Posts tagged ‘Cannes’

Want your ad agency’s employees to be smarter? Stop sending them to industry conferences.

Stephen Strong–Global Director of Interactive at Alberto Culver, connoisseur of fine beers, noted bon vivant, poster boy for all that is good and right in America and a reasonably good amigo of mine–has a post on his Platforms Optional blog called “The Ad:Tech Analysis That The Man Doesn’t Want You To Read!” Rather than quoting anything from it, I think I can best sum it up by sharing a Tweet that Stephen sent me from the floor of Ad:Tech in Chicago: 

“This thing [i.e., Ad:Tech] could use a couple bloody lips.”

Let’s be frank about advertising industry conferences. At best they are delightful boondoggles (I’m looking at you, Cannes). At worst, they’re a waste of time. I grant that there is a possibility, albeit remote, that someone somewhere has learned something of value from a speech at Ad:Tech (I say this as a former speaker at the conference). Let us be generous. Maybe even a handful of people have. But in these tough economic times, agencies should be demanding a higher intellectual ROI than conferences deliver. Add up the registration fees, airfares, hotels and meals and you can get into some fairly serious money pretty quickly. This would be OK if not for the fact that most presenters are conferences are ill-prepared, ill-informed, insipid and/or uninteresting. I should note that this is not always their fault. Conference organizers have a bizarre habit of assigning topics to presenters, regardless of whether the topic matches their area of expertise. By way of example, last year at Cannes I was put on a panel about socially responsible advertising–something I  was capable of expounding on after putting in a little study, but definitely not in my wheelhouse. (By the way, there is a special place in hell for the organizer of panel discussions–perhaps the greatest time-waste conceived since the weekly status meeting.)  

I am proposing a radical alternative that I guarantee will build infinitely more intellectual capital for every agency that adopts it, while costing a tiny fraction of what they are now spending to send people to conferences all over North America and the world. And it’s stunningly simple. Build a reading room at your agency–comfy leather chairs, good lighting, no computers or iPhones allowed, lots of signs that say “no talking.” Once you’ve done this, require every single employee to spend at least eight hours per year in it reading books assigned by his or her supervisor. The reading room must be treated as inviolable. Neither client calls nor nastygrams from accounting about incomplete time sheets may be allowed to breach its threshold. Do this and the people who emerge from the room will in every single case be more valuable than the ones who went in.

Funny thing–the people who actually have something worthwhile to say eventually get around to writing it down. The mere act of writing something down almost invariably means it is more thought-out, better argued, and more complete than the alternative we get in spoken form. Proclaiming this is heresy, of course, in the age of the image and presentation. Yet I am not about to argue that image and presentation are unimportant. What I will argue, however, is that the people who have spent time reading, absorbing and learning the wisdom contained in the great books written about advertising over a period of hours (rather than being exposed to lesser thoughts for a matter of minutes) will in every case be better prepared to leverage what they know in their work and share what they know in their own presentations. 

So if your objective is merely to reward your people, keep sending them to conferences in Vegas, Austin or Dubai. But if your objective is to make them better and more valuable, tell them to sit down, shut up and read.


September 3, 2009 at 9:25 pm 1 comment

Deep thoughts from an old master, as the advertising industry prepares to descend on Cannes.

The International Advertising Festival at Cannes, the mother of all boondoggles, the week-long orgy of mildly inebriated self-congratulation and sloppy drunken regrets, is about to open its arms and welcome into its loving bosom thousands of ad monkeys with questionable grooming habits from around the globe. And though at its heart it is most certainly a boondoggle, at the heart of it there remains a fierce competition that can make or break careers. On any given night you will find 900 people drinking at the Gutter Bar; every single one of them would slice you from ear to ear if it meant getting rewarded with a bronze lion. You don’t want to know what they would do for gold. 

As I pondered the impending scene on the Côte d’Azure, I couldn’t help being reminded of the introduction to Jonathan Swift’s Tale of a Tub:

WHOEVER hath an ambition to be heard in a crowd, must press, and squeeze, and thrust, and climb with indefatigable pains, till he has exalted himself to a certain degree of altitude above them. Now, in all assemblies, though you wedge them ever so close, we may observe this peculiar property, that over their heads there is room enough, but how to reach it is the difficult point; it being as hard to get quit of number, as of hell.

A better description of award show competition has not been written.

May 29, 2009 at 10:51 pm Leave a comment

A look in the rearview mirror at the Titanium Lion


This article was originally published in Campaign Magazine in London on July 21, 2006. In it I beat up the judges of the Titanium Lion at Cannes pretty comprehensively. I thought it might be interesting to take a look about two and a half years later to see how my argument has held up. Judging from the way 2006’s winning concept has vanished off the face of the earth, I’d say I got it right. What’s still not right, however, is the Titanium Lion, which seems to be judged by different criteria every year–not the way you build the prestige of an award or create a standard of excellence for the industry.

Tarnished Titanium

The judges at Cannes have perfected reverse-alchemy. They have invented a way to turn titanium into tin. They did this by awarding the hitherto-prestigious Titanium Lion to “Design Barcode,” a piffling idea from Japan. 

Here’s how it works. If you’re selling surfboards, put a little surfer on the product’s barcode and have him ride it like a wave. No, I’m not kidding; that’s all there is to it. It is the conceptual equivalent of dotting your “i”s with smiley faces.

Many are blaming the judges for choosing to honor such a lightweight idea, and I think they deserve it. But in our haste to point fingers, let us not forget to blame whoever wrote the rules for this years Titanium competition. When you read them, you will see that they are the product of a confused mind. Compare these passages from the rules on the Cannes Lions website. First: “Of course it’s [the idea that is] integrated. That goes without saying. Which is why this year we’ve removed the “integrated tag.”

And second: “Also this year, Titanium entries are not restricted to a set number of executions or types of channel. There’s no limit on the lengths of execution on the media used. Anything goes. For example, there may be a great media idea that only uses one channel–but if the idea is strong, it’s in.”

My dictionary defines “integrate” as follows: “to form, coordinate or blend multiple elements into a functioning or unified whole; to unite with something else. Perhaps the judges would argue that Design Barcode’s genius was to “integrate” the barcode into existing packaging. That’s like arguing you’ve “integrated” a sound effect into a TV ad.

The rules are incoherent. Perhaps the judges took that fact as carte blanche to do whatever they wanted. Theories abound.

In any case, it’s worth talking about who the client for “Design Barcode” is. It’s Design Barcode. With the exception of the entertainment industry, we already work in the most self-congratulatory business in the world. Is turning what was once regarded as one of the most prestigious awards in advertising into an award for self-promotion really a good idea?

Consider Design Barcode (the product) from a client’s point of view. Yes, it’s mildly amusing, but since Design Barcode (the company) owns the idea, it’s not proprietary to any one brand. Every time a new brand decides to put a Design Barcode on its packaging, the value of every other Design Barcode decreases, and frankly, the value was limited to begin with. This is not an industry-changing idea. This is the wind from the wings of a moth.

The Titanium Lion is tarnished. Cannes may have to move on to a different metal next year. Unfortunately, I’m not sure anyone will really want to win a Tin Lion.

February 27, 2009 at 1:30 am Leave a comment


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