Behind the smiles and glasses of rosé

Mr Smith creative partner, Brendon Guthrie
By Mr Smith creative partner, Brendon Guthrie | 27 June 2016
Brendon Guthrie

After 26 years in advertising, it comes as no surprise that every third photo on my social media feed has recently been a view of Cannes.

The vistas were elevated, sweeping and crisply focused. From personal experience, this will have changed significantly by next Thursday. Do I miss it? Yes and no.

Anyone who says they’d rather be in the depths of a Melbourne winter than the south of France in summer probably requires more medication than just a vitamin D supplement.

But as Izzy Stradlin, who quit Guns ‘N’ Roses at the height of their fame, reportedly said after catching up with former band mates a year later, “nice to see them, wouldn’t want to be them.”

For behind the smiles and the raised glasses of rosé on the Carlton terrace is a constant, low-level stress that I’m happy to once again live without. And I say ‘once again’ because when I came into the advertising business, the awards game was played very differently.

‘Metal’ was no less coveted as the reinforced shelves in any given agency reception proved, but back then, awards were peer recognition for a job well done. The aforementioned game changed the day someone decided that winning those awards should be the reason for doing great work, rather than a consequence of it.

And when D&AD became a KPI for everyone from the CEO down, suddenly the ambitious young creative’s habit of doing a few spec ads to build the portfolio (guilty as charged, Your Honour) became a company-wide policy. To give you an idea of what that means for the average network ECD, I used to receive a bubble wrapped package from my regional bosses each year containing a beautifully framed copy of my Cannes Lion target. Much as I know this was a well intentioned exercise in motivation,

I couldn’t help but wonder where the cross–hairs on the Lion logo would eventually shift if I failed to deliver the requisite number of trophies.

I’ve worked with and for many who thrive under that sort of leadership. For me on the other hand, it turned winning at the major shows from a reward into nothing more than a sense of relief that the pressure was relaxed for the next few months.

And for others? Well, it throws their moral compass so far out of whack they navigate their way to a parallel universe where making an app that fakes the ability to rescue drowning refugees and then entering it into Cannes actually seems like a good idea. In the new reality of shrinking budgets and retainers, expensive scamming like this has to be entering its end of days.

Which is a good thing, for the simple reason that a dark age is always ended by a renaissance. One that’ll be driven by the creatives who, when I was an ECD, asked me to send them to SXSW rather than Cannes because they were more interested in what was going to happen over the next year than what was awarded from the last.

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