Bona Fide Winners

Every so often, a Cannes jury president makes such an impression on his two 22-member juries and the nearly 9,000 delegates at the festival that he’s remembered long after the last Lion is awarded and the last glass of champagne is poured.

Sometimes the memory is a bitter one, colored by feelings of disappointment and even betrayal—as with Frank Lowe, who outraged his jury members, festival organizers and attendees after withholding Grand Prix honors in both the print and film competitions in 1995. The jury president of the 48th International Advertising Festival will also be remembered for awards withheld. Yet Bob Isherwood will be cheered—for ferreting out the scam artists and refusing to honor ads that simply didn’t deserve it.

For the first time at the Cannes festival, its organizers and an out spoken jury president made fake entries, a longtime plague of industry award shows, a front-and-center issue. Isherwood, the worldwide creative director of Saatchi & Saatchi, said it was his personal mission to reward only “real ads for real clients.”

Did it work? In the end, a dozen or so ads were disqualified. Those that didn’t pass the stringent screening process, which included personal vouchers from senior staffers at each agency, were tossed out, even a few initially deemed Lion-worthy. “They ranged from ads that were entered with a different music track to ads that had never run,” says Isherwood.

Those entries certainly weren’t missed. With 6,117 film and 10,782 press and poster ads, the juries had more than enough to evaluate, the heaviest workload to date. At the end of the award ceremony for film, however, many delegates were wondering what had happened. In a tell ing barometer of global creativity, fewer ads were honored than last year de spite the increase in entries.

In total, 70 Lions were awarded in the film competition, down from 101 last year; one fewer gold was awarded than last year. A few categories, such as corporate image, home electronics and cosmetics and beauty, went without golds, and several garnered only a bronze.

The Grand Prix winner, Cliff Freeman and Partners’ Fox Sports Net campaign for the Regional Sports Report, received an overwhelmingly positive response from a comparatively subdued audience. But as with every Cannes show, several of the winners were poorly re ceived. The evening’s first gold, the Stella Artois spot “Hero’s Return,” was whistled, the Cannes equivalent of a heckle.

It was a year that rewarded strange and bizarre visuals—one ad in the Grand Prix-winning campaign shows a pseudo Turkish sporting event in which a cliff diver lands on the ground with a dust-lifting thud—but some of the more traditional ones did manage to capture the jury’s attention. From Agulla & Baccetti, Buenos Aires, came a gold-winning spot for Telecom Argentina that conveys the power of communication by showing the contagious effect of a yawn. It wasn’t one of the ads considered for the Grand Prix, but it should have been. A quick glance around the Palais revealed several gaping jaws.

A poignant black-and-white public-awareness spot out of J. Walter Thompson, London, captured a gold and a special jury medal. The Special Olym pics spot features a young man with Down syndrome talking about how “different” people make him feel when they stare. In the end he says, “It’s fantastic,” and the spot reveals him to be a sports champion.

Isherwood says the spot may well have won the Grand Prix if public-service messages were eligible. “It was such a powerful, uplifting spot,” he says. “You see a lot of the work in that category that is such a downer. This makes you feel wonderful.”

Since the spot was made available to 14 countries, including the U.S. and the U.K., it was probably seen by more people than the Grand Prix winner, which ran on Fox channels and had a limited run on spot cable.

In the end, Isherwood was happy with the resulting reel, with few re ports of disgruntled jurors. He seems to have met his goal of maintaining “honesty and integrity,” but the full effect of his efforts will be seen in years to come. Isherwood has made it clear that scam ads will not be tolerated at the premier international advertising show, and he’s taken steps to ensure that violators will be re membered. A “president’s log,” something like the bad-check blacklist at a supermarket checkout, has been created for future jury presidents, who will have their own battles to fight.