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Are you ready for some ads!

Now that the Superbowl is over (one can argue it was over after 12 seconds), Adland has already begun planning for the Mongolian Cluster F**k that is Cannes. Festival officials have started naming its 2014 jury presidents. The list contains the usual high profile suspects, a collection of CEO’s and Chief Creative Officers from the world’s largest holding company agencies: David Sable (Y&R), Susan Credle (Leo Burnett) and Amir Kassaei (DDB).

Obvious, elitist and conspicuous… Like a surgically enhanced, rich socialite traipsing along the Croisette, Cannes has always been top heavy. I’ve been to my share so I know of what I speak. Of course, by comparison, I was but a sand fly caught upon the sticky, oily boob of any one these big shots. But so what? I was in the South of France. Whether one is A-list or D-list the pink rose is the same.

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“Wanna go look at some ads?”

Over the years, I’ve attended a bunch of these fetes and I’d do so again, if invited. Which I won’t be. My whistle-blowing hijinks at the Dubai Lynx a while back probably ended those dreams. More on that here.

Or did it? The fellow selected as head juror of film (still the penultimate category at Cannes, Cyber Titanium be damned!), only last year called out the festival (see above linked post) for rampant corruption at the highest levels. And yet there he is. Back for more.

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“How much for ze bronze?”

More what, I wonder? Methinks it has a lot to do with prestige and big agency politics. You gotta represent! That, and spend another lost week with one’s peers in the French Mediterranean!

For the record, I’ve actually won Gold at Cannes. And ze bronze. Corruption aside, it’s not an easy thing to do. I’ve also given speeches there. Made presentations. Met all manner of marketing legends. Lee Clow. Steve Zuckerberg. One time I literally bumped into Nike’s Phil Knight while jogging! I even had a chance to visit the street address where my grandmother lived after World War II. Goes without saying, it’s a beautiful place. Even when full of people like us.

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Feeling blue (in a good way) w/ local LA choir performing in background…

Thought I’d reflect on my 15 minutes of fame hosting the Obie awards Tuesday night in Los Angeles. For those unawares, the Obie’s are the oldest advertising awards show in the world (seriously!), representing the best work in out-of-home media. The Obie’s are a big part of the Outdoor Advertising Association of America’s (OAAA) annual convention.

I have been a friend of the Obie’s & OAAA for many years and am a proud member of its Hall of Fame, for my “Curiously Strong” Altoids campaign. At the Obie’s in 1996, Altoids won its first of many creative prizes in our industry, thus beginning my long relationship with the show. That was a long time ago. Unfortunately, I recall being pie-eyed at the ceremony and little else. I gave a horrifying acceptance speech. Thank God You Tube was not invented yet.

Fortunately, I was clear-eyed and present this time around. Good thing as I had a job to do. While my primary purpose was to help steer the show along I was also given ten minutes to talk about some of my favorites subjects: signs, propaganda and their many roles in popular culture. I’ll likely post that content soon enough so I won’t go into it now. I will say that unlike any other media, outdoor advertising transcends time, technology and culture. ‘Signs’ are innately human and part of our collected DNA. Since early man first scribbled on cave walls several thousand years ago we have been using signage to communicate and advertise. By comparison broadcast is a moment in time and digital a blip.

Some highlights from the event are as follows:

Best of Show went to Droga5’s touching work for Prudential Financial, celebrating retirement on a very personal level. Part of an integrated campaign, billboards elegantly used quotes from various retirees.

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This year’s Hall of Fame award went to ESPN for its long history of creating amazing advertising. No question ESPN deserves the award. Frankly, for creating great advertising in general. However, I have to say it was awkward reading about massive layoffs at the network on the very same day.

A personal highlight was witnessing art director Ed Odyniec, receiving a Gold Obie for his terrific OOH execution of the Allstate’s “Mayhem” campaign from Leo Burnett. Ed worked for me at LBWorks. Heartfelt congratulations to both he and his creative partner, Christopher Warmenen. Below is a video they created especially for the show. That’s Ed brilliantly cast as a nerdy lab scientist.

The day before the Obie awards Governor Jerry Brown made an impromptu visit to the convention. He gave a short but entertaining speech, where he extolled the virtues of outdoor advertising. His one piece of advice: Keep it simple. “Vote Jerry Brown… It worked for me.”

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Governor Brown heading for the stage…

It must be gratifying to the OAAA and all the outdoor media purveyors, suppliers and vendor just how healthy their coral reef actually is. One need only look at the Obie winner’s list to see the robust mix of big brands and edgy new comers from both the client and agency side.

The Obie’s may not be in the same league as Cannes or The One Show in terms of prestige but no other medium is as exciting, versatile and vigorous as OOH. Period. And few awards shows are as meticulously planned and plain fun.

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Shocker: creative director in a tie!

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The “E” is for effectiveness…

Last week I participated in first round judging for the Effie awards at the W hotel in San Francisco. Other such judging was and is taking place all over the country. I assume final rounds will occur early next year with the gala coming shortly thereafter.

Those of us in Adland have long known Effie as the only advertising awards show that places a campaign’s “effectiveness” above all other criteria. The controversial (and very tired) argument is that a marketing campaign cannot truly be great (aka creative) unless it truly works.

Works. So what exactly does that mean?

While the Effie committee does its best to provide benchmarks for measuring effectiveness it can never be an exact science. Not even close. We may view evidence and draw conclusions but there will always be a significant margin for error. It gets even more nebulous when one considers brand building. Awareness and likability (and I don’t mean the Facebook kind) are much harder to quantify than sales, which is why conservative advertisers typically blanche when agencies talk about these attributes. “Awareness is fine but what I really want are sales!” Hence the age-old debate.

Suffice it to say, based on my participation, Effie is doing all they can to give judges the means to evaluate work. For example, submitters have to fill out comprehensive forms detailing results providing tangible proof. Agencies also submit a case study video detailing the campaign’s story. As in all award shows, the submission process has become an art form in and of itself. These ‘commercials’ for the campaigns are key to winning and arguably create an unfair advantage for agencies that can put time and resources into making them. But that is a subject for another post!

Each campaign is scored several different ways assessing the challenge, the idea, the results and other factors. In addition, there are numerous comment sections available to the judges as well as a “disqualification” and “recuse” tab. In other words, there is an elaborate filter for determining winners. Factor in dozens of judges across the country and it’s fair to say Effie winners had to pass a grueling test. One can argue about effectiveness all day long but these prizes do not come easy.

Full disclosure my agency has one horse in the race. Undoubtedly, other gyro offices submitted campaigns as well. However, I did not judge any of them so I did not have to recuse myself. God, I love that word: Recuse.

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.

Three of the winners…

Earlier this week, I attended and helped host the MPA’s 2010 Kelly Awards in New York. The Kelly Awards celebrate the best magazine advertising in North America. I also served as a judge for this year’s competition, an activity that I wrote about on a previous post. In addition, my agency, Euro RSCG was lucky enough to be one of 25 finalists for our work on Valspar paints.

Historically, The Kelly Awards are known for the substantial cash prize given to winners of the Grand Kelly, for best print campaign in America. When I won it for Altoids, the prize was 100 grand! This year’s winner will receive 25K. Considerably less, yes, but still nothing to sneeze at. Part of why the number shrank is that more categories were added to the winner’s list. A mixed blessing, I kind of liked them having 25 finalists and one winner.

I owe the MPA a debt of gratitude, and not just for the hundred grand ;-) but also for providing me what has to be the highpoint of my career thus far. I’ve written about this before. The year Altoids won the Grand Kelly, my brother, Jeremy and father, Larry, also had finalist campaigns. That all three of us were in attendance at the ceremony was pretty special. Me winning iced it! Suffice it to say, this year I was honored to judge and help host the show.

More intimate than prior celebrations, this year’s Kelly Awards, at the Prince George on 27th Street, was clearly pared down for economic reasons, indicative of myriad challenges facing the magazine industry. Nevertheless, the MPA and its primary supporter, RR Donnelly made a game show of it.

The Kelly Awards continue to be about one thing: the best magazine advertising in America. Maintaining this focus is key to the show’s integrity. The crowd may have been smaller than in past celebrations, but there was still plenty of creative talent in attendance. Agencies up for prizes included Crispin Porter & Bogusky, Goodby Silverstein & Partners, BBDO, GSD&M and numerous smaller shops known exclusively for creative excellence.


image from Grand Kelly winner, Haagen Dasz

Creative director, Margaret Johnson, from Goodby won the Grand Kelly for her work on behalf of Haagen Dazs ice cream. I applaud this choice. It’s a delightfully simple, fresh campaign emphasizing those very same characteristics of the brand. Other winners included the lovingly crafted Taylor Guitar campaign from Vitro, The Martin Agency’s work on behalf of the JFK Museum and yet another brilliant execution in the “Truth” campaign (public service) from Arnold. No surprise all three have been here before, as finalists and winners. They’re good.

That’s the other great thing about the Kelly’s. Nothing in this show even flirts with mediocrity. All 25 finalists are best-in-class examples of their craft. With the exception of Cannes, most advertising award shows don’t have this level of quality control. Advertising creatives have always known this, which is why we consider the Kelly’s among the top tier of award shows.

For a complete list and showcase of winners go here.

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