Oh, the humanity! Super 8

While I enjoyed parts of it, Super 8 bugged the crap out of me. The same way a lot of movies do, particularly big budget sci/fi and horror pictures. There’s too much melodrama. Why on earth does a movie about an alien life form trapped by the air force and freed by a rogue scientist have to have a subplot about a motherless kid and his struggle with dad? I get that this links to the alien’s desire to “go home” but do the filmmakers have to pummel us over the head with it? Besides, producer Steven Spielberg already turned this trick with ET. His remake of War of the Worlds got bogged down over a father and son relationship as well. It’s shameless in Super 8.

Yet, you keep on responding to it. All three films are blockbusters. Would they not be big hits without treacle-laden lessons in paternity? It’s a good question. I concede that ET was a game-changing masterpiece. But a nastier War of the Worlds and a scarier Super 8 would have made me happier.

That’s right: happier. I firmly believe forcing modern family dysfunction into horror movies to make them contemporary is a cheap trick gone way too far. The original War of the Worlds was scarier precisely because we were not distracted by a father trying to hold his family together, let alone Tom Cruise.

Night of the Living Dead, arguably the scariest movie ever made (and most certainly a game-changer) created a completely dysfunctional family out of disparate characters trying to survive. The bonds made and severed (literally) while trying to survive an undead outbreak were far more contemporary than if we were worrying about, and in turn, fairly certain about the family unit remaining intact in the end. Spoiler alert: Most everyone dies. Some are lucky and they don’t get back up again.

The family unit, Night of the Living Dead

I’m not railing against happy endings…or am I? I’m just weary of treacle where it isn’t needed. A father and son against all odds is great fodder for a story (pun intended). It can even work in horror. Anyone read or see The Road?

In Children of Men when the world’s lone baby is revealed I choked up too. It’s a great and necessary scene. The key is that it served the story, slamming home the horror. Not the other way around. In my opinion, putting an alien in a movie about a father and son (Super 8) is ass-backwards.

And don’t tell me filmmakers need the hugs and kisses to attract women. In Alien (another masterpiece), Sigourney Weaver’s character is not validated by the love of a good man or child. Her Momness does not require a crying, scared child. The female Alien “bitch” was ample stimulus.

Sometimes I think it’s me. Product of an early divorce, fiercely independent, I am repelled by melodrama. That’s not to say I don’t appreciate good drama. The Shawshank Redemption, Terms of Endearment, Heartburn, Ordinary People…all excellent dramas. And that’s where you find them: under “drama.” When it’s crammed into a good thriller I get sad for all the wrong reasons.

It only ran once, for Hallmark

In terms of advertising, I adore good drama because it usually means there’s actually a story attached. Hallmark Cards typically excels at delivering drama. United Airlines used to. Certainly there are others. But like most of you, I bristle at smarmy vignettes that attempt to capture drama with cliches. Fortunately, for us, the vignette is very passe. Right now, the It Gets Better Project is a fine example of appropriate use of drama.

“I’m your favorite campaign.”

My opinion, the best advertising of 2010 is the “Mayhem” campaign for Allstate. Yes, I once worked at Leo Burnett but that just makes me happier and prouder making this choice. Besides, I like to think of myself as an early adapter to this campaign. Back in June I applauded the introduction of “Mayhem” even when others didn’t.

The others were wrong. Actor Dean Winters and his “Mayhem” character have already ensconced themselves into popular culture. And unlike other popular advertising characters (Can you say ‘Flo’ from Progressive?), Mayhem is smartly written and deftly produced. Some eight or ten spots later, not only does the campaign have legs but the work is getting better and better. Have you seen the holiday commercial? It’s hysterical.

I know there have been more famous marketing creations in 2010. Early on, Old Spice and Nike knocked campaigns out of the park. But those brands moved on. Mayhem, on the other hand, keeps on wreaking havoc, making it a big, enduring idea. The others, however brilliant, were one-offs. A solo homerun, no matter how far it’s hit, is still a one-point affair. (Granted, advertisers like Nike and Old Spice have demonstrated they are very capable of hitting numerous solo homeruns! As of this writing AOR for both brands, Wieden & Kennedy was deservedly selected agency of the year by Adweek.)

My one quibble: no Mayhem on Allstate’s website. Nor could I find any digital work highlighting Mayhem. But maybe that’s not such a bad thing. After all, Mayhem is what prompts us to buy insurance not where we go to buy it. Still, if the campaign wants to become the penultimate case study they’re going to want/need some digital credentials.

“…a bunch of overpaid dinosaurs sunning their fat asses.”
-anonymous comment, Agency Spy

And so, Cannes… Last year the economic “crisis,” as it was referred to in Europe, took its toll on the international advertising festival. Both attendance and submissions were down considerably. This year the lion has roared back, with over 8,000 delegates attending, nearly 40% more than last year. Some 50-plus seminars will be taking place, including star-studded panels featuring Yoko Ono, Ben Stiller, Spike Jonze (Will you PLEASE read my screenplay?) and Facebook’s Mark Zuckenberg.

Social media is, as one would expect, a huge topic this year; indeed, the festival kicks off on Sunday with a workshop entitled, B2B Gets Social, hosted by IBM and my agency, Euro RSCG. B2B Gets Social: IBM & EuroRSCG

Company man that I am, I’d like to attend that workshop -but first I’ll need to register, something I tried to do this morning (Sunday!) at 8:30 AM. Unfortunately, the queue was already as long as any ride at Disneyland, too much for my sorry, jet-lagged body to endure. Did I mention Air France has yet to locate my luggage? (Incidentally, my apologies to Edson Matsuo for quarreling with him at the complaints department in Nice. I was very frustrated.)

line to register, Good morning!

Sipping my “espresso double” from a park bench outside the famous Palais des Festivals, I observe hordes of international advertising people –many of them very young- posing for photos on the famous red carpet. These are the same stairs Brad Pitt and Angela Jolie paraded up during the film festival in May, amid a cacophony of press and paparazzi. Colin Firth may have actually thrown up here!

When I first came to Cannes –I believe in 1998- the primary focus for the festival was films. Of all the categories, nothing was more hallowed than winning a Lion for 30 and 60-second TV commercials. Much earlier, my first year in the business, I won two lions (gold & bronze) for a campaign I’d written for Heinz Ketchup: Heinz Ketchup \"Rooftop\" commercial It wouldn’t be until the Altoids juggernaut that I’d win here again.

Much has changed since then, in particular the advent of digital platforms. It cannot be overstated the importance the Internet and technology has played in reshaping Cannes. Not only have numerous online categories been added but, in many ways, they’ve usurped TV as the prizes worth winning. Indeed, the Grand Prix (best of show) for Cyber Lion may be the most coveted prize of all.

There are myriad categories and sub categories for entering at Cannes. The lists are readily available on their website –all over the web really. Given that, you’d think it would be easier to become a finalist, let alone win at Cannes. But you’d be wrong. It’s hard as hell. Furthermore, for all the ways to enter the competition there are thousands upon thousands that are entering.

It’s hard for some of us in America to understand the importance the global marketing community puts on winning Lions. In many countries winning is considered a mandate by agencies as well as clients. With so much gravitas attached to the contest, and so many entries from so many countries, it can and does become a national and political race, not unlike the Olympics or World Cup, which incidentally happens to be happening at the same time this year.

We here in the States don’t put such a priority on winning this international prize. Ergo we are often bested by zealous agencies from far smaller markets. Latin American countries, Brazil in particular, are gonzo about their Lions. Like that country’s uber-famous footballers, its creative directors are also treated like celebrities, often seen on the evening news and in the morning papers. National pride is at stake!

With this pressure comes the occasional bi-partisan juror and “scam” ad. Without getting into it here –trust me, it’s a big issue- I think that sort of thing heightens the suspense, adding drama to what is already pretty dramatic.

My creative partner and Co-Chief Creative Officer of Euro RSCG Chicago, Blake Ebel is judging the print category this year. We have a number of submissions and are hoping to make the shortlist. Alas, our chances of doing so may be as slight as the likelihood of my luggage arriving in time for dinner.

For those interested, I am also blogging about the exploding outdoor category on the website for the Outdoor Advertising Association of America (OAAA): Cannes blog: OAAA

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