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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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With great passion comes great responsibility.

Recently, I was asked about my creative philosophy. Namely, do I have one? Seems like a reasonable question. Seems like something an Executive Creative Director ought to have.

Well, I’ve had many. Which, if you think about it, is as it should be. As creative professionals, we must remain open-minded and forever teachable. For us, one-way streets are typically dead ends.

Look at the term, “creative professional.” It’s almost an oxymoron, isn’t it? There’s tension there. The right brain (creativity) and the left brain (professional). But that’s the gig. That’s what we do. The first word in ECD is “executive.” Therefore, any philosophy we have must strike a balance between passion and responsibility. Said another way, we are both craftsmen and business people. We gotta do both.

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Both ends burning…

Your exact philosophy will be a function of percentages. I’d say my current philosophy is 60% passion to 40% responsibility. Those numbers change over time. Back in the day, I’m sure my split was more like 80/20. But then I started facing clients. I had to mitigate my obsession with winning awards and other personal achievements. I had to compromise. I had to listen. I became responsible-ish.

It is important to note that while passion is the fun part -and closer to what people think about when they think about creativity- it is often destructive in too large a dose. Without empathy for the business, even the most brilliant creative person will be stifled… often by his own hubris. Obviously, I don’t need to discuss the unduly “responsible” creative. They are hacks. To me, mortgaging one’s passion to the hilt is both sad and unmanageable.

While percentages vary, I’m a big believer in “responsible passion.”

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Lion gets drunk jumps shark…

In a funky, charmingly meandering essay for the Wall Street Journal, the legendary San Francisco adman, Jeff Goodby takes the Cannes Advertising Festival to the woodshed, albeit the long way, calling it more of a “plumber’s or industrial roofing convention” than a celebration of the “big and famous and mind blowing.” He acknowledges that he is a “willing junkie for ingenious content delivery systems” (really, Jeff?) but clearly misses the good old days when ‘everyone knew who was doing the greatest shit in the world.’

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Ad Lion, Jeff Goodby rattles his cage…

His point is a valid one, which can be gotten to through many doors. Let me take a crack at a few. First off, about 10 or 15 years ago, in a vainglorious attempt to be modern (aka digital & social) and (obviously) to make tons more money, Cannes began adding myriad technical categories some so intricate they defy explanation. Applications. Emojis. Banners. Widgets. Tools. The kitchen sink. All of it, said Cannes, has the possibility of winning a Lion –be it bronze, silver, gold, glass or titanium. In addition, the festival created massive new groups, including public relations, healthcare and social causes. The advertising categories were still there, of course, and you could enter them six ways to Sunday, depending on budgets and other criteria.

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Your Titanium Grand Prix winner at Cannes: an emoji

For agencies and the like, entries became an advanced class in spending money. Take a look at these numbers, made even more conspicuous because they were tallied during the recession.

While this was going on the typically blatant corruption bloomed like algae. After all, all these new categories required evermore judges. Most if not every judge also has stuff in the show. So many shoulders rubbing together is bound to create mutual back scratching. And stabbing. It got so bad a couple years ago the creative leader of one holding company accused another holding company of “killing” the competition, among other voter schemes.

In the end, you get a bouillabaisse so big, deep and full of oddities one wonders if it means anything to anyone. Anyway, Jeff wonders. How can you not? Let’s look at some of the biggest prizes awarded in 2015. A fish-shaped lead sinker is deemed the greatest design in the world. A slew of iPhone pictures garner the Lion for best outdoor advertising in the world. A pizza-shaped emoji wins for best whatever-it-is in the world.

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The winner for best design: a lead fish

Funny. Folks used to joke that WPP’s big boss, Martin Sorrell got his start, not making ads, but selling widgets. Well, he gets the last laugh. Because it now appears that’s what this festival is all about.

(Full disclosure: Every agency I’ve ever worked at has participated in Cannes. I’ve been to Cannes seven times, four drunk, three sober. I’ve entered a bunch of work at Cannes. I’ve even won a few Lions. Twice, I’ve given speeches at Cannes. So, yes, I’ve bowed before the Golden Lion. I’ve played his Game of Thrones.)

The other day I participated in a lengthy meeting about a cocktail party the agency is creating for one of its clients. A cocktail party. The team was discussing three concepts. The copywriter and the account executive got into a tussle over which concept to recommend to the client. It got fairly animated.

A cocktail party.

I had to smile. Since when did we become party planners? Since when did a copywriter give a shit about deliverables relating to one? Ten-years-ago-me wanted to yell: “For the love of God, it’s only a cocktail party!” Instead I lobbed a few jokes about hiring a magician or karaoke “the latest craze from Japan!” But I didn’t dare stop the debate. To paraphrase the copywriter: “This is our chance to do good work. These are the things that win awards.”

In fact, more and more it is these funky little assignments that yield the most interesting creative product. Apps, Twitter handles, ambient, street theater and, yes, cocktail parties are the low-hanging for many agencies. Not just ours. Juggernauts like BBDO and CP&B have long figured out it’s the whacky microsites, unusual videos and other oddities that drive buzz and garner acclaim. The Cannes Gold Lion for a fetching Facebook concept is just as shiny as the one given for press and broadcast. Plus, it has the added value of being ambient or digital, terms that make our industry gaga.

Still. Calling a video that gets 80 thousand views a viral sensation is a joke. 80,000 views are paltry compared to broadcast. Hence the development of another socially inspired, mouth-watering term: Engagement! 2.2 million viewers of a commercial on cable are not as valuable as 80,000 “engaged” people watching online.

There is more than a kernel of truth to it. The gurus aren’t completely high on fumes. Sharing and talking about something is buzz. And it happens to attract mountains of praise, albeit mostly from ourselves. Yet, we hire ourselves. Give raises to ourselves. Award ourselves. Therefore, an App that rates food based on fart smells gets a Clio. 32,000 people like it on “Facebook.” Adfreak does a piece on it. The creative team is among the “pairs to watch in 2013.” And so it goes…

PS: The Fart App or “Fapp” is all mine.

Putting my ego in its place…

In preparation for my family’s move from Chicago to San Francisco, I threw out six boxes of advertising awards I’d amassed during my 20+ years in the business. Among the discards were countless certificates of merit and honorable mentions. Basically booby prizes. I was tempted to keep my first place trophies and Best-in-Shows but for the most part even those I chucked. Made of metal, they lasted ten minutes in the alley before the garbage pickers got them. They took the framed certificates, too, no doubt for the generic black frames. Zero chance some local picker will have use for a 1997 merit award from the Chicago Addy’s. On the other hand those bronze and silver One Show Pencils weigh a ton. Scrap prices are sky high these days. I wonder how many cents each of them netted at the smelter, or wherever it is metal gets bought.

A pair of old-school, badass Lions

I did keep my first two Cannes Lions, a gold and bronze awarded for a TV campaign I wrote on behalf of Heinz Ketchup. The gold was for a spot featuring a teen-aged Matt LeBlanc (Joey from Friends). It’s shown from time to time on nostalgic TV specials. A grainy version can be seen HERE. Back then there were far less categories at Cannes. And broadcast was the king. Ergo, I’m keeping my kitties.

I also kept three Andy Awards and two Clio statues, mostly because they look cool, as well as the Kelly Award given to me by the Magazine Publishers of America for best print campaign in North America: for Altoids. With only one winner, the Kelly was once highly coveted. I should mention it came with a check for $100,000 dollars. Ah, the days when magazine publishers were flush! Win a Kelly now you get a handshake and a photo in Adweek.

Whatever.

Advertising awards seemed so important then. I kept every certificate of merit, every clipping in AdAge. Oh, how I coveted those accolades! I was like a Roman conqueror collecting statues. I was a God of Advertising! Now, as I look upon the heap of paper, plastic and metal in my alley I feel anything but.

Author’s note: I realize this post probably qualifies as a humblebrag, which, according to the Urban Dictionary is where “one, usually consciously, tries to get away with bragging by couching it in a phony show of humility.” I’m pleading ‘No Contest.’