Cannes juries shrug off issue of scam - do you?

Rosie Baker
By Rosie Baker | 3 July 2015

Cannes Lions is over for 2015. Australia took home 54 Lions, not the best year but a healthy show. Last year the issue of scam advertising flared up massively (at least in some coverage of the event) – this year, it’s very much ‘nothing to see here’ from the juries and Cannes Lions team. As they would have it, scam is a minor scourge on the otherwise glorious Cannes Lions, but behind the scenes it's a different story, with one senior creative claiming scam is still “out of control”.

Scam advertising is a concern. It always has been, and it always will be. It might not be anywhere near the heights it reached in the 90s and early 2000s but it's still there. Vanity projects built to win awards undermine the genuine work that creative and media agencies are producing. The issue gained momentum during the Cannes festival last year and continued back on home turf with Saatchi & Saatchi and DDB Sydney particularly in focus with work for Panasonic and McDonald’s respectively questioned by Mumbrella.

This year, AdNews wanted to know if the festival had taken any steps to tackle scam ads any differently that in recent years. Had anything been done process-wise to weed out these kind of entries, any additional criteria added, or the juries briefed to be ever more vigilant? The response was largely a shrugging of the shoulders from all concerned, and more than mild annoyance that the issue was being raised - again.

When asked by AdNews if the festival had taken any steps to guard more tightly this year than in recent years, following the prominent coverage in the Australian media last year, Terry Savage, chairman of Cannes Lions said (somewhat defensively): “Whether scam was a big thing last year or the Australian media [Mumbrella] made it a big deal is a different question.”

He added: “The fact is that we prepped the jury this year the same way as we do every year. They are made perfectly aware of what it is we're looking for, they are given the same set of instructions every single year. The real intent [of Cannes Lions] is to find the best work. We don't want work in the festival that isn't real. All the juries, all the presidents and the organisers are aware of that.”

What do you think? Is scam still an issue in awards shows - Cannes and beyond? Answer our poll here:

On day one of the winners announcements, AdNews asked the panel of jury presidents if scam had been a concern, and how they guarded against awarding work that has been developed solely for the purpose of winning awards, and not with a genuine client brief in mind.

Clearly the judges were all prepped to tackle questions on the subject. Without fail, all moved to downplay the existence of so-called scam ads, and even more than that, downplay that it was a big deal that impacted the awards given out.

The overall response highlighted that judges do genuinely want to award the best work in the world – and part of that criteria means pushing results for the client – however there is almost a shrugging of shoulders when it comes to tackling it, an acceptance that it has always existed and will continue to do so.

“First off we are not detectives,” quipped Pablo del Campo, worldwide creative director of Saatchi & Saatchi and president of the Press jury – a category said to be plagued with scam entires.

“But of course you can smell when something is a scam. Yes of course it is happening, but I believe we have the ability to detect and not reward this kind of work – its part of our advertising world unfortunately but I feel that have the experience [as judges] to detect that.”

The same was true of the Promo & Activation jury, with jury president Matt Eastwood, JWT worldwide chief creative officer, saying that the judges naturally steer clear of work that is obviously scam.

“Our jury was very interested in big brands doing smart things, you can see it in the Grand Prix we awarded, anything small or scammy or didn’t have scale or importance or make a big statement, we just weren't attracted to anyway. We naturally skewed ourselves to really serious, big important work, so it didn't really come up so much because we weren't interested in that work,” he said.

Eastwood went further to congratulate the festival on weeding out scam.

“I feel like congratulations to the festival, Phil [Thomas, Cannes Lions CEO] and his team did a really good job of vetting as much as humanly possible so we didn't feel like there was a lot of scam work even getting though to the judging room, which is great because it is annoying,” he said.

So the line from the judges is that scam work, on all accounts, stinks, but the juries reckon they can spot it a mile off and avoid giving it metal.

What do you think? Is scam still an issue in awards shows - Cannes and beyond? Answer our poll here:

However, other creative agency sources close to the festival have told AdNews that in some categories up to 50% of entries are work developed solely to win awards. That’s a staggering figure. It’s not one that Terry Savage is likely to own up to, but came up among creatives often. 

Another creative director commented that scam is “out of control” adding that there are creatives and agencies that have built their entire reputations on work that is essentially scam – both in Australia and overseas.
There's even the commonly accepted notion that some shops are even set up by high profile ad execs for the sole purpose of turning out award-winning work – not addressing client needs.

Now, there are two sides to the debate. On one hand work that is developed without a brief by an agency to showcase its talent, is a good way for agencies to demonstrate being proactive to their clients, and show their creative flair. It helps tune creative minds and push genuine client work. If it then gets the backing of the client, and does genuinely run in some small capacity – then it fits the criteria in principle.

But, on the flip side, an agency's job is to create work that works for clients. That fits the brand assets, guidelines, principles – and aims to drive growth, or reach objectives. If there are no objectives in the first place, it’s not work, it’s art. And awards are not an art competition. How can genuine work compete against work that has no real objectives and free reign to do whatever it likes?

Mark Duffy, the writer of the Copyranter blog, wrote in a piece for Digiday ahead of Cannes calling for the awards to be killed off on the basis of prolific scam, addressing how in the past scam was hidden from clients – but now it's something that clients are singing off on as a way to get credited for brave work without actually having to get it over the line. A step too far perhaps, but it makes the point.

Not all clients are on-board though, with one Australian client in Cannes this year telling AdNews that if work isn’t created for an objective, or to solve an issue then it shouldn’t be entered into awards.

Another contentious issue that sits side by side scam is how much short-listed and winning work is coming from charity, NGO and pro-bono clients. It's an area where agencies have more free reign to push the boundaries – because it isn’t always a paying client, and because those organisations want to make a statement. That kind of progressive, punchy work is by default more difficult to get across the line on  big corporate, mainstream brand with product to move.

Nick Emery, global CEO of Mindshare and president of the Media jury said in his jury comments that there is a gaping chasm between the work that corporates are entering and that of NGOs. It's not hard to see why and offers a somewhat unfair playing field.

The awarded work reflects the decades of experience that the judges have and with that there is an inclination towards real, effective creative work. As they say; the good will out. But without a doubt, scam is alive and well and the only people that can change that are the creatives that make it, enter it and are happy to stand up and take metal for it.

The industry seems resigned to the fact that it will forever be a part of Lions. As Savage put it: “There's no change, no reaction, we've always been vigilant about it and will remain vigilant about - but you know what? You still get cheats in the Olympics. You still get drug takers in the Olympics – you won't ever have purity in the world.”

What do you think? Is scam still an issue in awards shows - Cannes and beyond? Answer our poll here:

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