On a breezy, warm day in Cannes (are there many days not like that?), the conversation can turn to great creative and, specifically, the greatest creative we may have ever seen awarded at the Cannes Lions. Such was a day in the South of France with Keith Reinhard, Chairman Emeritus, DDB, as we had a wide-ranging conversation, most of which you’ll read about in the Advertising Week Official Guide this September. Like most good chats, there were a few detours along the way and Apple’s “1984” came up in the context of the awards themselves.
Q: What was it like your first time here (at the Cannes Lions)?
A: I first came to this event in 1984. I was the first American president of the jury. There was only one jury. It was film and press. It was a time when the Cannes Lions people appointed the jurors from each country but the jurors then elected a president. I'm an American sitting there with the Brits and the French and the Italians and whatever, and Brit nominates me for president. That was a surprise to me and a bigger surprise to Jean Claude Boulet (of TBWA/Paris) who stood up and made a speech that I knew immediately wasn't a seconding speech even though I don't understand French. What he was saying was this is a French festival and no way are we going to have a president of the jury from the United States especially one who is born in the middle part of the United States. But we became friends. I got to be president and we became friends by the end of the week. Jay Chiat and Steve Hayden (both from Chiat/Day) and Apple made it really easy for us to select the Grand Prix that year because it was 1984. “1984” was by acclamation, the Grand Prix winner.
Q: Do you think this was the best work that we've ever seen, not necessarily just from the creative perspective but from everything coming together in terms of the creativity, the zeitgeist of the time, and the moment in society at that time? Do you think that, pound for pound, that this could be considered the top creative in history?
A: I do, for several reasons. First of all, there was an old Y&R house ad that had a, cheesy illustration. It had a boxing glove, a gloved fist striking the temple of a human head. It had in bold type, “IMPACT.” The definition of impact was, "a blow to the mind to ready it for a sale.” I thought that 1984 was that — among other things. It readied my mind and millions of others for the sale because it only ran once (during the Super Bowl in 1984). The next morning, any news weekly in the United States you open up had a multi-page advertisement for Macintosh computer. I didn't even know I wanted one but I read every word. Those simple headlines, like, "If you can point, you can use this machine". A complete, beautiful demonstration of Steve Jobs' idea that you didn't have to be a techie to use these products and devices that he was doing. I thought just from the standpoint of impact, it was the best demonstration we've ever had. Then the idea of understanding, as you say, the zeitgeist of the times and the idea that IBM was never mentioned in the commercial but clearly visualized in the Orwellian sense and in the blue. I also loved the fact that it was a young woman who was (the principal in the spot). I thought it had everything. I've said that to its creators and many times. But they weren't able to follow it up. They tried something else and it failed.
Q: Isn't that funny how something can be so perfect like that. It brings up an interesting point — because in our industry, there is replication and imitation. Replication can fall flat on its face. You take a look at “1984”, and you're trying to replicate something like that. Imitation, the spirit of it, however, can disperse in a lot of different directions. Are we in a replication era in this industry or an inspiration from other parts of the industry — the “imitation” side?
A: That's a very good question. I think, maybe, it's too general to give a general answer. I think imitation is bad. We put a premium on originality. To try to imitate or emulate this or that, or this idea, or this execution would be wrong to start. Right off the bat, you're wrong in trying to imitate. This event (the Cannes Lions) has promoted a lot of imitation. That's bad. What we should be doing is trying to look at the problem. No two problems are identical. Look at the problem and how to break down that problem and solve it in an original but relevant way. I don't think we're in an era of innovation or an era of emulation. But I think there's more imitation and emulation promoted by the Cannes Festival than true innovation.
I could be wrong, though. As Oscar Wilde said, "I'm not young enough to know everything. Then again, I could be wrong.”
Enjoy a lifetime of advertising wisdom in Keith Reinhard’s book, Any Wednesday. Get a taste with excerpts at The Huffington Post. And don’t miss the full conversation in the Advertising Week Official Guide, set to be released in digital form, September 2015.
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The 12th Advertising Week in NYC beings September 28th.