The Gutter Bar, 4am. My Laird, Charlie McKelvey and I are both sporting kilts in the McKelvey tartan (as a ‘bonded retainer’ I am entitled to wear it). The Laird is explaining how the Police Judiciare have introduced this new one-way system outside the bar (after the unfortunate injuries of 2015) to a beautiful account person from a leading agency who is cross-eyed with rosé wine and boredom.
There is a jangling noise audible above the braying, hooting, clanking and shattering noises that rise high into the Provencal air above the Gutter Bar. It is the sound of the Adam & Eve DDB team dragging a vast, golden sack containing seventy-six (76!) trophies through the streets and back to their luxuriously appointed Bond-villain lair behind the Croisette.
A debonair gentleman in a white three-piece suit is elegantly sipping a glass of something mysterious, little finger aloft, and expatiating to an adoring and extremely diverse group of doe-eyed, young agency people how Cannes ‘really must start to embrace LGBTQ rights’. Sir Ian McKellen (for it is he) glances across at Charlie and cocks a quizzical left eyebrow at the extemporized ‘Gaelic/Erse Highland/Lowland Fling’ that he is performing for the benefit of a group of grizzled and baleful-browed digital print executives as he flings confetti in the form of cancelled charity lottery tickets from his sporran.
A repetitive squeaking cuts through the gaiety as Sir Martin Sorrell wheels a Monoprix trolley full of cash along the Croisette wearing a handsome, satin sash bearing the legend ‘PUT WOMEN IN CHARGE OF TRANSFORMING YOUR BUSINESS’. He beams vaguely at us like a benevolent uncle with a huge, dark potting shed.
As the blue, velvety night is spangled with a thousand brilliants, an immense gloom descends upon me that no amount of rosé seems to assuage. What’s the point of it all? The braying and the hooting, the ghastly ape-like men with their uniform of chino-shorts, deck-shoes and flowery shirts and their aroma of alcohol, entitlement and Eau Sauvage, the horrified youngsters, the shameless braggarts, the resigned and tolerant account people, the blare, the endless hurrying from yacht to terrace to foyer to screening room? O tempora! O mores!
So hats off to Publicis Groupe!
As you will of course know, they have announced that they are withdrawing from all marketing activity and are entering no further awards (apparently so that they can concentrate on developing an AI called Marcel (me neither)).
The ‘why’ leaves me untroubled but the ‘what’ fills me with great joy.
Because here we are again in the real world where clients view an agency’s (and specifically its creative director’s) desire to win awards with a deep and abiding suspicion.
Yes of course your client wants to go up on stage and pick up the shiny bauble and shake the hand of the tired comedian and brag on social media – but were you to offer the majority of clients a choice between a Cannes Lion or a Caples or a DMA Award (I know I am lumping apples and oranges in with potatoes but then I have at least one of each (awards not fruit & veg)) – sorry – a choice between an award and a 2 – 4% sales uptick, or an increased retention rate, or a 3% decrease in churn, or a 5% cross-sell-surge – I’m pretty confident which they would choose.
And lets face it (NSFW ALERT) what is an award ceremony but a vast, homogenous, necessarily-masculine circle-jerk?
I am always happy to celebrate creativity in all of its many guises but as I wander now disconsolately along the Croisette in the rosy dawn having lost one shoe, I cannot help but think that the festival has gone the way of its big brother in film: wilfully conferring Palmes d’Or on Slovenian fairytales of lost prosthetics, Turkish heavy-metal documentaries and ‘I Daniel Blake’ time and time again – whilst curling its fastidious lip at Amazon and Netflix and dismissing any film that might do well at the box office.
I am delighted by the fresh, new creative ideas coming from South American, Nordic and Far Eastern agencies – I assiduously follow Lürzers Archive – and in my (ahem) private life I am an effete elitist inhabiting a tall, slender, wand-like Nabokovian Ivory Tower – BUT WE ARE OBLIGED TO SHIFT BOXES otherwise what is the point of us?
Publicis Groupe are coming in for more heavy flak than a wounded Lancaster at 1,000 feet above Bremen in 1944 – from the usual suspects, horrified at the two fingered salute they have given to the agency world’s annual office party, but I like their style.
Perhaps an AI called Marcel will deliver those incremental 2 and 4% figures that will gladden the hearts of bean counters everywhere – but we creatives need to remember that those tiny increments pay our ludicrous salaries and do not preclude us from creating an advertisement that begins as all great, first client presentations should ‘Camera up on deserted Hawaiian Beach’.
An exquisite blonde woman is waving to me from the balcony of the Majestic Barriere.
No she is waving at someone else.
Perhaps I shall find somewhere cool in the sand underneath a beached catamaran…
Jonathan Spooner is consulting creative director at Spoon Creative