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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.)

Like a Gold Lion only golder!

My last post on corruption at the International Advertising Festival in Cannes drew quite a few readers, almost breaking the record on my humble little blog. Thank you…I guess. Nothing like timely controversy to goose a blog.

Anyway, I got to thinking about advertising awards shows and what makes them so popular despite the obvious chicanery. Scam ads are as common as pigeons. Most festivals happily accept them. Now we here tell of rigged juries and the calculated “killing” of good work so as to give crappier offerings a better shot. Corruption at all levels from agencies and festivals alike.

So, what is up with the popularity and propensity of advertising awards shows? The big ones continue to thrive despite shenanigans, to say nothing of economic recession and advertising downturns.

There are exactly three reasons why:

  1. On the receiving end it’s all about the money. Each submission has a startlingly high fee attached. Need I say more?
  2. Agency creative are egomaniacs with inferiority complexes. We think we are awesome and yet crave validation at every turn. I have this defect as much as you do.
  3. Awards shows are boondoggles. The judging and/or ceremonies usually take place in exotic locations, like New York or Cannes. We like going to them.

Money. Ego. Hedonism. In other words a petri dish for the awards show virus to flourish. Indeed, more and more strains are added to Cannes bloated category lists every year.

In a classic episode from season three of the Simpsons, “Brother, Can You Spare Two Dimes?” a routine physical exam at the Springfield Nuclear Power Plant reveals that safety inspector Homer Simpson has become sterile after being exposed to radiation. Fearing a lawsuit, plant owner Mr. Burns awards Homer with the “First Annual Montgomery Burns Award for Outstanding Achievement in the Field of Excellence” in exchange for a legal waiver freeing the nuclear plant of all liability.

Hmmmm, Excellence!


Admiral’s Club, O’Hare Field, Chicago

Picture perfect day in Chicago but once again I’m at the Admiral’s Club in O’Hare airport. Here the sunshine is more of a nuisance than anything else. Right now it’s pouring in through the windows causing numerous guests to uproot and move. Twenty miles east the city’s annual Gay Pride Parade is probably breaking all records for attendance. It truly is a perfect day for being “out.”


“Admiral’s Club” Halsted Street, Chicago

Anyway, once again, I’m flying to Los Angeles. Trust me I’m not complaining. This is exactly what I want and need to be doing. Talking with companies interested in producing my movie scripts is an avocation I will pursue to my grave, and, given my latest script is about the undead , maybe even after that!

Meeting with entities interested in my services as creative director and/or copywriter is even more important. That’s my vocation. My forays into freelancing have been a great experience for me and hopefully to the agencies I’ve helped. I’d like to do more of it. As I wrote on Twitter the other day, “Hire me and you get ECD talent at CD prices!” What’s not to like? Don’t answer that.

By the way, I intend to write about my experience on the other side of the desk from a creative director. It’s been surprisingly fun and satisfying NOT being the boss. Creating and presenting ideas more than makes up for any loss of credentials.

Still, Chief Creative Officer was my last job. This particular trip west has me visiting the CEO of a pretty terrific company who just might be looking for a creative leader. The more I read about his company the more I like the opportunity. I’m thrilled to meet him.

I’m telling you all this because I don’t have another essay prepared. Frankly, if my flight wasn’t delayed for mechanical difficulties I couldn’t have even written this. Who’d ‘a thunk being unemployed would be so damn time consuming?

Too bad I can’t make a living writing Gods of Advertising. But like fishing, it’s a labor of love. Even so, I beg your pardon for its ‘Dear Diary’ like content. I’ll be back at my desk soon enough. And for those of you coming back from the Advertising Festival in Cannes: Welcome back to yours!


David Jones, Kate Robertson, Oscar Morales for One Young World

At the Havas Café, adjacent the famous Carlton Hotel in Cannes, World Wide CEO of Havas Worldwide, David Jones and Euro RSCG’s U.K. Chairman, Kate Robertson took the stage to announce the location city for next year’s One Young World summit in Zurich.

For those unawares, One Young World is an initiative started by David, Kate and Euro RSCG to bring together the young people of the world in hopes of creating and securing a better future for it. Last year’s inaugural event in London had over one thousand young delegates from over one hundred countries. In fact, our agency in Chicago sent two. Featured “older” guests included Bob Geldoff, Desmond Tutu and Kofi Annan.

One Young World is a terrific example of a company proactively embracing social responsibility, which, in case you’ve been living under a rock, is one of the biggest trends in modern business. As David Jones pointed out (paraphrase), “It’s becoming more and more about what company’s are giving back to the world as opposed to taking from it.”

Marketing plays a key part. In fact, many of our clients (and yours too) are now spending time and money working on initiatives that add value to society and then talking about it. Besides being good corporate citizens, this is also a necessary business move. With the advent of social media and Internet connectivity, human beings no longer tolerate companies and brands that are not embracing values of some kind. Furthermore, when companies are seen as doing harm they are hammered for it, and not just by the press but also by everyone with a Facebook and Twitter account. Are you listening, British Petroleum? The message: Do good or else!

It’s easy to be cynical when big business and especially advertising agencies start talking about doing good works. Such entities are not known for altruism but for making money. Needless to say, they’d better walk the talk.

After the Havas Café event I spoke with my colleagues, Bill Mericle (CCO, Palm + Havas) and Blake Ebel (Co-CCO Euro RSCG Chicago) about this slippery slope. Was the spectacle of One Young World created more to look good than to be good?

“What’s wrong with doing both?” was their unanimous reply. They’re right of course. While creating One Young World clearly puts the agency in a broad spot light it is a deserved one. One Young world is an ambitious, complicated and costly affair. Procuring travel documents alone would tax most agencies beyond their patience. We should be proud that our firm is driving such a massive initiative. As Mericle pointed out, at the least, there is potential for “countless connections made on behalf of the greater good.”

The upside is considerably better than that. After all, these are the people who will be leading our world tomorrow. Presumably, after attending the One Young World conference in Zurich they will return to their home countries fired up to do some good. How could they not?

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“Asia” for Fed Ex, DDB Brazil, Sao Paulo

Per usual, a great many short-listed adverts in the press and poster categories in Cannes are driven by their visuals. Assume similar for films. This has come to be expected; after all, it’s an international festival. Words are not the same everywhere. Not only is translating copy an imperfect means of determining its exact meaning (wordplay hardly ever comes across) but, let’s be honest, judges are impatient to do so. Jet lagged and jaded from hundreds of submissions, how can we expect each and every judge to take the necessary time to read the provided –often flawed- translations? It’s not fair –to them and the submitting agencies.

President and co-chief creative officer of the Martin Agency, Mike Hughes wrote an excellent article last week in Ad Age entitled, “Why Judging for International Awards Shows is Broken.”

Mike Hughes in AdAge

In it, he writes: “I confess that I often can’t even tell how good the craftsmanship is on many foreign pieces of work. How do I know if the writing’s sharp or if the use of local idioms is relevant when all I’ve got is a translation?”

But here we are and that’s the way it’s done. That said, pictures –be they illustration or photography- do translate across cultural divides. While aspects of the concept may yet be indigenous to a given population, and alien to others, an image fares infinitely better at being interpreted correctly than a piece of copy. Goes without saying, doesn’t it? Which is why so many of the submissions to Cannes also go without saying. (Point in fact there is little chance my hopefully clever double usage of the phrase “goes without saying” would ever come across translated in 17 different languages.)

And so we “see” more and more visually stunning ads in Cannes than we do copy-driven work. Maybe this isn’t so bad? Maybe it’s indicative of our shrinking world, whereby people from all walks of life are juxtaposed more than ever. The advent of social media has only turned up the heat. It’s like the melting pot at full boil.

In addition, for better or worse, I’d argue we are becoming an ever more visually driven world. Instead of all learning a common vocabulary we are increasingly reliant on images to communicate. This was said when TV first entered our lives, changing them forever. And it has only become more so.

As a wordsmith, I suppose I find the continuing transformation bittersweet. Watching communication be whittled down to 140 characters on Twitter or brief updates on Facebook can be disheartening.

On the other hand, it’s not like I don’t appreciate the changes either. Hell, I’m a part of them. I now use words to create images. I write stories (advertising and fiction), seeing the narratives in my head. Frankly, I started doing this a long time ago. Truth be told, agents and editors were quick to criticize my two books, The Last Generation and The Happy Soul Industry as being more like screenplays than novels. Younger people, however, appreciated them for precisely the same reason.

And so it goes at Cannes. The new breed of marketing communications is quicker: mobile technology, Apps, links, shared video, posters and design. A picture is truly worth a 1,000 words. Or millions of dollars, like this short-listed poster for the Illinois Lottery from Chicago’s own Energy BBDO.

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