The Middle East has to learn to laugh at itself

After a week in the creative melting pot of Cannes, Ed Jones applauds the Middle East’s success but argues we are just too polite

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By  Tim Burrowes Published  July 10, 2005

The Middle East has to learn to laugh at itself|~|Jones,-Ed200.jpg|~|Jones… Laughter is the key to success|~|“I’ve won four Cannes golds,” a friend from the aristocracy of British advertising creatives tells me over lunch. “But I never even bothered to collect any of them.” This disdain for Cannes — ‘the Eurovision Song Contest of advertising’, as he describes it — is not hard to find among creative delegates. Maybe more so this year as political correctness pervaded the results, perhaps inspired by the earnest chairman of the Film and Print juries, John Hunt of TBWA Hunt Lascaris, South Africa. He prudently prefaced the jury’s many quirky decisions with the comment that: “Some of the work may not look great first time but get to understand it and you’ll see it’s great underneath.” This selectively-applied X-ray vision helped an appalling two-minute spot for Krungthai Bank of Thailand win a silver for Euro RSCG but left DDB London’s brilliant “Singin’ In The Rain” spot for VW Golf with a mere bronze — and this was after incandescent rows in the jury room were necessary even to get it included on the shortlist. Meanwhile, a hilarious piece of sustained irony, “Unaustralian” for Australian Lamb by BMF Sydney, left without so much as a dribble of gravy on its chin. Leading worldwide creative directors of big networks were left muttering darkly into their Dom Perignon about unsophisticated jurors who didn’t know their advertising history and who’d been appointed to the juries without ever themselves having won a gold. At least Wieden & Kennedy London’s beautiful and witty animated “Grrrr” for Honda did win the film Grand Prix, as widely predicted. But should Bud Light’s “Real Men Of Genius” campaign by DDB Chicago have done the same in the radio category? A genial enough series but the same old joke, without significant variations, that we have heard for years. Winners always provoke controversy but there’s none in the gloomy netherworld of the TV ‘long lists’ — the unedited recital of the entire list of entries in each category that unspools itself in several viewing theatres over the first few days of the festival before the jury’s deliberations cut it down to size. In the cars category, this lasts for more than four and a half hours. This is what I would like to take every agency’s Middle East clients to see, not the wit and glitter of the top spots (that they always applaud but always forget when it comes to reviewing our next scripts). No, I would like them to see the tedious reality of the dross and vacuousness of what is, in the apparent judgment of most agencies and clients, their very best work. To sit in those viewing theatres for a few hours is to descend like Dante into the lowest levels of sensory hell — in fact, the same hell in which real consumers without PVRs must watch their TV programmes in real life. If clients could just see how instantly a piece of original, charming, unpredictable and elegantly-crafted TV shines through the mire of the insultingly obvious and ordinary, they would surely repent and, in future, support the fresh, free and fruity. Wouldn’t they? One feature that frequently comes through the most successful advertising at Cannes but is almost always absent from Middle East advertising, is the encouragement of an audience to laugh at itself. All of us recognise they are sometimes deluded buffoons — except in our region it seems. Down our way we are all dignified and visionary (property development), dignified and cool (cars) or happy and nurturing (food). Little wonder that provoking laughter, the primary tool of seduction both in real life and in advertising, is so seldom seen in advertising produced in the Gulf. I believe it is this rather than formal censorship and restrictions — tedious though they are in some markets — that still holds us back. For Lebanon there is no excuse. Delighted though I am for Vincent Raffray and the Tonic Dubai team’s landmark “Paperclip” press gold for Sony, the joke in our region is necessarily a somewhat intellectual, product-orientated one. Compare this with the richly life-enhancing humanity of TBWA Paris’s “Fingers” ad featuring Keith Richards for EMI’s Music Piracy campaign, or the sprawling, exuberant disorder of O&M Singapore’s gold campaign for Mental Health Awareness. Why don’t we do such campaigns here? We’re just too polite. Ed Jones is creative director at Saatchi & Saatchi. For more information on the entries mentioned, go to||**||

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