Ant Keogh on Cannes Scam: The Jury is Out

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Andt-Keogh-inCannes.jpgCB Exclusive – By Ant Keogh, executive creative director of Clemenger BBDO, Melbourne

This year I was honoured to be part of the Titanium & Integrated jury at Cannes. Before I left Australia, I had began to hear a narrative creeping into conversation, on and offline, about scam work being okay; that scam is the equivalent of the ‘concept car’ at a car show. Coming from an agency which, in the past, has tended to win awards for large, visible campaigns, even we were feeling the pressure. How do we possibly compete when so many agencies are taking the easy path?

So it was refreshing to meet the Titanium jury to find the chairman, Mark Fitzloff from Weiden & Kennedy, was vehemently against scam and determined that we weed it out. This was echoed loudly amongst most of the jury. We vowed to make sure that, at the very least, the very highest awards went to work that was real.

That goal might sound a little half-arsed but that’s because the task is so difficult. You’re working in a fog, rapidly processing hundreds of case studies, all presenting a narrative full of, at best, hyperbole; at worst, outright lies.

A fair bit of our time was – depending on how you look at it – well spent or wasted pursuing this goal; doing detective work, looking on the net for proof of legitimacy around work. It’s important to understand it wasn’t a witch-hunt and it wasn’t motivated by politics. In all but the most blatant scams, we hoped the suspicious work was real. Because we all love good ideas and much of this work was, in a pure idea-sense, great.

Sometimes we said, ‘Well that at least seems to meet the bare minimum of being real’. It was usually a fine line. Mostly we didn’t kick stuff out, outright, because you can never be totally sure. It was imprecise but all I can say is the decisions were made in good faith. I’ve never been on a jury that seemed less political.

Some high profile work, some work I loved, was left at finalist level or kicked off the list altogether. If you see something on our finalist list which won Gold at other shows, or other categories, it’s probably (but not always) a sign the jury thought it was suspicious. In fact we were scratching our heads at some other juries when they seemed to award projects that were clearly bogus. But I’m also sympathetic because I’ve been on previous juries with thousands of pieces of work and not enough time to properly scrutinise them. The Titanium jury had a little more time to dig. Undoubtedly we made some mistakes. I guarantee you will be able to pick apart the jobs we awarded. I didn’t always agree myself (but, hey, I was just one vote) but every jury makes mistakes.

Apart from the obvious, there were a number of more subtle problem areas:

Lucky Fish.jpgFirstly the ‘inventions’ or new tech that turned out to be invented by someone other than the agency. If all you did was repackage or promote a great idea, that’s okay, but don’t enter a Titanium, Product Design or Innovation category. Or at the very least make sure the actual creator of the ‘clever bit’ is front and centre of the credits.

Secondly, the jobs that were already awarded the previous year but in different categories. Officially it’s allowed but I could see it didn’t go down well with some of the judges.

CleverBuoyWater.jpgThen there was the vexed area of ‘Prototypes’. When it comes to techy work, prototyping is a necessary part of the process. It’s ‘how you do it’. But obviously agencies and clients are taking advantage of that. They like the P.R. without the risk. And sometimes that makes sense (something I’ll get to in a minute). We had two prototypes near the top of our list, the Samsung Safety Truck and Optus Clever Buoy. Both met resistance by some members of the jury.

In the case of Samsung at least there was a working model out there. You could see how in the future it could be the way it’s done. With Clever Buoy, we were assured by the agency that they are rolling it out in the near future. It will be interesting to see if they are true to their word. Many other ‘prototypes’ fell by the wayside.

But I think there is a legitimate use of prototypes: this is prototype-as-publicity-stunt. With this approach, if the publicity stunt lands, it equates to real money for the client, through earned media. Take ‘Funderwear’ from a couple of years back as an example. In this case they only made one pair of underwear. It was expensive. But it wasn’t intended for a ‘real’ audience to use. It was created to cause a stir. A publicity stunt in the old fashioned sense. And it garnered thousands of dollars worth of free media. What I’m worried about is all the other ‘publicity stunts’ that didn’t garner much of an audience beyond the ad industry, or worse still, award juries.

So where are we headed?

JEFF GOODBY Guest Speaker at Siren Awards.jpgI think this year I noticed the start of a backlash against scam work. High profile creative leaders such as David Trott and Jeff Goodby (left) made their positions clear. I wonder if the outdoor Grand Prix, Apple’s ‘This was shot on an iPhone 6’ campaign, was also a vote against scam. I heard people categorise this choice as dull, but I could imagine, as a judge, that the outdoor jury, faced with a wall full of dubious work, chose the high profile business-changing real work for a big brand.

But, equally, there’s evidence this year, as always, that scam work is paying off for agencies. The truth is some networks, some agencies and some countries are ‘better’ at scam. If your jury president comes from one of these cultures it stands to reason scam is going to slide through more easily.

In the rules of Cannes, it clearly instructs the jury not to award work that is ‘made for the sole purpose of winning awards’. But unless juries get vigilant, that ideal isn’t going to take hold. For that to happen the industry has to agree that scam is making us look irrelevant, self indulgent and a bit pathetic.

I’m not sure everyone agrees.