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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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Though stinging, I love this gag Tweet from Adweak. Many a Superbowl I spent gripping my phone (or radiating my balls via laptop) racing the commercial feed on TV, and countless other assorted creative types, to try and get in a witty and insightful Tweet. Then another. And another. Of course I also needed to embellish my comments with a unique and brilliant hash tag, this in addition to the tag we’d been assigned. Thank God for the reemergence of 60 second TVC’s. Those extra seconds were gold.

Speed dating for “likes” and “retweets.” Such was the privilege of being selected by one trade pub or another to “live Tweet” the commercials playing during the Superbowl. During Twitter’s heyday it was vogue behavior. What it really accomplished was nil but being chosen fed my ego as a genius creative, enabling my on the money insight and rapier wit. And I was hardly alone. Big names from our industry were sucked in as well. For three hours and change we were the in-crowd. The creative community speaks! Follow us and learn. We know how to vivisect a TVC. In real time no less. (Unless, of course one pre-wrote his tweets having screened the commercials weeks in advance.)

Oh, the grandiosity of it all. To think that legions of my peers, clients and well-wishers were hanging on my every Tweet. Such folly. (Though I won’t deny being retweeted by Adweek made me giddy.

Still, by the third quarter I was numb. Spilling nacho cheese on my computer and dirty looks from my wife did not make the experience better. “Who’s the idiot on the laptop?” “Oh, that’s my husband. He’s doing it for work.”

But, hey I was changing the world. My opinions were becoming part of a national conversation, one that the 90 million people actually watching the game were excluded from. The next morning I would have hundreds of new followers. My Klout score (remember that?) would be through the roof.

Didn’t happen.

I’m not saying real time social commentary doesn’t work. Millions upon millions do it. The peanut gallery is vast. Lovers and haters and trolls spit fire and throw shade. The Superbowl and other massive “live” events draw legions of flies. But choreographing a VIP community is futile in this mob, forcing a reality where every member is sending and no one is receiving. Moreover, a bunch of creative directors spit balling Super Bowl commercials on Twitter reeks like an old idea. #whogivesashit

This Sunday my fingers are on the chicken wings, not my phone. That is, unless AdAge hits me up. My Tweets are pure gold!

Normally, I don’t go for hidden camera stuff (in advertising or entertainment) but this provocative campaign for a difficult subject is an exception. What I admire is the light touch it took with such a heavy subject. For example, the main actor is youthful, handsome and charming. In ordinary circumstances any father would be delighted to have his daughter date a fellow like this. Not casting an older, salacious man invites us into the concept. When the girls run up and hug him our first reaction is hardly uncomfortable. It seems normal… until we grasp what’s going on.

The real people are real too. This is not a dumb observation. In my opinion 90% of so-called “real” persons seen on videos today come off as vulgar, coached-up buffoons. It’s all about BIG reactions. But here the unaware parents are more perplexed than SHOCKED!!! These are genuine reactions. The subtle shift into full awareness make the commercial utterly believable and, in a way, transfixing. The light tone is counter-intuitive and utterly effective.  Bravo.

Read more in Adweek.

Client: BØRNEfonden (Child & Youth Foundation.)

Agency: Robert/Boisen & Like Minded

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“You’re in the great game now…”

Adweek published a story asking the big winners at Cannes 2016 what their “secrets to success” were. You could read the article here or just stay with me and I’ll tell you how to win at Cannes. Forget analysis and trendspotting. Don’t be mystified by all the never-ending categories either. Winning at Cannes has more or less relied on the same formula for years.

First and foremost, do great work. Then get it seen and talked about. This one-two punch, by the way, is the same formula for ANY awards show.

Ideally, at least some of your great work should be real. Real means it went through the gauntlet known as your client (not to mention your agency’s often debilitating process) was brilliantly produced, ran in genuine media, and received boffo results.

Enter the shit out of it.

But, dear friends, you know as well as I do, that it doesn’t end there.

Long ago intrepid creatives learned how to game the system. At first simple cheating, what this looks like now is far more, shall we say, ornate. Boiled down it means mimicking the legitimate. Something like this: Create gorgeous work, share it with select others internally, maybe have a friendly client smile at it wistfully, then run it on your own dime somewhere cost efficient or, even free, like posters at the local coffee shop or via some innocuous website. Take a bunch of pictures of it “in situation,” make a case study video and voila: you have award show bait!

Enter the shit out of it.

Professional winners have huge budgets for entering shows and a complicit team doing it. Mixing in fake campaigns with real creates a juggernaut that is hard to untangle. A few real pieces win; a few scams. Who knows which is which? Who cares – the agency clearly does good work.

Be part of a network that knows all the ins and outs. Networks have a regular, sustained presence and they will massage the process to help you win. Networks know people in high places. Networks get judges into shows. Networks have wags who do interviews, predictions and the like i.e. Global Creative Directors. Networks do PR. Networks spend money.

Gaming the system has become the system. Varying degrees of corruption are tolerated for the greater good. A few unfortunates get caught and thrown to the –ahem- lions. The rest is the rest. If it looks like a winner and comes from a winner then, by golly, it is a winner!

The agencies that won the most at Cannes do all of the above, legitimately and otherwise. Been this way for years.

According to Tim Nudd’s marvelous piece in Adweek, this Secret deodorant commercial debuted on the season premier of The Bachelorette -a show I deplore but my wife and daughter’s adore.  I’m not going to get into a rant on that but I do recognize the genius of this media buy. Like the Bachelor, the Bachelorette is a reality show about choosing a mate for life. Though such outcomes rarely happen long term for these contestants, the show acts as if it most certainly will. And that mythology is a potent one for lots of women and, I suppose, a fair amount of men. Whatever. This commercial flawlessly plays off and pays off the proposal ritual.

Instead of a rose, we get a fortune cookie. And the result is charmingly messed up. I won’t go into the plot. Watch the film yourself. It’s fabulous storytelling. Nudd’s analysis is spot on:

It’s a sly mix of comedy and tension, with great casting and subtle acting that really lets the scenario build nicely. When the reveal happens—even if you see it coming—it feels believable, and like a breakthrough, because of the obvious stress of the situation. Which by the way makes for a fine connection to the brand, even if inverting gender roles to sell product can still feel icky, however pure the motive.

The craft is first rate as well. Directed by Aoife McArdle for Wieden + Kennedy, the realness is laudatory – far more authentic than the Bachelorette that’s for sure. Everything about the spot rings true. (Not faux true.) The cast. The location. Direction and acting. It all works. I especially love the woman. Rather than get into specifics, let me just say it feels like we’re eavesdropping on a totally genuine moment and one that is delightful, romantic and full of life. Real life.