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Unlucky Penney: Epoch Caught With Its Pants Down

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Though Granger said he found the work to be "fun" and "beautifully done," he added that "in my mind, it's not right for JC Penney, and I wouldn't have approved it."

Credle also was impressed with the entry's beauty and cleverness. "From a filmic standpoint, there was a freshness to it," she said.

Aspiring talent often produces work on spec to demonstrate skills and launch careers. And it's possible that the Epoch spot was produced with similar intentions. The director was Mike Long, a former creative director at Saatchi who joined Epoch last year.

Matt Miller, president and CEO of the Association of Independent Commercial Producers, which includes a spec category in its annual AICP Show, said there is value to including spec work but it needs to be categorized as such. "It's important for directors," he said. "You have to keep it separate. They have to be looked at specifically for what they are -- conceived in special arrangements and a special way."

Perhaps adding a spec category to the Cannes festival would bring clarity, but as one creative director who served on another jury at Cannes this year put it, everyone knows which ads aren't real, and even winning ads are often displayed in shows as different versions of what actually ran. Indeed, it's an industry-wide problem that discredits the value of any award. "It's all bullshit," the cd said. "But people will enter and come as long as they are giving out trophies."