Cannes again! The rest of the world will have spent the week
watching ads in a dark room; taking notes on new techniques, hot
directors and competitor activity, both client and agency.
And then there are the Brits. We’ll swan in for the end of the week.
Not, of course, because we want to watch the shortlisted films, but
because our mates will be in the bar that night - and, oh yeah, it’s
England v Colombia on the telly.
Actually, we’re not as bad as we used to be, possibly because we’re not
as good as we used to be - if you follow my drift. True, the UK will
probably walk away with more lions than anyone, with the possible
exception of the US, but the quality gap is narrowing as other countries
get better. Why should advertising be any different to football,
cricket, ship-building or cars?
In this case, I don’t believe, contrary to conventional old-lag wisdom,
we’re getting any worse. BMP DDB’s VW ads will surely lead the way this
year, with Leagas Delaney’s ’Perfect Day’ for the BBC and Simons
Palmer’s excellent ’parklife’ spot close behind. They’re as good a bunch
of leading contenders as we’ve ever had.
The gap is narrowing because we have much to learn from other
It was ever thus - it’s just that it never used to matter in a business
context when national clients dominated.
The low-budget knockabout humour of the best Scandinavian - and
particularly Norwegian - advertising stands out. So does the narrative
excellence of the best Dutch advertising such as Centraal Beheer. There
is something to learn from the in-your-face directness of some of the
South American work - even the much-derided ads for media owners. You
have to be direct when you are setting yourself up against crafty,
manipulative politicians as a reliable voice of truth. The 15 seconds
that most Japanese ads have in which to attract attention can teach us
something about how to get noticed in clutter.
As important is learning about what doesn’t work. In a past Cannes
column I mentioned the stupefying experience of sitting through the car
category, and trying to remember one three-quarter shot of a sleek car
on a windy mountain pass from another. Make your client sit through all
three hours, or an hour spent whizzing into the insides of a computer,
or ’enjoying’ what your bank can do for you.
Lord Leverhulme, or whoever it really was, got it wrong when he
suggested half the money spent on advertising is wasted. The Cannes
experience suggests it’s more like three-quarters. It also teaches you
to treasure the quarter that does work. And, if the Brits don’t make it,
the globalisation of the business means someone else will. Why, indeed,
should advertising be different from football, cricket,