Claire Beale On Advertising: Proof that we Cannes make a difference

Attendance, in the end, was down by about 40 per cent as the industry put
aside pleasure for prudence. At every turn, money is seeping out of the
business, so splashing some of it around on the Côte D’Azur was not for the
nervous. In fact, as a result, Cannes was rather more purist than usual.
This year it was a place for winners and for those agencies that have
approached the economic downturn with ambition.

Oh, and it was also a place for the big network chiefs to play trumps with
their contacts books. Really, it got a little out of hand. Publicis Groupe’s
chief exec Maurice Levy delivered Google boss Eric Schmidt as speaker; DDB
snared Barack Obama’s campaign manager David Plouffe; Young & Rubicam
offered up The Who’s Roger Daltrey and the music impresario Harvey
Goldsmith. But Euro RSCG won the biggest headlines with Kofi Annan and Bob
Geldof. If you were in any doubt, the seminars were at least as important as
who won what in the Palais des Festivals this year.

In fact, the 56th Cannes Advertising Festival has thrown the whole value of
creative awards into question. With almost half the industry bowing out, it
is easier to ask whether such glitzy affairs and the trophies they confer
have any real value in a world of unrelenting budgetary pressures and
fearsome sales imperatives.

Advertising awards generally fall into two camps: those that concern
themselves with an ad’s style, imagery, design, innovation and all the other
subjective criteria that together make it “creative” (or not), and
those that worry with whether the beautifully crafted confection in question
actually sold anything, or met any robust business criteria whatsoever.

The first sort of awards, the creative ones, oil the ad industry. Higher
salaries, tempting job offers, better assignments will all flow towards
those creatives with handsome trophy cabinets. And more advertisers spending
more money and seeking better creativity will flow towards those agencies
that employ such decorated creatives.

The second sort of awards, the ones about effectiveness, are testament to the
power of advertising to oil other industries, building brands which, in
turn, build balance sheets and strong economies.

These second sort of awards schemes are, in a recession where every penny
spent has to deliver a real return, more important than ever. They help
prove to those advertisers considering culling their campaign budgets that,
rather than being a cost, advertising is an investment.

But the awards such as Cannes that celebrate creativity pure and simple are
also more important than ever in a climate where clients are more
risk-averse and more easily tempted to consider price over quality.
Advertising is teetering on the brink of becoming a commodity, “bought”
by the procurement directors at big companies on the basis of how cheap the
ad agency will produce its work for.

But creativity, that wonderful, intangible magic that can produce the sort of
advertising that touches us (oh, and which, as a consequence of that,
actually sells us stuff), cannot be packaged as a commodity. It cannot be
costed alongside paper clips and office furniture; it cannot be purchased
simply on the basis of a cheap deal.

And that is why Cannes matters, recession or not. Seeking out and celebrating
this sort of transformational creativity has never been more vital.

Best in Show: Volkswagen (DDB London)

*Talking of awards, DDB London has bagged a few this year for its print
campaigns (Harvey Nichols and Marmite, in particular).

DDB also does fine work for Volkswagen. VW was named Advertiser of the Year
at Cannes last week, so it seems appropriate to choose DDB’s latest print
work for the German car-maker as this week’s Best in Show. The ads are
typical DDB: clean layouts, crisp copywriting, elegant art direction. But
they have few words, which is the point. VW’s eco BlueMotion cars save fuel
and cut emissions, So the ads cut words to create a simple, stand-out
message.

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