If you were an advertiser would you shell out all that money for Cannes next year?

I don’t think I would although, mercifully, I’m not an advertiser.

But there does seem to be a groundswell of opinion that the Cannes Lions festival has lost its way – awarding nice bits of creativity (to be fair it styles itself a ‘festival of creativity’) which seem to have fuck all to do with advertiisng apart from having a brand attached to them.

My friend Dominic Mills makes the same kind of point about big Grand Prix winner ‘Dumb Ways To Die’ by McCann Melbourne for Metro Trains here. Actually I think Dominic’s a bit harsh on DWTD but he makes a fair point.

As we noted, scrolling through Adweek’s reel of the best Film ads at the festival yesterday, very few of them are ads as we used to know them and, more importantly most of the ads that still populate (or infest) the airwaves. And let’s not forget that telly, although its obituary has been written yearly since the internet went commercial, remains far and away the world’s biggest advertising medium and one that’s still growing at a healthy rate.

So why were so few ads (as opposed to public service films or bits of internet whimsy) awarded? Is it because the various juries were too busy peering up their collected arses or because most ads these days are crap?

In the aggregate I can only talk about the UK; I tend to see or be sent only the best from other countries. But anyone who sits through an hour or two of commercial television (which I tend not to do other than Sky Sports) should be horrified by the prevailing creative standard.

It never was true that there was a golden age of British advertising where the ads were better than the programmes – if only because the programmes, in a four channel world, were actually better then than they are now.

But the big TV advertisers now seem to be price comparison websites – to a man all crap even when they change strategy as Confused.com and Gocompare.com have done recently:

At least Brian the Robot is an idea, it’s just not a very good one. Gocompare is almost unwatchable.

Then you’ve got betting companies, like this for BetVictor.

Unwatchable doesn’t begin to describe it. Even in the bad old days of Allen Brady & Marsh this would have been deemed an atrocity.

Let’s rewind a bit and go to an undeniably capable agency, AMV/BBDO, and a big, proper client – Mars brand Snickers. They decided to use Joan Collins, truly a blast from the past, to create, presumably, a funny Seventies style ad. Like this one from the great CDP:

But what they came up with was this:

It isn’t funny, it doesn’t say anything about Snickers either. What’s the point?

All this has taken us away from advertisers and Cannes – or, indeed, any other awards scheme – but it says something about the standard of creativity in the UK (and all the above stuff comes from top 20 agencies who pride themselves on their creativity) and, maybe, explains why so few ‘proper ads’ won big at Cannes.

So maybe we shouldn’t blame the jurors, not entirely anyway. But it’s still true that the definition of what advertising is has become so loose that even really good ads don’t have much of a chance against all those public service films for good causes. These days there’s even a Grand Prix for Good:

It’s a nice enough effort from BBDO Dusseldorf for the WWF but is it worth a Grand Prix? Why didn’t Dumb Ways To Die win this too? It had more right to do so than win the Radio Grand Prix with a bit of soundtrack, surely?

But we digress again. If I was a client in charge of paying the bills I’d advise my marketing department to spend more time (and money) trying to extract decent advertising from the company’s agencies than on swanning off to Cannes to see a load of stuff of no relevance to the commercial marketplace at all.

That’s if they recognise good advertising of course. It seems to be the case that the more clients go to Cannes to immerse themselves in the wonderful world of creativity, the worse their actual advertising gets.

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About Stephen Foster

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Stephen is a former editor of Marketing Week and London Evening Standard advertising columnist. He wrote City Republic for Brand Republic and is a partner in communications consultancy The Editorial Partnership.