It's an ill-kept secret that advertising award shows are, in many ways, boondoggles.
So, while vast swaths of the industry roam the Croisette in search of Cannes Gold Lions (and more alcohol) this week, a pair of creatives at BBH New York are promoting Can Gold, a different kind of trophy aimed at reducing childhood hunger around the world.
An animated video summarizes the effort. The agency estimates advertising firms (many like itself) spent some $21 million on submissions to the competition this year—and winners will have the opportunity to buy additional trophies for team members at $1,500 each. So, Casey Schweikert and Liz Loudy are suggesting a better way companies might use that money than stroking the egos of their employees.
The result, symbolized by a golden tin can, is a partnership with global nonprofit Action Against Hunger. A donation of $45 will save the life a malnourished child, and bring him or her back to full health. For a cost equivalent to one jungle cat statue, an agency could feed 33 starving kids.
It's a brutal statistic, conveyed using an incisive pun that, though perhaps a bit wonky at first blush, cuts to the heart of one of a shameless industry's more prized rituals. And while nobody likes a party pooper, ad people love a good pro bono social cause campaign—creating a good many of them, a cynic might argue, at least in part for the purpose of entering them at Cannes.
That makes the campaign an odd little paradox. But before accusing BBH of hypocrisy, it's worth noting the agency is not exempting itself from the proverbial crosshairs. The Can Gold website urges viewers to nudge Gold Lion winners to donate—providing handy links to Twitter and Facebook handles—and BBH New York is among the suggested targets, for the Netflix House of Cards work that earned it hardware in the Promo & Activation category this week.
BBH New York chief creative officer Ari Weiss has said the campaign has the support of co-founder Sir John Hegarty and global chief creative officer Pelle Sjoenell, and that agency will not buy any Gold Lions this year, instead putting the proceeds toward Action Against Hunger's mission—according to Creativity, which first covered Can Gold last week.
Weiss also emphasized that the campaign was not intended as a slight against Cannes, citing the festival's role in helping advance careers as one of its more practical functions.
To be fair, a Gold Lion is a valuable addition to a creative's résumé, and such business conferences do have a role to play in building relationships and sourcing talent. But it's a fine line to draw between what time and money is worthy and what is wasted—and it's safe to say any value to privileged commercial artists pales in comparison to the urgency of a hunger crisis among poor and vulnerable populations.
To the industry's credit, BBH is not entirely alone. MullenLowe last year launched its own Can Your Lions project, donating the value of its trophies to earthquake relief efforts in Nepal (with McCann Worldgroup and Marcel joining in)—a feed-the-stricken effort it hopes to grow further this year.
That only leaves hundreds of other agency execs burning away millions of dollars, drowning their existential crises in rosé and reaching for a shinier brass ring during advertising's favorite sad and sunny Mediterranean parade.
Client: Action Against Hunger
Agency: BBH NY
Creatives: Casey Schweikert & Liz Loudy
Photographer: Lisa Shin