Creative: The Mane Man

Keith Reinhard takes center ring as jury president at the 46th International Ad Fest
Wearing an orange tie in support of his favorite basketball team, Keith Reinhard, chairman and CEO of DDB Worldwide, is looking forward to his plans for the evening – attending a Knicks game at the Garden. But the 63-year-old former copywriter is even more excited about Cannes, happily describing the agency’s 50th birthday bash at The Martinez Beach and the commemorative paste-on tattoos for his guests. He has much to be proud of. In the last decade, DDB agencies have won more than 200 Lions. Last year, DDB snared 34, and one of its shops, Brazil’s DM9, was named Agency of the Year. So it’s only fitting that in 1999, Reinhard is jury president of the Film and Press and Poster shows.
Adweek: You take great pride in the awards your agency receives around the world. Why are they important?
Reinhard: For [DDB], creativity is everything. It’s our heritage. Every agency has a mission statement that says, “We are about creative” and so forth. We have to honor Bill Bernbach’s legacy by maintaining a reputation for creativity, which is based on creative accomplishments. High-powered creative advertising doesn’t come from processes and systems, commitments and pledges; it comes from people. For young creative people, on whom our future depends, their currency is the awards they have won.
Adweek: Miller Lite ads won several Lions last year, but were later deemed ineffective. What’s the correlation between award-winning work and sales?
Reinhard: Our worldwide battle cry is better ideas, better results. We are not in business for the sake of innovation – the definition of creativity is useful innovation. William Somerset Maugham said, “Art for art’s sake makes no more sense than gin for gin’s sake.” We would say, “Different for different’s sake makes no more sense . . . ” But that doesn’t change the way we feel about awards. The [creative] shows have a different mission and that is to push the envelope, to raise the standard, to evolve the state of the art, and that is what should be rewarded. Do those award winners create positive results in the marketplace? Some do, some don’t. Miller Lite was one of the most rewarded campaigns of several shows last year. But that’s OK. It challenges the creative community.
Adweek: Will this year be any different?
Reinhard: I’m certain that after the first day, everybody will say, “It’s not as good as last year.” That’s been the case with every jury I’ve ever been on. The new work doesn’t compare favorably to the old because you’re looking at everything versus [last year’s] winners. By the time we reach Saturday night, we’re likely to say, “Wow, that’s really a good show.” I’m less certain we’ll see anything truly original, but then again, that’s always my worry.
Adweek: Define “truly original.”
Reinhard: When I think, “I’ve never seen that before.”
Adweek: What’s the last advertising you saw that fits that description?
Reinhard: In the ’80s, some Japanese work was truly original. What we do in this business, what we call “creative,” is to find new relationships between existing stuff. The Japanese put lightbulbs together with flowers, then had the different shapes of lightbulbs reveal themselves as different flowers, all unfolding to an operatic aria. It was not only original, it was uplifting. When I was jury president in 1984, Jay Chiat made it real easy for us with [Apple’s] “1984.” That spot had an aspect of originality to it – it was the greatest single example of impact I think our business has seen in my time. But they tried to do it again and failed with “Lemmings.” When you get it right, it’s very hard to repeat . . . The reason creative people are so defensive about their work is that, deep down inside, they are afraid they can’t do it again. This insecurity is sometimes manifested by an unwillingness to go out on a limb for something that is truly original. It’s much safer to have your heated debate within the framework of what has been done.
Adweek: Do you think you’re more likely to find that originality in TV or print?
Reinhard: Maybe we won’t see it in conventional media. Traditional creative people have not been the first to catch on to new media. A seasoned creative veteran, a winner of many Lions, said in Campaign: “Gee, I was hoping I would be retired before all this new media became a reality.” Is that another expression of our inherent insecurity, the fact that we would not be the first to embrace change, but maybe the last? I’m not president of the new media jury, but I will be looking at that work.
Adweek: There are always disagreements about the number of Lions given out or the type awarded in a category. Do you feel there should be a Grand Prix and a gold in each group?
Reinhard: You take this year’s crop and choose the absolute best. If you want to step back and review history and say, “Gee, there were a couple of lousy years in terms of the Grand Prix,” well, that’s a different exercise. I would never withhold a Grand Prix.
I don’t feel as strongly about the [individual categories]. There, I think, it would be more a matter of the work itself.
Adweek: What are you most looking forward to?
Reinhard: Just being surrounded by all these ideas that people I respect and admire have chosen to send to Cannes. Creating something of merit is one thing, having it survive in the jungle is another and getting from conception to air or to television screen or printed page is often an act of heroism. So I have tremendous respect for all of these people and for every idea that made it to France.