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A story of Lions and Excess…

The Cannes International Festival of Advertising is finis. All over Adland people are back at their shops tweaking layouts, creating and debating Power Points and churning out banners. The business of marketing continues. Yet the hangover persists. Not from the overpriced rose’ in Cannes but from its overwrought festival. In the wake of Publicis’ controversial decree to forgo one year of entering work into Cannes or any other awards show, a hazy doubt remains, wafting in it lingering questions about the role of award shows, the cost to participate, and the value they provide.

No doubt award shows had their place, back when work was difficult to share and people harder to connect. But in the age of social media, nothing could be farther from the truth. Everyone sees everything. Shit is condemned. Cream rises to the top. By the time an ad wins an award it has been praised or vilified ad nauseam. Awards have become anti-climactic. Gilding the Lily if you will. Of course recognition is critical for agencies and their people. But claiming prizes well after the fact is antiquated.

But there’s another mitigating fact. Award shows cost a ton of time and money for agencies to participate. I think more than an App named Marcel, this is the real reason Publicis CEO, Arthur Sadoun pulled the plug. In these increasingly difficult times, he saw millions of dollars in savings. The bottom line is the bottom line.

And for this, we cannot blame him. I believe it costs around a thousand dollars to enter a piece of work at Cannes into a sole category. And there are thousands of categories with more every year. Nearly 1,500 Lions were given out this year. Out of God knows how many entries. You do the math. Agencies desperation to win coupled with outright greed by award show executives created a perfect storm. One must pay to play. The gross is gross.

I don’t think award shows should go away –necessarily- but clearly they need to be brought down to earth. There are too many shows with too many categories. Period.

Forget the many losers at Cannes. Let’s look at two of the biggest winners.

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“Meet Graham”

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“Fearless Girl”

Clemenger BBDO Melbourne was awarded 29 Lions & 2 Grand Prix for their “Meet Graham” campaign. McCaan New York received 18 Lions and 4 Grand Prix for their “Fearless Girl” statue on Wall Street. No question these are wonderful and deserving ideas. But 18 and 29 Lions? That’s icing on the icing on the icing. We may crave the sugar but it’s not good for anyone. Except, of course, the executives at Cannes. They’ll gladly exchange statues for cash.

If only a handful of Lions were given out they would mean so much more. But the current system demand quantity. The solution: Make the show a salon for great work and only give the most brilliant a prize. More like the film festival, which takes place a month before. Hell, if they can do it so can we. I know it’s a tough pill for the many profiteers to swallow. But it’s the right thing to do.

For copy, content and creative direction: https://steffanwork.wordpress.com/

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One Lion is apparently enough.

The great irony from the Cannes International Festival of Advertising is that by far the biggest story coming from this famously bloated bacchanal is that the new leader of Publicis Group, Arthur Sadoun decreed in the forthcoming year zero euros will be spent on advertising award shows! Instead, Publicis has introduced a Siri-like App called Marcel (named after Publicis’ founder), which will unite the holding company’s agencies into a “Power of One.” Furthermore, Arthur stated unequivocally that all the monies that would’ve normally gone into entering award shows (extravagant fees, production for entries, and travel) will now be used to create, optimize and deliver Marcel. Here is the video introducing Marcel. No comment.

As everyone (accept apparently Arthur) expected the reaction was fast, furious and mostly vitriolic. Some of that is here.

So much to unpack…

Rather than vivisect the top paragraph like everyone else in Adland, let’s pick out a few tidbits from the carcass. First, why on Earth would a French advertising concern make such a controversial announcement at the biggest advertising festival in the world…in France no less? For publicity? Mission accomplished, Art. But doing so is, well, rude. Dare I say French?

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Les Creatives? Let them eat cake!

And to justify the move by claiming an Intranet App, seemingly only for Publicis employees, should somehow take precedent is just plain bizarre. There are already a zillion ways to share files and connect. Does Publicis really need a proprietary one? But fine. I’m sure it will provide some utility. Yet linking it with a budget cutting agenda (pork) feels like the worst kind of governance.

Lost in the melee is this business of “Power of One.” Really? Christ, when I was at the former other big French holding company, Euro RSCG (now HAVAS), the “Power of One” was their big, swinging dick. It was the main part of Euro’s credentials and in all of our pitches. Trotting it out now is trite and oblivious.

All this being said, I’m actually for the decree. You heard me. And yes, for the usual reason: that we are an ego-maniacal industry with a profound inferiority complex. Saluting our wares in show after show became pathetic years ago. Yet like addicts we can’t stop.

But here’s a better reason. Advertising award shows are no longer necessary. If and when good work becomes part of popular culture, the so-called conversation, that is all the accolades one needs. It will be heralded in countless venues. Shared by industry wags and real people alike. A lot.

 

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Why do I need a Lion when I rattled this bull?

McCann’s timely “Fearless Girl” statue was the talk of the town well before winning Lions at Cannes. Not winning would have been the only story. Ergo it was already a winner. Its creators were celebrated and undoubtedly got fat raises and job offers. Cannes is merely icing on the icing. The sugar high is fleeting and unhealthy. We creatives may crave the perk but we don’t need it.

Back in the day, before the Internet and social media, shows like Cannes were more vital. Save for the occasional marketing column, It was the only place things got shared. Now, it’s the last place things get shared.

So good on you Publicis. Throw a harpoon into the whale. (Yeah, a bunch of Global Creative Directors may go down with it. But honestly their salaries are where the real savings will come.) Your timing sucks and the cold turkey will too but measures like this are frankly overdue. Let’s see if Arthur can withstand the shit storm of junkies that have already begun pounding on his door.

For award winning work hit me up: https://steffanwork.wordpress.com/

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An account strategist for Ogilvy & Mather in the Philippines died at his workplace, sick from pneumonia but apparently unwilling (or unable) to leave. I don’t want to comment on this particular man or his firm. It’s a tragedy and I’m sure everyone feels bad about it. Especially the man’s family. Yet, I’m pretty sure the root behavior won’t change. Not at that agency or all the sweatshops like it.

Here’s why: Fear. Be it of a losing a pitch or one’s job, fear of not getting what you want (raise, promotion, attention) or having it taken away, is insidious.

Fear is a powerful motivator but it comes at a tremendous price. (Look what it is doing to our country.) When fear creeps into an agency’s culture, it is always toxic and usually incurable. Fear makes people do bad things to other people and to themselves. Fear creates an environment of hostility and mistrust. I’ve seen it and felt it and have been hurt by it. Likely so have you.

The occasional all-nighter to win a pitch is NOT what I’m talking about. This is a good thing, bringing people together to win a glorious prize. However, when such activities become an expectation the bonding soon becomes bondage.

Mocking the so-called trend to “work from home,” people are afraid to leave at a reasonable hour, aware of the critical eyes upon them. The creative director who wants to see work at 10PM quickly turns from hero to heel. Yet, he or she is likely afraid of not calling the meeting as well. Probably because the agency’s managing director is expecting to see work first thing in the morning. If the presentation is not perfect then the MD will blame the CD for not working harder and longer. The cycle gets repeated. The virus of fear spreads.

While literally dying on the job is thankfully an ultra rare exception, there are far more commonplace consequences that are lethal. For example, each affected human is in turn hurting his or her family. Continuity at home becomes hopelessly disrupted. Marriages suffer. This makes everyone resentful and bitter: the employee to his boss for not giving a shit and to his spouse for not understanding. Resentments at home and office fester. The bitterness may lead to isolation, anxiety and depression. Alcoholism and “acting out” thrive in these conditions. Finger pointing. Blaming. Misconduct. People become the crappiest version of themselves. All because of fear.

But so what? Sweatshops work. For a period of time results are wrought. But it never ends well. For the individuals and eventually the agencies. Like an over-watered plant, the tips look good but everything below becomes rotten. I once worked with a guy who wanted a sweatshop more than life itself. He got his wish. I left that job. And he his home. Everyone loses when fear takes over.

For fearless creative hit me up: https://steffanwork.wordpress.com/

Here’s to the Crazy Ones…

I admit it. I’m crazy. And for the most part I’m okay with that – not that I have a choice. Ever since I can remember I’ve been aware of my, shall we say, unique perspective on the human condition – or my condition anyway. I wasn’t like the other kids. And I’m not like the other men. And while that can prove irksome at cocktail parties, or at times to my wife, it is simply reality.

Fortunately, I was able to forge a very successful career in advertising, where tempered crazy mixed with hard work is called creativity. Finding compelling ways to persuade people into believing in a product, brand or service requires more than a sound strategy; it demands a unique intuition. Crazy good ideas are hatched from crazy good minds. On good days I was crazy.

Like a lot of crazies, I ran into trouble “augmenting” that reality with drugs and alcohol but those days are thankfully over. I accept the way my mind works, even relish it, and am “aware” in ways no artificial stimulation can simulate.

Going deeper, I’ve come to the conclusion that for a great many of “us” being crazy is merely being more wholly aware than most so-called “normal” people. I am aware of my demons and defects and, for the most part, have learned how to live with them and even play with them. They can be muses. Pandora’s Box can be opened and shut. Yes, depression and anxiety are a part of it. And this is not always a small price to pay (see the preceding paragraph). So be it.

Looking at the world, we see chaos. In religion. In politics. In every other Instagram feed. Millions upon millions of people acting crazy but not identifying as crazy. Speaking and voting and even killing and not aware of it as crazy. Are the multitudes normal or just in hopeless denial?

We crazy ones know the difference. That doesn’t make us “better than” or “less than” but it makes us saner.

(Author’s note: The above anthem is the never-aired version with voice over by Steve Jobs. In retrospect, I prefer it to the read given by Richard Dreyfuss.)

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The glittery potential for every brand…

According to Zen, one’s serenity is inversely affected by one’s attachment to things. The more you live the more you realize it. Obviously, you can’t take anything with you but I wonder why it takes us so long to figure that out? On some level, we all accept the spiritual truth in this idea but on a day to day basis most of us don’t “go there.” We are too busy acquiring things, building things, starting things and ending things.

When I began this blog a decade ago I titled it the way I did for irony’s sake. As if there could be Gods of anything, let alone advertising. Ha! I also gave the blog a subhead: “We Make You Want What You Don’t Need.” Even then I felt the low-level hum of tension inherent to making a living in Adland. I’m an agnostic (mostly leaning on belief in a higher power) but I’m also a realist (leaning on skepticism). Still, I knew and know that making people covet brands was a form of idolatry. Obviously, I’m not talking about selling a car on Craigslist. I’m referring to branding. Big “A” advertising: Nike, Apple, McDonald’s, etc…

As brilliant as Nike’s historical marketing story is (and precisely because of), there is a tension to it. When Air Jordan’s came out with its iconic marketing (the jump man and the swoosh and “Just Do It”), all hell broke loose. People who could least afford them wanted them the most. And, well, bad things happened to realize those aims. People stole for them. Harmed others. Or more casually frittered away resources. Nike had become a religion. It is believed God can walk on water. And so, as all of us are lead to believe, with a pair of Air Jordans, can we.

This is an extreme example and not typical of most branding efforts. Yet, that is not because we don’t try to achieve those results. We do. Therefore, in theory and sometimes practice, we are efforting to “make people want what they don’t need.”

Admit it, copywriters. When you’re drafting a manifesto for a product or service or company (it doesn’t much matter what the thing is) don’t you feel the power at your fingertips? There, at your desk, you are creating a myth. Our words are like sparks and we want them to ignite. We are toying with Pandora’s Box and it is nothing short of thrilling. For me it is.

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As far back as 2008, I made a presentation at Cannes (at the Palais no less!) sharing some of the above ideas. I recklessly compared coveting Gold Lions to the Israelites worship of a Golden Calf. Needless, to say I was not invited to give that speech again. Ever.

Who doesn’t want their copy to go viral? To be shared. To spread like, frankly, a disease. If it does, we are blessed with silver in our paychecks and Gold Lions at Cannes. With powerful alchemy, we will have turned people into consumers. Into Believers. We will have become GODS OF ADVERTISING!