Threatening boycott of Cannes, DDB’s Chief Creative Officer tells of rigged juries.

June 25, 2012

DDB chief blows smoke at Cannes…

Amir Kassaei is the Chief Creative Officer of DDB Worldwide, one of the shinier jewels in Omnicom’s empire of advertising and marketing services companies. Like a lot of creative generals, he spent last week in Cannes taking part in the International Advertising Festival, which, to replay the metaphor, is by far the shiniest jewel in the ever growing necklace of advertising award shows.

Mr Kassaei, perhaps flush with Rose’, also found time to go on record with some provocative accusations and opinions regarding the integrity of the juries at Cannes. He more or less states that certain jurors have a clear mandate to “kill off” competing work, regardless of its quality, if said work emanates from a competing agency. He claims this mandate is at the holding company level. This corruption does not sit well with Kassaei and he goes on record saying that they (DDB) need to have a “serious discussion” about participating in future Cannes if the behavior continues. Paraphrasing the creative director, he claims other less creative minded agencies are willfully endeavoring to “buy” their creative reputations by rigging juries. There’s plenty of texture to his arguments and I urge you to watch the video, even if his sipping of wine and the passing by of beach traffic grates.

As I tweeted earlier, my reaction to this is a cross between “WTF?” and “Duh!” On the one hand I’m appalled by Kassaei’s allegations. Like it or not, creative reputations are made by winning Lions at Cannes. To know that these prestigious trophies can be bought is repellant. What is more sad are all the legitimate submitters who may have lost out on their one shot at gold because of wheeling and dealing behind closed doors. But let’s not be naïve. We’ve known about these shenanigans for a long time. Indeed, when I judged the Dubai Lynx (the Cannes of the Middle East), I saw it first hand. I blogged that “all the good work was fake and all the real work was awful.” Understandably, that blog caused fervor and I was asked to remove it. Reluctantly, I did.  Needless to say, I won’t be invited back to judge this festival anytime soon.

While creating and entering scam ads is an entirely different form of awards show corruption, and a pervasive one at that, knowing that judges and juries are culpable takes it to whole ‘nother level. Corroborating Kassaie’s accusations, here’s basically how it works. Through back channels and PR manipulation, agencies vie to get their creative superstars on juries. Once these individuals are confirmed, they are then sequestered to look at all the work coming from the various agencies within their network. They are then asked to vote, if at all possible, on these submissions. Since that is generally not allowed the next best move is to try and vote out the competition, which is a process that cannot really be monitored. And so it goes.

While I’d like to think my peers and I would never do such things a kind of nationalistic fervor happens in those darkened jury rooms, not unlike the ugly pride one sees during international soccer tournaments. Fouls and transgressions happen and they feed a growing fire. The urge to win Lions takes over. In the name of their agencies and even countries, good men do bad things.

The football analogy is apt. FIFA is constantly embroiled in corruption controversy, to say nothing of its countless dumbass fans degrading themselves in the name of competition. In America, the New Orleans Saints are currently dealing with charges of “head hunting” on the football field. And like the manufacture of false great ads (scams), athletes from all sports are being busted regularly for taking steroids and other illegal enhancement drugs. Corruption at all levels.

Yet, unlike professional sports, the general public (except maybe in Brazil) doesn’t give a shit about advertising awards. Relatively speaking, the media attention is minimal. Therefore, corruption buds like unchecked dandelions. And if the governing bodies of big time award shows are complicit, then you have zero integrity. Which is exactly what Amir Kassaei is suggesting.

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12 Responses to “Threatening boycott of Cannes, DDB’s Chief Creative Officer tells of rigged juries.”

  1. JealousMuch? said

    This might mean something if DDB had won anything. If Wieden, Droga, or Tuttsel said it. Their agencies win. This guy drinking his rise is the epitome of sour grapes and an embarrassment to Omnicom. Less bitterness and better work is the answer. Work like sublime Coke outdoor, Burnett’s Troy Library blitzkrieg, Droga’s band-aid and Prudential campaigns that amazingly come from the same agency. So cheating is why DDB isn’t in that league? Or this guy not doing his job as a Global Chief Creative Officer?

  2. Liz said

    Okay, now that I’m past that photograph…

    I think that the first commenter is ignoring your point made about Dubai. Fraud exists. Period. We can call it out or we can ignore it or we can make excuses or we can point fingers or we can justify it or hey! We can do all of the above while still loving the shiny things we win. Thanks for having the cajones, Steffan. The discussion should be had.

    Can we talk about the photograph now? (Sorry, can’t shake it.)

    • Steffan1 said

      Thank you, Liz. I do think it’s time for a big discussion. The wide scale complicity about awards show corruption is off the charts. I’m no saint. I’ve done a scam ad or two. I’ve been on juries and voted “irregularly.” With social media usurping creative shows maybe it’s time we shook the Etch-a-Sketch on the whole damn enterprise.

  3. Brook said

    With only a handful of holding companies owning all the major agencies in the world (DDB being a part of one of the biggest) it has never been a surprise that any of the awards shows have been shady, to say the least. When we all have alternate ways (YouTube, Facebook, reddit, twitter, Pinterest…) to show off our work, how relevant are these “shows” for promoting? If these awards don’t represent smart work, to hard problems, and only represent the big holding companies, than they lose all credibility. 

    Ancient ways for ancient people. 

  4. Tim said

    This is an old discussion in what is arguably the most self-congratulating industry on the planet. I have a few other questions though. How much profit does Cannes make a year on their show? I would imagine entry fees are quite high. (I’ve actually judged shows where I was pulled aside and asked if there was any way to award more golds because when fewer prizes are given, entry fees for the next year drop significantly. It also makes for a lousy party when nobody wins.) It’s a good bet that most of the profit comes from the largest holding companies. Do agencies spend more money on the show if their employees end up on the juries? That would be an interesting fact to weigh. Is there any incentive for the shows to police themselves? Not hardly. That leaves the people who don’t win (the sour grapes referenced above) and the winners, who probably won’t be complaining.

    Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying awards shows are all ripe with corruption. But I strongly suspect the ones I haven’t won.

  5. Jim Ferguson said

    Stef, I was on the film jury a few years back. I had heard rumors about the shenanigans that went on behind closed door. But they were only rumors. I’ve never met Amir (but I know Bob Scarpelli thinks the world of him.) , H ee must really feel like there is a giant turd in the punchbowl, if he’s willing to go on record with an accusation like this. Here is my concern: with so many categories now, how in the world can they find that many competent judges. I was once asked if clients should be serve on the juries, I said, “Absolutely not. Why would we want them to kill our best work twice.”

  6. Johnovison said

    Does that mean he will return the 2 Press Golds DDB won for Macdonalds? as a member of the press we interviewed all the South African Jurors and not one alluded to any rigging? How would you rig a global jury of 20 anyway?

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