Poaching Lions: the bloodlust of Deitloff

June 21, 2008

I’m at the Leo Burnett Party (another global disco affair, this time at the Palm Casino), a German creative director –I’ll call him Deitloff- asks me how I’m doing. I say I’m doing fine, it’s the south of France, the weather is delightful, my wife and I haven’t fought in days… Deitloff stops me. “No, I mean how are you doing with ze Lions?” Oh. That. Well, I tell him, “I got my clock cleaned.” Probably not understanding the reference, he walks off into the laser strobes wondering what the hell is wrong with these Americans.

Deitloff’s sweaty, German intensity about winning Lions bears discussion. Because, there is, and always will be, an obsessive majority of Lion hunters at Cannes. Indeed, around the world, so many creative departments are shaped around this festival. A former colleague told me his current agency in Paris assembles a group of its most promising creatives 6 months in advance of Cannes and its only job is to develop creative to win at Cannes. How it works is the creative is done for current clients without their knowledge and then introduced to them later, packaged with other work from another brief. In America we call this “pork.”

What do you think, Gentle Reader –Is this a brilliant strategy or a bogus move? Either way, it does increase the chances of winning. It also is a breeding ground for scam ads or what the French agencies like to call “ghosts.” If bunches of beautiful campaigns are done in advance of Cannes, and only a few get bought by real clients, what happens to all those gorgeous adverts standing in line? They sneak in.

According to my source, even those that do get “bought” by the client are often masquerading as legitimate. In fact, the client has only given the work his tacit approval. The agency pays for its production. If the client has offered any money whatever it generally has come from another budget’s slush fund. Pork. No wonder, then, so many glorious 2-page spreads at the festival but not in magazines and newspapers!

Often this “legitimate” advertising gets a free ride to the awards ceremony because the real fake ads are considered the ones for law firms and restaurants, small businesses that clearly have no advertising budgets.

But scam ads take many forms. When Lion hunting is taken very seriously there is likely to be some poaching. Ask Deitloff, if you can pry him from the dance floor.


12 Responses to “Poaching Lions: the bloodlust of Deitloff”

  1. David Burn said

    If we want to reward someone, let’s reward those who can legitimately clear the high bar. Selling that beautiful spread not seen in magazines is the high bar. Sneaking in to Cannes, or any awards show, is pitiful.

  2. Voice of Reason said

    Pitiful and common.

  3. SRP said

    Scam Ads or “Ghosts” are more plentiful than exposed breasts on the French Coast.

  4. Great series of posts.

    There are light and dark sides to everything. It’s good celebrate exceptional creative. But there’s no perfect way to do it. And without results attached, well, it’s really about what’s wonderful in and of itself, yes? Are scams a sin? Without question. But unlike poaching no one dies. And, while it’s easy to shake your head about the whole thing (particularly from the seat of a mid-sized indie shop) we have to consider what motivates the creation (and sweaty anticipation) of this kind of work. I believe it has less to do with ego and more to do with money. Awards (and the bigger the better) equal better paychecks, more career options, more sex and, yes, more weeks in France with the agency credit card. Follow the money. Clients pay for award-winning agencies (even if they might complain later that it’s all the creatives really care about). Agency CEOs and ECDs pay for award-winning creatives (even though they might later grouse about attitude). The truth is no creative is born with a need for hunks of metal and lucite. Creatives indulge in producing this work because they get “paid” to do it. We may not like it but, as agency leaders and clients, we need to acknowledge our responsibility for it. If we start paying for some other measure of success and we’ll see a change. Until then, we’ll have our Deitloffs and hate him, too. 🙂

  5. SRP said

    American Copywriter has it right. Money is the ultimate trump card behind awards obsession. Ego gratification is totally tied up in this as well. Maybe we should call them “rewards” instead of “awards.”

  6. CD said

    I agree. Scam is cheating, period.

    People get hired over less talented people based on scam. Clients consider agencies over others based on their scam wins. Scam ads are held up as examples of good work, yet they do not solve any real brief. So scam ads are indeed harmful to the entire industry.

    I have no respect for scam ads and for those who win with them. I have turned away otherwise talented people for consideration, and will continue to do so. It’s a question of professional ethics.

  7. David Burn said

    “Rewards” is good. I’m in.

  8. Jargon said

    How can a halfway decent ad campaign compete against these glorious fake posters? If agencies don’t cheat they can’t win. It reminds one of the steroids issue doesn’t it?

  9. megan said

    According to Jargon, “If agencies don’t cheat they can’t win.” I’m not a cheater. Makes me feel a whole lot better about never having won a major award…er, reward. Thanks.

  10. Davis said

    There are some agencies, and some work that is totally real that does win. Crispin, Weiden, BBH, Goodby, Chiat, Euro, RGA, etc.

    To win even a bronze or be a finalist among the hundreds of fake pieces is an amazing accomplishment. But imagine…if the scam was gone, those people who worked their asses off on the real work would be more recognized, and this business would be made that much better. We probably wouldn’t have as many cheating, sketchy, hacks who couldn’t do real work on real clients and win real business.

  11. SRP said

    There are shows that do a far better job of eliminating “steroid ads” from the playing field. Cannes ain’t one of ’em.

  12. voiceofreason said

    I remember when fake ads meant “pro bono.”
    At least then all the phonies were relegated into one lowly category.

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