Is Cannes Festival of Creativity really awarding the best creative?

Back in 1997, TBWA\Chiat\Day released what would become the second benchmark (after 1984) to Apple's long-storied timeline of making what is considered to be some of the greatest advertising ever by the ad industry.  "Here's to the crazy ones," that manifesto set atop a ton of borrowed interest had the audacity to compare making well-designed overpriced computers to being as brilliant as Einstein and important for humanity as Martin Luther King Jr and Gandhi and as artistically important as Bob Dylan. This black and white bit of arrogance ended in the grammatically incorrect "Think Different.," and launched a thousand and one more Apple ads all featuring celebrities, artists and politicians. 

Martin Luther King in the "Think Different" campaign.

Naturally this campaign which ran for a few years won tons of awards, including at Cannes. And while that great annual French wankery competition is known as much for its debauchery as it is an annual mea culpa for awarding ads that are fake, it's hard to remember that once it was about craft and originality.

I wonder if it dawned on any of the judges that they were awarding WK and Nike a Grand-Prix for its billboard featuring Colin Kaepernick in black and white with a platitude that was summed up better back in 1997 for another brand. Nike even named the campaign, "Dream Crazy." Surely that must have been a tip-off?" 

No matter how you try to justify it, Nike's billboard is a rip off in execution, and intent. In fact, there are only slight differences between the two. But it's those slight differences that say as much about the brands as they do what is considered good advertising in 2019.

As arrogant as Apple's advertising is, leading up to this year's Lion winning Behind The Mac campaign that featured (what else?) celebrities in black and white, at least with Think Different they were putting people on a pedestal who had made a significant change to culture. Kaepernick's contribution, is middling at best. He "became the face of a movement," and "started a conversation," which has already been forgotten, and also divided and already divided country, not to mention alienating some football fans who saw the last apolitical refuge taken away from them. Strange way to take a victory lap.

But Nike is savvy when it comes to getting attention. And since they couldn't get attention for Kaepernick as a quarterback who between 2015-2017 was one of the least accurate quarterbacks in the NFL, then I guess touting his political stance was the next best thing especially since they'd been endorsing him since 2011.

Cannes 2019 might also be known as a quiet tipping point for so-called "woke-washing," where brand heads are finally questioning the efficacy of cashing in on socially conscious times in an effort to make a buck. Alan Jope, head of Unilever cautioned against those who jump on the bandwagon in an effort to increase sales without putting thought into action. And as a slight digression, brands should realize that even when you are meaningful it might still backfire. Consider that just last month Marks and Spencer launched an LGBT sandwich in time for Pride which caused some divided reaction despite the company trying to raise money for charity.

The most egregious (and unintentionally hilarious) example in recent memory of woke-washing is that atrocious Pepsi ad featuring Kendall Jenner handing a Pepsi to a cop. Though this ad was never going to be in contention for a Cannes Lion the ad was no different in its cynical desire to capitalize and profit from the times. It was the same as Nike, only clumsier in execution.

Nike has a history of laughing all the way to the bank. Just a few short years after Think Different ended, Buzzfeed co-founder Jonah Peretti trolled Nike by attempting to get place an order for a custom shoe which read "Sweatshop," as some comment on the fact Nike uses sweatshops to make its shoes.  Nike declined to accept his order. But while the email exchange between Peretti and Nike went viral, it did so to the benefit of Nike who saw an increase in sales thanks to all that attention.. Peretti, meanwhile  has gone on to enrich the world with clickbait and listicles and all the while treating its employees like they work in a sweatshop, if the Glassdoor reviews are to be believed. Peretti even tried to justify a decision not to pay out laid-off employees for unused vacation days, before finally relenting.

It's hard to know whether the fault in Cannes lies with award show judges who have short memories and either don't know the history of advertising or don't care that Nike's ad wasn't an original idea, or whether the caliber of advertising was so slight this year that this really was the best of the bunch. But if this is Cannes has to offer, perhaps it's time to think different about it.

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Tom Siebert's picture

Anybody who looks at the Lyin's Grand Pricks this year can see that it was all about desperately pushing a failing narrative of virtue signaling and division. It's a bunch of not-too-bright spoiled narcissists insisting they still matter while everybody outside their bubble either ignores or laughs at them.

Dabitch's picture

The old truth that any headline that ends with a question mark can be answered with "No" strikes again.

Sport's picture

I never realized that the Nike ad was basically "Think Different" but with sports celebrities. I just thought it was drab.

Nolans's picture

This was a terrible year following many terrible years, creativity-wise.