Tuesday, June 17, 2008
Cannes Report: Day 1
Man that was a long flight. But I’m finally here in Cannes. Well, I’m not really staying in Cannes. All the hotels were booked, so I found a youth hostel in Nice just a short 50 minute bus ride from all the action.
But I’m not here to complain about my filthy shared bathroom or the Dutch stoners who stole my slippers. I’m here to report on the world’s most glamorous gathering of advertising people.
The first big winners were J. Walter Thompson-India and BBDO-NY. I wanted to interview the JWT folks about their Lead India campaign. But the entire JWT delegation was behind locked doors in a suite at the InterContinental Carlton. I tried to talk my way in, but the security staff told me that only people with serious press credentials were allowed. I pulled out a handful of Euros, but the guards just stared at me with a look of disgust that only the French can muster.
Later when I was standing in line at the Gutter Bar, I thought I saw someone inside with a BBDO-NY name tag. “Hey!” I shouted. “Do you consider your HBO Voyeur work to be homage to Hitchcock’s Rear Window?” For a second, I thought she might have heard me. But then she turned around and went back to doing body shots off the neck of a French underwear model.
With two strikes against me, I headed to the nearest dive bar to regroup. I was on my second warm Kronenbourg, when he walked in. His lanyard said he was part of the festival, but this three-day growth and faded sports coat told me that he wasn’t going to be attending any meetings. I decided to talk to him. I figured I could at least get him to shell out for a few free rounds.
Three beers later (his tab), and I had his whole story. His name was E., and he had done it all. He‘d been a writer, a creative director, a partner. He had won Clios, Lions and every other advertising award you can win. Now he was some sort of part-time consultant for a big brand agency. They were paying his tab to Cannes.
It turned out that E. had some strong opinions about the festival.
“I’ve been to 22 of these things, and every year they get more and more irrelevant. 90% of the people are just here for the free booze and food. This thing used to be full of smart people. People who knew how the world worked. Now it’s just a bunch of rich suits patting themselves on the back ‘cause one of their interns had an idea that got big on YouTube.
"The whole industry’s changing and these people have no idea what to do. They introduced a radio category in 2005. That was four years after XM had started making commercial radio obsolete. You see, new ideas scare them. New technologies scare them. So they just grasp at the old rules and try to bluff their way through the year. You want to know why ad execs like that show Mad Men so much? It’s not nostalgia. It’s ‘cause it shows a world they can still understand.”
He was starting to make sense, and that scared me. I decide to skip another round and grab a bus back to my room.
As I was heading for the door, E. called out to me.
“Hey kid, you want to have some fun? Tomorrow when you see a group of ad people whooping it up, walk up to them and say, ‘Google’.” It scares the crap out of them.