Goodby Silverstein’s Brian McPherson: why I disagree with Jeff Goodby about the new stuff at Cannes

I love my boss. But I disagree with him. This is especially tricky when your boss is Jeff Goodby.

The smart thing, of course, would be not to write publicly about it.

After he arrived in Cannes last week, he sent me an article by James Cooper entitled “10 Reasons Cannes Is like FIFA.” It’s a humorous, if somewhat cynical, article that draws an unlikely parallel.

It was also a portent, perhaps, as later in the week, Jeff penned his own piece in the Wall Street Journal.

His thesis was that while the festival is growing in attendees and entries, the output of widely recognizable, intelligent work built for everyday people is shrinking. “For the most part, we are famous from only one end of the Croisette to the other,” he writes. The article — beautifully written, esoteric, and yet poignant — weaves many critiques together: less-powerful ideas, an insular community, and smaller things that don’t matter broadly. And as a result, Goodby proclaims (below right with Rich Silverstein), this will likely be his last year attending the festival.

Like the taxi drivers in Cannes, he’s in protest.

As Jeff points out, he’s a frequent Cannes attendee. He’s been on the jury, chaired the jury, and spoken in the Grand Audi repeatedly. He has more perspective than almost anyone. So it’s somewhat timidly that I offer a more optimistic viewpoint.

It’s not that things aren’t famous anymore; it’s that they are famous only to the people intended to see them. ‘Unforgotten’ was a chilling street-art exhibit in Chicago that aimed to raise awareness about gun violence in that city. ‘The Other Side’ was a simple, clever campaign likely meant to be seen only by someone interested in buying a Honda in Europe. And Vodafone’s ‘Red Light’ won a Media Lion because not everyone could see it. These things aren’t pervasive, because they aren’t meant to be. We’re not less effective, just more efficient.

It makes setting aside the time to come together to see things, learn things, and reflect as an industry, all the more important.

It’s not that Cannes is losing its way; it’s just changing. In part, it’s because advertising is changing. This year we didn’t see the likes of clever VW print, Budweiser Lizards, or Mac vs. PC. The classic persuasion model of advertising has moved on. And perhaps sadly, humor seems to have moved on with it. Fewer people are selling, and more are sponsoring. Brands are picking a cause important to their audience and championing it. Volvo took on the idea of bike safety. P&G supported girls’ confidence as they hit puberty. And they are getting results. Maybe not everything was ‘talk-to-your-cab-driver-world-famous,’ but the trend of measuring creativity by the tangible effect it has in the world should be seen as a positive one.

These arguments are debatable, of course. As I learn with age, there rarely is right or wrong; there is only perspective and, hopefully, deeper understanding.

What am I going to talk about back from Cannes? I’m going to talk about an exciting time in advertising: agencies and clients making provocative and clever things that make the world a better place for the people who live in it. Better emergency care in Mexico (below), better highway safety in Argentina, and fewer attacks on women in Istanbul. Rather than tell someone what they already know about advertising, I’m going to share with people what they don’t know.

Maybe that’s a cheat. Maybe it’s not real advertising. Maybe it won’t pay out for brands over the long term. I don’t know. What I do know is that the debate will make us better. Not all the trends in advertising are good ones; Jeff makes important points. They aren’t all bad either. Jeff and Rich, who make me proud to work where I do, have brought more humanity, intelligence, and craft to advertising than anyone I know. And especially now, as the industry is perhaps passing through some awkward teen years, full of rapid change we don’t totally understand. We’re going to need their perspective.

So I’ll end with a simple request for Jeff on behalf of, well, the industry, I imagine. Maybe you could rethink that whole “Not coming to Cannes” thing? Attend, talk publicly about your perspective, and rally people privately. It’s not just a shame but a waste if you don’t.

I’ve been drinking rosé.

521913d72a592Brian McPherson is director of account management and associate partner at Goodby Silverstein & Partners

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