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Bowing before the golden lion (I mean calf)

“We’ve created a system that rewards work that is increasingly unknown to anyone outside the business. We have become connoisseurs of esoterica. And in the process, we’re becoming more about us, and less about changing the world… We are becoming irrelevant award-chasers.”

-Jeff Goodby, in AdAge

There was a comment on my blog, Gods of Advertising from an anonymous person that said, “awards shows (such as Cannes) are for people who like the smell of their own farts.”

A revolting notion but is it a criticism? First off, I believe people do secretly marvel at the odor they are capable of emitting! That’s the lesser point, however. What’s interesting about the comment is whether or not the idea of celebrating one’s own work is bad or not. Religious persons consider pride and vanity sins. But are they?

Here are my definitions of the two. Pride is regarding one’s self in high esteem. Vanity is hoping that others do. By this measure, then, it seems vanity has more potential for causing trouble –both to one’s self and to others. Vanity seems closer to the uglier sins of greed, lust and envy.

Advertising awards shows, particularly Cannes, are ripe with both pride and envy. By definition, all awards shows are. Something is being touted above all others in its category. Therefore there are losers. And losing breeds envy, which begets vanity. In order for we losers to avoid the sin of vanity we must process losing with humility, which is difficult, maybe even saintly. Most of us cannot help but feel humiliated when we lose. Sad but true. In theory, and sometimes practice, better men than I say, “there are lessons in this. I will take heed and be better for it next time around.” Unfortunately, my first reaction is usually more akin to this: “What do they know? The whole thing is rigged anyway!”

Winners, however, experience pride. And depending on how one handles his or her pride this can be a good quality. Obviously, boasting is pigheaded and most winners are rightfully careful about coming across as braggarts. But I venture we all hoot and holler a little bit among our peers, behind closed doors. Yet when we display our trophies back at the agency they instill a sense of pride within the company: We are good at our craft. We have value! This cannot be a bad thing, right? Yes, as long as it doesn’t go to our heads. Even the best-awarded agencies make their fare share (the Lion’s share!) of mediocre advertising. Often it is these accounts that pay the bills, allowing the agency to pursue sexier but less financially lucrative clients.

Pause for caution, then, especially during times of recession and layoffs. Perhaps the better comment, equally telling, would be to advise certain winners that their shit does, in fact, stink. Consider the Cannes trophy –the Gold Lion. Was not the Golden Calf a pagan symbol of man’s false pride?

The theme for my blog is “We make you want what you don’t need.” The tension of trying to do the next right thing (be it for agency, client and even oneself) is hugely important. I fail as much as I succeed. And I suspect I am not alone. Especially at Cannes. Here pride and vanity are on full display, both from creations and creator.

#canneslions
My pride & vanity!

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