Are the Oscars overrated? All that glitz and glamour and media coverage for a celebration of an industry whose total worldwide revenue, after all, hit maybe $30-billion. And what of the advertising industry? Every year, it's responsible for more than half a trillion dollars, yet its awards shows never hit the cover of People magazine or get a prime-time special.
So it's nice when there's a little bit of glamour. As part of AdWeek, the Toronto International Film Festival's Bell Lightbox will be the site of an afternoon screening on Friday of some of the most impressive winners in the Film category - what used to be known as TV - from last year's prestigious Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity. Cannes may be the only awards show on earth where a screening of winners can take you from a tear-jerking public service announcement for a South African anti-HIV organization, to a faux-infomercial for Axe show gel in which the starlet Jaime Pressly erotically fondles a pair of golf balls.
We spoke recently with Tony Granger, the New York-based global chief creative officer of Young & Rubicam, who will chair both the film and press juries at this year's Cannes Lions.
What's the point of awards shows?
If you look at the amount of media work that comes out of our industry, it's quite frightening, actually. The average commercial, the average ad content is very, very mediocre, so you really need shows to inspire the rest of the industry, and inspire new people coming into the industry to show what can be possible. Because it's so difficult to get that kind of work through.
Why is it difficult? Clients?
Sometimes it's clients, sometimes it's overreliance on research groups.
There are many evangelists in the industry for the extraordinary changes it's undergoing: TV is regarded as less important, and social media - in all its manifestations - is still growing. Is it odd, then, that there's all this attention paid - including Friday's screening - to the TV/film category?
Film now has been liberated from that box in your lounge, and has been liberated from its 15-second and 30-second shackle. Film now can live on a massive screen - 3D in a cinema - or it can live on your handheld device. People watch film everywhere. This is actually making the power of storytelling through film even more powerful, right? Because if you love a piece of film, you're going to send it on to your friends, and they're going to send it on to their friends. And film is almost combining with word-of-mouth. When advertising first started, before it started, it was all word of mouth, and now film is actually becoming the new word-of-mouth.
And it's brilliant that we can have an industry that still has traditional media but has the potential of creating completely new media. The iPad technology is going to change the way print behaves, too. Is print going to be film, or is it going to be a portal? [On a tablet device]you can interact with a car, you can turn it around, you can drive it, you can get inside it - and that's all living on a print page on the iPad. So it's an enormously exciting time, and those who are inquisitive and enthusiastic about our business are going to flourish, and those who aren't, just aren't going to be there.
What makes an award-winning ad?
When you're sitting [in the screening room]and you're watching 4,000, 5,000, 6,000 pieces of film, something that is lighthearted and beautifully executed - I'm talking about film now - tends to break through. But you know, generally the work that wins has got a point of view, and it has simplicity at its very core, and it approaches that point of view from a different place. They tend to be simple - almost missile-guided simplicity that is executed in an unusual way.
You can see some stark cultural differences in last year's Cannes winners. One spot which won silver last year out of JWT Bangkok for Muang Thai life insurance showed a man getting a phone call informing him he has liver cancer. His wife and son are shown destitute. Then the narrator says: Oh, he has insurance for that condition! And they leap up in joy. Then they're told he has something else, they fall down etc., then leap up again when they find out he's covered for that too. It goes on a few times. It struck me as something that would never fly in North America.
But there aren't a lot of winners from that part of the world, and I wonder if it's unfair to judge ads on a global basis when there are these sharp differences?
Well, it depends on your jury. Cannes prides itself on having a truly international jury. The times I've judged Cannes and other international shows, if there's a film we're scratching our heads about, the person who understands the film and can point out the cultural nuance of the film - maybe it's a historical fact, or maybe it's a story that particular country knows intimately and we don't - they're encouraged to speak out and explain to the judges why it is brilliant and why they should consider it. And that's done in a very transparent way.
How do you think awards shows will evolve over the next few years?
I think what you'll find is more of the categories will become more digital. If you read the Forrester Report, they say the digital agency of the future will be no more, and the traditional agency of the future will be no more. You know, it'll be "The Agency." [In the early days of television,]you had television agencies and radio and print agencies. That's the beauty of our business and our industry, that it keeps evolving.
You're the global chief creative officer of Y&R. That sort of title would suggest there's a Y&R 'house aesthetic,' that you oversee.
No, absolutely not. In fact, we don't want a singular aesthetic at all, because then you can see the hand of Y&R in the work. We want to have our client's personality coming through the work. So we'll do comedy, we'll do softer, more heartfelt work, we'll do racier work for certain clients. It's 185 agencies around the world, each with a local flavour, and clients that we do work for across many categories.
You were at Saatchi & Saatchi before moving to Y&R three years ago. Was the definition of great the same there under you as it is now at Y&R?
The definition of great keeps evolving, so what was great five years ago maybe isn't great now. Having said that, a truly great idea tends to have a timeless appeal. So if you look at brilliant work - like the Alka-Seltzer ad that was done so many years ago - you look at it and you go, 'Well, it looks a little dated, but my word, that idea's so brilliant, still.' Work that Helmut Krone used to do for the VW Beetle; you still look at it and you go, 'Holy God, that's brilliant,' you know? It feels a little dated, but almost kind of retro-cool dated. But still is brilliant. A brilliant idea is really timeless.
This interview has been condensed and edited.