“…a bunch of overpaid dinosaurs sunning their fat asses.”
-anonymous comment, Agency Spy

And so, Cannes… Last year the economic “crisis,” as it was referred to in Europe, took its toll on the international advertising festival. Both attendance and submissions were down considerably. This year the lion has roared back, with over 8,000 delegates attending, nearly 40% more than last year. Some 50-plus seminars will be taking place, including star-studded panels featuring Yoko Ono, Ben Stiller, Spike Jonze (Will you PLEASE read my screenplay?) and Facebook’s Mark Zuckenberg.

Social media is, as one would expect, a huge topic this year; indeed, the festival kicks off on Sunday with a workshop entitled, B2B Gets Social, hosted by IBM and my agency, Euro RSCG. B2B Gets Social: IBM & EuroRSCG

Company man that I am, I’d like to attend that workshop -but first I’ll need to register, something I tried to do this morning (Sunday!) at 8:30 AM. Unfortunately, the queue was already as long as any ride at Disneyland, too much for my sorry, jet-lagged body to endure. Did I mention Air France has yet to locate my luggage? (Incidentally, my apologies to Edson Matsuo for quarreling with him at the complaints department in Nice. I was very frustrated.)

line to register, Good morning!

Sipping my “espresso double” from a park bench outside the famous Palais des Festivals, I observe hordes of international advertising people –many of them very young- posing for photos on the famous red carpet. These are the same stairs Brad Pitt and Angela Jolie paraded up during the film festival in May, amid a cacophony of press and paparazzi. Colin Firth may have actually thrown up here!

When I first came to Cannes –I believe in 1998- the primary focus for the festival was films. Of all the categories, nothing was more hallowed than winning a Lion for 30 and 60-second TV commercials. Much earlier, my first year in the business, I won two lions (gold & bronze) for a campaign I’d written for Heinz Ketchup: Heinz Ketchup \"Rooftop\" commercial It wouldn’t be until the Altoids juggernaut that I’d win here again.

Much has changed since then, in particular the advent of digital platforms. It cannot be overstated the importance the Internet and technology has played in reshaping Cannes. Not only have numerous online categories been added but, in many ways, they’ve usurped TV as the prizes worth winning. Indeed, the Grand Prix (best of show) for Cyber Lion may be the most coveted prize of all.

There are myriad categories and sub categories for entering at Cannes. The lists are readily available on their website –all over the web really. Given that, you’d think it would be easier to become a finalist, let alone win at Cannes. But you’d be wrong. It’s hard as hell. Furthermore, for all the ways to enter the competition there are thousands upon thousands that are entering.

It’s hard for some of us in America to understand the importance the global marketing community puts on winning Lions. In many countries winning is considered a mandate by agencies as well as clients. With so much gravitas attached to the contest, and so many entries from so many countries, it can and does become a national and political race, not unlike the Olympics or World Cup, which incidentally happens to be happening at the same time this year.

We here in the States don’t put such a priority on winning this international prize. Ergo we are often bested by zealous agencies from far smaller markets. Latin American countries, Brazil in particular, are gonzo about their Lions. Like that country’s uber-famous footballers, its creative directors are also treated like celebrities, often seen on the evening news and in the morning papers. National pride is at stake!

With this pressure comes the occasional bi-partisan juror and “scam” ad. Without getting into it here –trust me, it’s a big issue- I think that sort of thing heightens the suspense, adding drama to what is already pretty dramatic.

My creative partner and Co-Chief Creative Officer of Euro RSCG Chicago, Blake Ebel is judging the print category this year. We have a number of submissions and are hoping to make the shortlist. Alas, our chances of doing so may be as slight as the likelihood of my luggage arriving in time for dinner.

For those interested, I am also blogging about the exploding outdoor category on the website for the Outdoor Advertising Association of America (OAAA): Cannes blog: OAAA

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As some of you know, I’m hosting the Obie Awards for the Outdoor Advertising Association of America. The Obies celebrate the best outdoor advertising in the Nation. What some of you may not know is that the Obies are the oldest advertising awards show in the world, predating the Clios, One Show and even Cannes.

(Video of my presentation is located in “About Me” section in header.)

Since creating the “curiously strong” mints campaign for Altoids over 15 years ago, I’ve appreciated the out-of-home medium and all it can do for a brand… not to mention a career!

With Altoids, we took a tiny, virtually unknown confection and turned it into the number one selling mint in North America, all without making one single television commercial.

Outdoor advertising took Altoids places it had never gone before. And visa versa. It was truly a match made in heaven. And one for which I am eternally grateful.

Below are my opening remarks at the Obie awards, posted here several hours before making them…

Right now everyone is talking about social media. And rightly so. New media is a game changer. At its core, social media is about establishing personal connections. But guess what? So is out-of-home.

Frankly, the closer a message is to the street the more “social” it becomes…and the stronger its connectivity with a consumer. Guerilla marketing, street theater, wild posters, if done well, are riveting propaganda and among the strongest weapons in all of marketing. This is why, even as mass media fades in its importance to advertisers, OOH remains relevant, even breakthrough.

Unlike other media, out of home has existed since the beginning of time. From day one, nature provided Earth with numerous signs. The creatures of the Earth read these signs and acted accordingly. The leaves turned color. That meant it was time to build a nest, accumulate stores…mate. The sun itself was a moving billboard, motivating animal migration, feeding habits and other rituals.

It was no different for Man. Signs governed his every move, heralding good tidings and bad. With man’s growing inquisitiveness, signs took on greater and greater meaning, shaping his belief systems and laws. He needed only to look up and the messages were there.

As soon as man began making his own signs, creativity was born. Though primitive, man’s need to create signs was intuitive. It still is. We want others to know who we are. What we want. To believe what we believe. To do things our way. Or else! For centuries, out of home advertising has provided humankind a means to achieve its agenda. For better or for worse.

In 1958, Lady Bird Johnson tried to ban outdoor advertising in the United States. Called the Highway Beautification Act, her aim was to eliminate out of home advertising altogether. Despite her good intentions, the law failed. Your forefathers were too good at lobbying! Frankly, Lady Bird couldn’t stop signs from going up anymore than we could stop making them. Creating signs is ritual, ingrained in our humanity. It is who we are.

Like Mrs. Johnson, I too dream of a beautiful America. But without signs? That’s not possible. Or necessary. I believe signs can be compelling, provocative and beautiful. Frankly, they better be. For what they are covering up often times is.

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When I was a wee pup scratching at the doorstep to Adland, I fantasized about writing my first big, national magazine ad. I dreamed of making a glossy back pager the way other men lusted at the Playboy centerfold. Back then centerfolds and magazines were the shit. And not just for consumers, but copywriters too. For me, nothing symbolized the art of copywriting more than a really good magazine ad. While most of my peers at Leo Burnett coveted television assignments, I felt happiest attacking a print brief. Receiving the Magazine Publishers of America Kelly Award for best print campaign in North America (Altoids) was more satisfying than even winning Lions in Cannes for TV (Heinz Ketchup). Of course, the hundred grand prize may have had something to do with that! And while I’ve jokingly called the out-of-home medium my mistress (so immediate and so bodacious!), to this day I still carry a torch for print. Print is my wife and I love her dearly.

Thanks to the Internet, like all mass media magazines are in jeopardy. Maybe not as much as newspapers but for many “books” the situation is dire. Last year, two magazines I subscribe to went out of business.

So I have to wonder the tone of this year’s Kelly awards, of which I am honored to be judging. I know the MPA well. As you’d expect, they feel righteous about their industry and can point to various signs of relief. Certain publications continue to thrive, for both consumers and advertisers. Who doesn’t love People Magazine or Vanity Fair? Still, the challenges magazines face are real and some unsolvable. Suffice it to say, the golden age of magazines is over.

But that doesn’t mean the medium is finished. Not by a long shot. Frankly, I’m guessing the pubs that remain will be better than their predecessors. Only the strong survive, right? In terms of advertising, it seems to me any truly great integrated campaign will have magazine ads in it. We’ll see.

Judging by the caliber of judges for this year’s Kelly Awards, I am not the only ad man with a rooting interest in magazines. Jeff Goodby. Stan Richards. Steve Hayden. Dave Lubars. Men of a certain age, yes, but they are doing as well today as ever.

Despite the difficult environment magazines now live in I look forward to seeing the work and to meeting so many distinguished judges. For complete information about the MPA Kelly awards including the list of judges please visit: MPA Kelly Awards

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I attended my first RACIE AWARDS, as part of the Retail Advertising and Marketing Association (RAMA) conference in San Francisco.

For those unawares, here’s the dope on RAMA:

The Retail Advertising Marketing Association (RAMA), a division of the National Retail Federation, provides unique networking opportunities, industry research and educational programming for retail advertising and marketing professionals.

The RACIES take place amidst two days of presentations and round-tables, featuring key players in the marketing world. I attended several sessions and, not surprisingly, the buzz was all about social media. But this post is about the awards show.

In many ways, the RACIES are like every other advertising awards show. It celebrates creative excellence and effectiveness in all marketing channels: TV, print, outdoor, digital, etc. But here’s the kicker, and it’s what I want to focus on: The vast majority of my peers in the creative community could care less. The RACIES are considered a tier 3 awards show, if they are considered at all. Even the EFFIES get more play. In fact, I was one of the few agency creative directors in attendance.

Why? For one thing, there are plenty of award shows. Perhaps the RACIES are viewed as an interloper. The name sure sucks. But I’m suggesting there’s more to it than that. Like a lot of biases, ours is probably based on certain preconceived notions developed over time. The creative community has their pets. We worship at the altar of Cannes Gold Lions, Andy Heads and One Show Pencils, to name a few. Specialty shows like the Obies (outdoor) and Kelly Awards (print) also hold serve. And rightly so. All controversies aside, these shows generally feature the best work being done in our industry. They are counted in the infamous Gunn Report.

The RACIES aren’t there yet. From what I saw, the winning work was a mixed bag of genius and not so much, and it appeared to come from only a handful of agencies. For example, all the radio finalists were from DeVito Verdi in New York. A fine shop, to be sure, but I got the impression the only one of consequence entering work in this difficult category.

If the RACIES are dubiously viewed and attended by the creative community the opposite is true regarding attendance from heavy breathers on the client side. By their own admission, “RAMA’s Board of Directors is comprised of more than 50 industry CMOs, partners and supporters.” And guess what? They were all there, along with brand managers and account directors, too many to name.

Forgive the cliché, but finding CMO’s at the RACIES was like shooting fish in a barrel. I was giddy at the prospect of meeting and greeting so many potential “patrons.” And with nary a creative director in the room, it was like I had them to myself. In fact, I managed several terrific conversations with men and woman who, if the Gods of Advertising be willing, might some day be my clients. Contrast that with the other more “popular” award shows; where everyone I meet is just like me: a copywriter, art director and/or creative director. Nothing wrong with those, but I can’t deny the thrill of talking with potential clients versus my competition.

Creative people bitch about being insulated from client contact and kept away from decision makers. Yet, here’s a venue where all that existed, replete with an awards show, and only a smattering of advertising creative people anywhere to be found.

We’re missing out, folks. And part of the reason is our own hubris. We –the advertising creative community- think we’re too good for shows like the RACIES. (Yes, I am speaking for all of us.) Perhaps we need to let go of some old, snobby ideas. The One Show is great for finding inspiration and talent. But clients don’t go, nor do they read the annual. Given a choice, wouldn’t you like to compete and win in front of over 50 CMO’s as opposed to just your peers?

I know I would.

Yes, Cannes is finally attracting key players from the client side. But not the other award shows. Not really. Besides, for most agencies, North America is our prime hunting grounds. Don’t take this wrong, but maybe we should be in front of the fish and not crawling up our own asses.

For the record, my agency, Euro RSCG Chicago won three awards at the RACIES: a bronze for Valspar paint, a silver for Pivot Boutique, and a Gold for Potbelly. For all the winners and more information, click on the following links:


RAMA Website

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Another brick toward building Chicago’s creative reputation.

Bringing the Chicago Creative Club back into the limelight continues to be a priority for me and should be for anyone else who derives a living in our local industry: creatives, account persons, planners, clients, press, students, artists reps and vendors.

Last year we made great strides in turning around the much-maligned advertising awards show. Even the inimitable Lewis Lazare acknowledged the event to be a success…if also a work in progress.

The CCC took place at the Stadium Club in Soldier’s Field and was attended by several hundred people. Good work was heralded and the right stuff won.

But the main intent was, and continues to be, fostering community within our ranks. We are stronger together than we are apart. The CCC is now locking and loading for this year’s event in September. Below is an email that went out to agency leadership in the greater Chicago Community. Instead of hundreds of attendees they are looking for over a thousand. My agency will be there in force, with both people and submissions. Will you?

In recent weeks, several of you have asked for an update, regarding this year’s CCC Chicago ‘No Show’ and so, without further adieu, here is your update.

Though there seems to have been some mild confusion surrounding the goal of this year’s show, let us say emphatically that our goal is to honor this city’s best creative work, Period. We just happen to think that the best way to do this is to do so in the context of the biggest and best ad party this city has ever seen.

To hand out awards is simply not enough and so, we’ve decided to take this opportunity to develop a greater sense of pride, as well as, community, amongst this city’s creative masses.

In the words of our very own Otis Gibson, proprietor of Gertrude, ‘This is a killer party, where an award show just happens to break out’.

We are set for Thursday night, September 10th, at the Riviera Theater. The nights’ festivities will feature a cocktail reception, and a fully interactive award ceremony and a kick ass party, featuring big name musical entertainment.

Now, this is where you all come in. We need your agency’s support. We need your creative support in the form of work submissions. And we need pounds of flesh. We want your people to show up September 10th. We want to fill the Riv and we want people to know that this town is wide awake and still dreaming very big dreams, on behalf of ourselves, and yes, our clients as well.

-Co Chairs: Matt Brennok/Liz Ross/Katie Juras

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