effect now and then. Sure we'll yawn and drool in our notebooks at first, but maybe eventually it will start to show up on our radar.

Another way in might be to up the award shows' emphasis on results, which Cannes has started doing. I'm not suggesting turning it into the Effie's, or that I want to see the show filled with coupon ads, infomercials and web banners with dancing bears inviting me to refinance my home. And much of the time the judges will still have to use their best intuition about whether the work is smart and compelling enough to build a brand. But at least this goes some of the way to bring up the balance between a compelling message and artfulness ... two things thing our industry was supposed to be about in the first place.

As a famous man once said, if creative ads aren't creating sales, what are they creating? If there's another suggestion out there that can motivate us to do just that, we're all ears. Maybe with some of the recent changes, Cannes will be it. And in the process, become more than a home run derby for advertising -- in other words, something legitimately worth celebrating for creatives and clients alike.

I hope so. It's awfully nice there this time of year.

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