Air France Controversy: Flying Below the Radar?
I read with great interest Mark Dolliver’s critique of the Air France “ad” [Portfolio, Sept. 6]. Having worked for Air France’s agency for eight years, I was struck by the sudden shift in attitude conveyed by the headline (“Irritate the French four hours sooner”). If there’s one thing the French are not, it’s self-deprecating.
As it turns out, the “ad” was more “concept,” artfully mocked up to fool even the most discerning critics. It was never approved by the client, nor did it conform to any of Air France’s standards, graphic or otherwise. It was a stunt designed to bolster creative egos and put one over on the very community that must endlessly defend itself against “putting one over” on the general public.
The idea that creatives and agencies must resort to such promotional gimmicks is not new, but it’s nonetheless outrageous. Great advertising doesn’t live in a vacuum, absent client objectives and mandates; rather, it finds clever ways to work within the guidelines, to create exciting messages because of the challenges, not in spite of them. Air France was always generous when it came to rewarding fresh creative solutions, and we won our share of attention playing by their rules. It’s no coincidence this ad emerged after Air France announced it was changing agencies, when the incumbent had literally nothing to lose.
Every good account has a mound of great ads that were never produced. But that doesn’t give the agency license to fake the work for trade publications or award shows. My guess is the Lee Clows and Susan Hoffmans gained recognition by using their talents to help their clients’ businesses–not improve their spec books.
Alan Blum
Blum Group, New York
Rob Feakins, co-creative director at Ammirati Puris Lintas in New York, responds: During the last year, we created several posters for Air France: two when they sponsored Fashion Week in Bryant Park; another to run in bookstores when Peter Mayle’s new book came out; the fourth was “Irritate the French ” As always, we made reprints and gave them to the client. He laughed and, in fact, said, “Very cute.” We produced this work in good faith. This was not a promotional gimmick or publicity stunt.