Cannes, creativity and the death of print advertising

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Print advertising is dead. It has been for 15 years now."

So says Bryan Buckley, the man voted America's favorite commercial director in a survey published this month by Advertising Age's sibling publication, Creativity.

Before directing Buckley used to have his own agency, where he used to try to create the type of mold-breaking, standout advertising in print he has gone on to create through the film medium. He failed consistently, he says, because everything's been done in print. It's a mature creative medium.

It's a provocative thought, especially as it's anathema to the global creative community to suggest as much. Creativity is all about striving to create the new, the breakthrough, the iconoclastic - isn't it? Oh, and the fortunes of countless newspapers and magazines, including Ad Age, are dependent on it.

Where better to test the assertion than at the 49th annual Cannes International Advertising Festival, from where I write. By now you will be full of the TV Grand Prix, and be debating its merits for better or worse.

But will you remember the print and the outdoor winners? That I can even ask lends some credence to Buckley's argument.

The first outdoor Grand Prix, sponsored by J.C. Decaux, produced the most disappointing of winners: the campaign for a Norwegian body-piercing salon by Leo Burnett, Oslo, elicited charges of "cheap stunt" and "where's the client?"

We have all seen that before: using the architecture of the surfaces against which the posters were pinned to act as the piercings. But where is the level of risk? Will the advertising universe be rushing to use a body-piercing salon as an effectiveness case history?

It was a disappointing outdoor show, rife with lowest-common-denominator advertising. However, Buckley's point was really about press advertising.

The Grand Prix here went to the sexy Club 18-30 Holidays campaign from Saatchi & Saatchi, London, which used clever art direction to suggest that entirely disconnected and innocent beach activities were all sex acts.

It was cheeky, supremely crafted, funny and-outside of North American voices chastising its "juvenile and offensive" tone-a popular winner with jury and audience alike.

No one is arguing with the skills involved, no one was seriously suggesting an alternative winner, but how innovative is it? Will there be imitators? Haven't we seen this kind of thing before, particularly in TV spots-notably Danepak bacon's "cookout" from the mid '90s?

And yet, it was the best of the year. The best print in America this past year-Harley Davidson and Nike, judging by the awards shows-looked old-fashioned by comparison.

So, is Buckley right? I don't have a definitive answer. The Kelly Awards and countless magazine and newspaper advertising sales directors would certainly argue otherwise, but the thought made me uncomfortable.

Creatives will not create exciting work if they cannot get noticed for it, and they certainly won't if the idea that it's been done before becomes the currency. Maybe it was just a quiet year. But what won all last year's print awards? For the life of me-unlike TV ads-I cannot recall. And I really wish I could. n

Stefano Hatfield is editorial director of Ad Age Global and Creativity.

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