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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.)

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Let them eat cake!

And so Publicis and Omnicom have joined forces, which, I suppose, is a cool way of putting it. But whatever they did they did it and like any marriage it is for better and for worse. Only time will tell.

Time will also bring us more of the same. To wit: For all their current blather about being right sized the other now-conspicuously smaller marketing driven holding companies will undoubtedly conspire, eventually, whether they like it or not. That is the only possible outcome when growth is your mandate. And in the modern, Western way of doing things (especially business), growth is always the mandate.

Precedents are manifest. After all was not Omnicom once a collection of smaller agencies? Likewise Publicis, Havas and Interpublic. Merger upon acquisition upon takeover. Agencies have been gobbling each other up for decades now. And what do we make of Sir Martin’s WPP? Everyone in Adland loves to debunk him but here we are imitating his strategy. Publicis Omnicom Groupe is but a continuation of growth at all costs.

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“Join me!”

Despite all the obvious, negative evidence (can you say cancer?) “growth” is considered equal to great. Even being eaten alive is considered a positive event. And not just for the eaters but the consumed bodies as well. Here, in Silicon Valley, the great wish of all start-ups is to be bought. It’s the same with big, old-fashioned businesses. Morgan Stanley and Dean Witter. JP Morgan Chase. Think about Kraft, General Foods, GE, Wrigley. We can name many more. They are all a collection of other companies, some not related at all. Last I checked, Wilson Sporting Goods was owned by Sara Lee. Cheese cake and tennis rackets?

Who cares? It’s growth.

Playing the devil’s advocate I must recognize the beauty of “coming together as one.” Isn’t that the promise of One World? It takes a village, right? Maybe if Israel and the Arab nations came together that age-old war would finally be over. What’s that bumper sticker say: COEXIST. “Can’t we all get along?”

You scoff. Hell, I scoff. I don’t believe in arranged marriages. They might “work” but they don’t hum. Ask FCB and Draft.

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Uh-oh!

Forced togetherness doesn’t hum because it denies cultural identity –at the individual level and at the group level. Tribes do not want to be taken over in the name of manifest destiny. The only ones who (sometimes) profit are the tribal chiefs (shareholders), and when they are over and done with all that remains is the result: a big tumorous entity. Perhaps the most telling example of forced togetherness is the European Union. Has that merger worked? Maybe someday. But right now it’s something between “working” and a clusterfuck.

Old farts! Damn kids!

Is there a right or wrong age to work in advertising? We often hear it said that advertising is a young person’s game, usually in a sentence with “man” and, if we’re being honest, “white.”

But let’s stick with age. I’ve written about the topic before, on this site and elsewhere. Reactions were many and vigorous. Like any “ism” ageism is controversial, inviting strong opinions. But is it as pernicious as sexism and racism? I wonder. Right now we seem to be getting mixed messages, at least as it relates to our industry. There is a persistent call to remove all “the rich, old farts from big dumb agencies.” These voices get pretty loud and angry. Shame. Because when they’re not obscene, they actually make good points. Are our leaders out of touch? Do they still think in last century paradigms? Men of a certain age… Are we passé?

However, many of these same harsh voices also criticize the younger members of our tribes, calling them sophomoric and juvenile. They ask: What happened to craftsmanship? Cannot anybody tell a coherent story anymore? The creative department has become a den of hooligans, fan boys and twits.  The so-called “frat boys” at Crispin Porter & Bogusky are good examples. Are they great or are they are scum? Most certainly they are young.

So which it –an old boys network or a frat house?

Either way, the debate gets ugly. Of course, neither side is right or, for that matter, wrong. What’s odd, however, is that many industry critics seem to be talking out both sides of their mouths. It’s ‘out with the old’ one day and ‘stupid kids what do they know?’ the next. I guess only people between the ages of 25 and 35 are suitable for employment. Everyone else get lost.

Well documented are African and Native American tribes who value the wisdom and experience of their elders. Alas, many tribes don’t, particularly in the modern world. Particularly in advertising. We are a youth culture. Being young and beautiful has become a skill set. Strength is appreciated over wisdom.

The animal kingdom calls this the circle of life. Survival of the fittest. Changing of the guard. Nature is rife with examples. The top dog always has other aggressive, younger dogs nipping at his heals. A pride of lions can only have one king. Eventually, a new sire emerges. It is not a pretty process.

Civilized society is supposed to be above all that…

Here’s what I want from my agency workforce: wily veterans and feisty colts. If both groups remain teachable (to one another and to the outside world) the tribe thrives. Good leaders, then, are hybrids. I like to think of myself as a feisty veteran! How about you?

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The Commodore and his sinking ship.

My earlier post on the demise of JWT is causing an unusual ruckus, but none more spirited than the one taking place on George Parker’s notorious site, Adscam/The Horror!

Adscam on JWT

After reading his enlightened eulogy, read through the 40-plus comments and you’ll get a serious look at why this piece of bad news is badder than most. Even yours truly is taken to task -both for posting there and for my position. Price of entry I suppose.

Beneath the sour grapes and gutter sniping, however, are some fairly prescient comments about the long, sad decline of a Chicago flagship and its unceremonious sinking.

I intend on writing more about the matter on Monday. I expect I will not be the only one.

Don’t hate me because I’m rich, newly rich, beautiful or simply just ridiculous.

My last post called out pop star, Peter Wentz for being “that guy.” You know, an individual, who for some silly-ass reason bugs the living crap out of me. And presumably countless others.

But why stop at Hollywood celebrities? Hating on them is mainstream entertainment. What about us: the advertising cognoscenti? Read the trade press. The countless ad blogs. I know there are numerous people in our business who, for whatever reasons, drive us crazy. Christ, I’m no doubt one of them. With my clichéd baldhead. My writing about God and advertising. I’d hate me! What about others? How ’bout the threesome pictured above? Just looking at these guys, right?

Is it the fame? The good looks? Or just the shape of their heads?

Who’s your Bette Noir? Who among our ranks drives you bonkers because of their status, reputation or whatever? This is inane…insane. Even the Gods of Advertising are rolling their eyes. But I’m on summer vacation. Let’s have some fun. We can take it, can’t we?