Like a Gold Lion only golder!
My last post on corruption at the International Advertising Festival in Cannes drew quite a few readers, almost breaking the record on my humble little blog. Thank you…I guess. Nothing like timely controversy to goose a blog.
Anyway, I got to thinking about advertising awards shows and what makes them so popular despite the obvious chicanery. Scam ads are as common as pigeons. Most festivals happily accept them. Now we here tell of rigged juries and the calculated “killing” of good work so as to give crappier offerings a better shot. Corruption at all levels from agencies and festivals alike.
So, what is up with the popularity and propensity of advertising awards shows? The big ones continue to thrive despite shenanigans, to say nothing of economic recession and advertising downturns.
There are exactly three reasons why:
- On the receiving end it’s all about the money. Each submission has a startlingly high fee attached. Need I say more?
- Agency creative are egomaniacs with inferiority complexes. We think we are awesome and yet crave validation at every turn. I have this defect as much as you do.
- Awards shows are boondoggles. The judging and/or ceremonies usually take place in exotic locations, like New York or Cannes. We like going to them.
Money. Ego. Hedonism. In other words a petri dish for the awards show virus to flourish. Indeed, more and more strains are added to Cannes bloated category lists every year.
In a classic episode from season three of the Simpsons, “Brother, Can You Spare Two Dimes?” a routine physical exam at the Springfield Nuclear Power Plant reveals that safety inspector Homer Simpson has become sterile after being exposed to radiation. Fearing a lawsuit, plant owner Mr. Burns awards Homer with the “First Annual Montgomery Burns Award for Outstanding Achievement in the Field of Excellence” in exchange for a legal waiver freeing the nuclear plant of all liability.
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.
The former Pres at the Palais in Cannes…
So, former president Bill Clinton revealed to an audience in Cannes that his favorite TV commercial in America is the DirecTV campaign from Grey New York. Good choice, Mr. President. I like it, too. I even did a post about it.
As reported by Adweek’s Tim Nudd, the President said, “You have a problem. Something disastrous happens. You don’t get along with your daughter. She winds up having an alternative lifestyle, marries a guy with too many tattoos. She ends up having a child who wears a dog collar. Now, you have a granddaughter with a dog collar. Switch to DirecTV. … They’re the most hilarious ads I’ve ever seen.”
Wow. He practically knows the ad verbatim. That’s pretty cool. Score one for the Pres! I’m sure he made a lot of friends on the Croisette that night; or, more likely, some pleasantries at the Hotel Du Cap –a hotel befitting his stature.
Given the campaign he loves is still going strong I can’t help but think he gave the creative at Grey some new fodder for a pool-out. Something like this:
You’re the President. But you don’t get along with the First Lady. She’s never around so you have a tryst with a blousy intern with a funny name. The intern with a funny name ends up with a messy dress. And you have to tell the entire country you did not have intercourse with that woman…
Hey, it’s Friday. Enjoy the weekend. And for all of you creatives returning home Cannes: Welcome back to your full in-boxes and all those nervous account people wanting the revisions you said you’d get to during “down time.”
June 26, 2011
Picture perfect day in Chicago but once again I’m at the Admiral’s Club in O’Hare airport. Here the sunshine is more of a nuisance than anything else. Right now it’s pouring in through the windows causing numerous guests to uproot and move. Twenty miles east the city’s annual Gay Pride Parade is probably breaking all records for attendance. It truly is a perfect day for being “out.”
Anyway, once again, I’m flying to Los Angeles. Trust me I’m not complaining. This is exactly what I want and need to be doing. Talking with companies interested in producing my movie scripts is an avocation I will pursue to my grave, and, given my latest script is about the undead , maybe even after that!
Meeting with entities interested in my services as creative director and/or copywriter is even more important. That’s my vocation. My forays into freelancing have been a great experience for me and hopefully to the agencies I’ve helped. I’d like to do more of it. As I wrote on Twitter the other day, “Hire me and you get ECD talent at CD prices!” What’s not to like? Don’t answer that.
By the way, I intend to write about my experience on the other side of the desk from a creative director. It’s been surprisingly fun and satisfying NOT being the boss. Creating and presenting ideas more than makes up for any loss of credentials.
Still, Chief Creative Officer was my last job. This particular trip west has me visiting the CEO of a pretty terrific company who just might be looking for a creative leader. The more I read about his company the more I like the opportunity. I’m thrilled to meet him.
I’m telling you all this because I don’t have another essay prepared. Frankly, if my flight wasn’t delayed for mechanical difficulties I couldn’t have even written this. Who’d ‘a thunk being unemployed would be so damn time consuming?
Too bad I can’t make a living writing Gods of Advertising. But like fishing, it’s a labor of love. Even so, I beg your pardon for its ‘Dear Diary’ like content. I’ll be back at my desk soon enough. And for those of you coming back from the Advertising Festival in Cannes: Welcome back to yours!
July 13, 2010
Alex Bogusky leaving his company and advertising is news. The fact that he’s leaving while at the top of his game makes it even more intriguing.
Everyone aspires going out on top. Yet it hardly ever happens. First of all, you have to get there. No easy feat in this business, or any other. Then walking away that hard-earned spot right when it’s most lucrative? Off the top of my head, I can’t think of many people who’ve done either, let alone both. (I believe my father did, albeit quietly.)
Ego often gets in the way. Recall Michael Jordan’s inability to retire, when he should have, after his last championship. Unlike Michael (or Alex), most of us work past our prime because we have to. There are bills to pay, families to support. Plus, we likely don’t see the top when we’re on it. Still, the fantasy of going out that way burns in our hearts.
Whether Alex returns to Ad Land or figures out a way to end world hunger (both?) is anyone’s guess. Likely, he doesn’t know his next move either. And that’s the thing about him I bet most folks don’t realize: for all his credentials, he’s not driven by ego. Even a funky new job and promises of yet more cash did nothing to hold him. (In my opinion, Mr. Nadal made up the fun-sounding title, Chief Insurgent Officer purely to keep Alex in the network. That lasted two or three months. And with serious coin already in his pocket, even the promise of more money held no sway.)
Telltale signs of Bogusky’s inevitable departure began appearing last year, when he handed over the reigns of his creative department to Rob Reilly and Andrew Keller, along with Jeff Benjamin. (By any measure they’ve done a stupendous job.) In addition, Alex began pursuing personal projects like writing books and various social media experiments. His tweets became more about the stuff of life than work related. All evidence of a man preparing for what’s next.
A few 24 hours ago, I had the pleasure of conversing with Alex Bogusky before he became Alex. I kid you not we were at a pool party in Cannes. Both of us, however, were not really digging it. He seemed to prefer talking about life versus living it up in the pool or, for that matter, the festival itself, in which he would ultimately win a pride of Lions, including a Grand Prix, I believe for Ikea “Lamp.” But at that moment he wasn’t interested in prizes. Like a lot of us, he’d come to Cannes because he could. However, he admitted to now being unsettled by the attention he and his agency were getting. He then confessed that this would likely being his last time at Cannes. “Steff,” he said, “we’ve got plenty of swimming pools in Miami. Besides,” he added, “I like doing the work more than celebrating it.”
I’m paraphrasing but that was the gist of it. Ironic commentary coming from the man whom would later write “Hoopla” not to mention win more Lions than probably any other person or agency in the United States. Yet, to me, it seemed indicative of some higher power working in his life, or trying to, the idea that achieving goals was more important to him than drinking champagne at the end. The conflict with hedonism is worth noting as well.
For another even more telling exchange, read this paragraph from a very recent interview with Chuck Porter in AdAge:
He (Alex) sent me a blog post he wrote about advertising to children and asked me what I thought. I said it was well-written and made some great points, but I also said he needs to make a choice because it’s not [compatible with the business we're in]. And the next morning he resigned and sent me a note saying, “I resigned like you recommended” and I was like, “I didn’t tell you to do that!
Without probing deeper, it seems Alex began applying his focus on other things besides selling. Perhaps even to the consternation of his peers. Maybe his Higher Power got the better of him. That and a sizable earn-out check from MDC.
The only other time I engaged with Alex was during a pitch. It was down to two agencies: his and mine. We would win that day but, obviously, Alex and CP&B would win a hell of a lot more times than I, or anyone, in the years that followed. CP&B became unstoppable, to the point where they could turn down clients. Regularly. They still do. That’s not arrogance, folks. That’s a blessing.
Alex and his partners built a juggernaut, a magical place. Some call it a sweatshop. But whatever it is it can never be captured in a power point presentation. There are no “proprietary tools” at CP&B. Just like-minded people busting their ass to do great work. And since the beginning, the mind they were aspiring to be like belonged to Alex Bogusky. So powerful is the zeitgeist he established that his predecessors haven’t missed a beat. Indeed, Keller and Reilly are as skilled as they come.
In the end, I applaud Alex for doing his thing: in this business, to this business and now going out of it. He’s done more with and for advertising than almost anyone alive. And so maybe he’s just done. For now, anyway…