07/17/2009 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Cannes Demonstrates the Shifting Ad Landscape

The International Advertising Festival in Cannes is scheduled to begin in less than a week and advertising critic and chaos theorist, Bob Garfield, is not looking forward to it judging from his column in Advertising Age today. Says he:

They should give Crispin Porter & Bogusky every statue on Monday and send everybody to the airport. Gold. Silver. Titanium. Plutonium. Whatever.

Because first of all, apart from Burger King, the advertising year was a black hole worldwide. Besides, at this stage of Cannes' history, what's the point?

The heart of advertising has gone out of the :30 second commercial, the death of creative at Cannes seems nearly final -- or so it may appear. Of the 50 award front runners, reliably compiled over the years by Leo Burnett, Garfield reports that only 29 of them are TV commercials. The remainder are a mish-mash of online and offline submissions which by their nature have a hard time making us laugh or cry and, so, a hard time getting us worked-up enough to think happier thoughts about the state of advertising creative in the world today. If we are in Cannes, we will feel better going to the beach.

I'd have to go back and read it carefully again (which I'm not prepared to do just at this moment) to see if Bob Garfield spoke about progress when he launched his Chaos Scenario on the ad community. Clearly, advertising feels the rip-tide effect of significant changes that have been underway for a couple of decades. But is it chaos and disaster or progress? Can advertising reconstitute itself, creatively, in a post-film commercial world?

It can, but we must re-learn advertising creative -- how to make it and how to experience it. At the moment, the un-tangling from TV commercial know-how has not been replaced with the know-how to make effective advertisements for an online and mobile world. The switch from one to the other is not automatic for any of us, creators or consumers. And, it is impossible that it would be, of course, given that big changes of the sort that have been taking place in advertising and media happen only one way: generationally, as one generation hands off to another.

The heirs-apparent of the TV generation were just getting comfortable in their corner offices when the creative protocols of New Media advertising descended on them. These were people that spent years navigating their way to those offices by dutifully absorbing the wisdom of their elders and, now, not enough of what they'd learned would pay for what they needed in a post-TV world. Worse for them -- and us -- finding what they needed might require asking the younger, dues-paying generation coming-up behind what they'd recommend, which old-timers everywhere are loath to do (and which the smugness of new generation-types doesn't usually help).

One should not be surprised, then, that having to face forward and then backwards for advice and direction during their careers would make the current, transitional generation of advertising professionals feel irritable and less-fulfilled. The business ain't what it use to be, or ought to be. As such, we won't begrudge anyone a few trips to Cannes to wait out change on the beach. But we won't be surprised, either, to find only 29, not-altogether-decent TV commercials and, then, a majority of other entries that we don't fully understand, or warm to. We are leaving one art form behind while we learn another and our heart's not completely in it.

We can't have long to wait, however, before the ones and zeros of a digital age are making our creative motor go. Steve Ballmer, CEO of Microsoft, is going to be named Media Person of the Year at the Cannes festival next week, an unlikely prospect even a few short years ago when Microsoft was still in the software development business.