By Jean Grow
This post originally appeared on ‘Cultural Geography’ blog during Dr. Grow’s summer 2011 trip to Italy.
It has been a few months since Cannes. I needed time to think. This was my first visit to Cannes, but not my first to advertising awards shows. I’ve been in and around the ad industry for years. In the end, I think, awards shows are awards shows. They may get bigger and more expensive and express a global venue – but little changes.
Hip. Casual chic was everywhere in the same timeless way advertising hip has been demonstrated for years – jeans and tee shirts with funky shoes. Of course, as it was Cannes and so the optional khaki shorts and sandals appeared. Youth, the iconic marker of hip, was also abundantly apparent and, as usual, encouraged by the excessive flow of alcohol. Hip translated smoothly from people to images and ideas. But, this too was not new. Youthful hip is a perennially postmodern phenomenon bred within and well articulated by advertising.
White. For as global as our world has become the advertising images were inherently western, even if the agencies were from Singapore or San Paolo. In print small logos, resting quietly in the lower right corner, with minimal copy along side small headlines and dominant visuals predominated – just as they have for years. There were winners from Brazil and India, and China snagged its first gold lion, but most were from global multi-national agencies who have moved into emerging markets anxious to help spread global capitalism. Despite the diversity of winners almost everyone was a polished hip western, “white.” For a global marketplace it was discouraging to see such homogenous blending of constructed shades of white.
Men. They were everywhere, just like in the agency world where they make-up virtually 80 percent of all creative departments. The judging panels continued to play out the 80/20 game – perpetuating a style and a way of working that is defined by masculinity and not by the people who make the lion’s share of consumption choices – women. The surprise, though it should not have been, was the “New Directors Showcase,” with 17 new directors – all men, if my memory serves me correctly. Here too history repeated itself with hyper-masculine imagery of boyhood remembered, violence, and sex, with a few rare exceptions. Of the 17 directors only five featured female characters and of that four were sophomoric and sexualized representations. The greatest differentiating factor was the dazzling technological executions.
iPhones. Make that iEverything. This group of influencers is infatuated with all things Apple. This too, is not a surprise. Millward Brown, in its annual valuation of global brands, named Apple number one – by a mile. Apple’s change in value from 2010 to 2011 was 84, nearly 4 times greater than its nearest competitor (McDonalds). Its brand value was nearly 50 percent higher than the number-two brand (Google). Apple has become the iconic symbol of hip and the ultimate technological tool for social connection – embraced with gusto by advertisers as they chase after consumers driving social change through technology.
This seems a story with a predetermined ending. Apple makes the products that enables creatives to make creative executions, while creatives embrace the products that Apple makes. Which takes me back to where I began. Hip, white men create advertising, which (ironically) speaks to hip white men – who award hip, white men – who hire hip, white men – who…
Jean Grow is an Associate Professor of Advertising in the Diederich College of Communication at Marquette University. All photographs copyright Jean Grow.