Wednesday, August 5, 2009

The purple lady.

I haven't been writing very regularly this month.
The first rule of blogging, I think, is to keep blogging regularly.
It is a "log" after all.
Captain Kirk would be horrified (this is a weak Star Trek in-joke which should probably be edited out).
If I were a newspaper I would be a bi-monthly, not much use to anybody really.
I haven't really felt like blogging because I have been sad. My grandmother died. She was 93 and she was marvelous. Which at 93 is tricky, believe me.
Death is a bit like an airport. It brings you into contact with a whole lot of people you wouldn't normally want to meet.
In my bleak state I drove to Martins Funeral Home. I was greeted by a woman named Annaikie.
She wore purple flowing robes and purple shoes topped off with a multitude of silver chains around her neck. She could have gone straight to a Rocky Horror party after work without even changing. She was ever so sweet, which I needed in my dazed-grieving-exhausted state.
At the end of our exchange, which lasted about 40 minutes, she got up and led me through to the display of coffins in the back room. It's a strange thing this. To take a person experiencing the loss of a loved one and say "well let's go and choose a lovely box for them then".
The people who make coffins are clearly an uninspired bunch. Who can blame them really. Still, one would think they could make a bit more of an effort. How many fake brass rings can a man take ? Needless to say I didn't dally.
As I made my way home through the dark surrounding suburbs, past the panel shops and exhaust clinics and gas refillers, I thought about my gran.
"Bloody awful" she would have said about all of this.
And she would have been right.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Another day in paradise.

A few of us are in a bit of a state at work.
We have discovered that our hold music is Phil Collins singing that questionable classic Another Day in Paradise. Nothing else, just Phil. There is no rotation system of questionable late 80's love songs, perhaps a Michael Bolton number or two thrown in for good measure. No. Only Phil Collins, banging away, call after call. Whether this has been the case since the song hit number one way back in 1989 is not known. If so then we are in serious trouble. We are an ad agency. We are supposed to be very "current" and "with it". We are all on Twitter, even though we don't know what it does really. We buy fashion magazines printed in Iceland for 180 bucks at Exclusive Books and then leave them showily around the office to prove our edginess
The fact that people: our clients, suppliers, prospective clients, journalists, model bookers, have been forced to sit through this, possibly for nearly 20 years now, is a bit sad really. You could call it oversight I suppose. But it feels a bit like leaving a dead cat in reception for 20 years so everyone can see it and then saying "oh, how did we miss that ?".
Now, I'm not one to knock old Phil. I think Face Value was one of the best albums of all time.
Hell, Another Day in Paradise is number 86 on Billboards Best 100 songs of all time.
Carol, one of our Account Directors, furiously pointed 0ut that she had noticed ages ago and said something but nothing had been done. Shit. She also observed that every day was not really Another Day in Paradise, especially in the ad industry, where everything generally goes to hell by about 10.15 every morning. So we will change it soon. There is fury and embarrassment and consternation. Now we just have to decide what to play next. It's a big decision.
After all, people could be hearing it for 20 years.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Flu and pseudoephedrine

I have flu now. I am not supposed to have flu because I had a flu shot. Yet I have it.
The same thing happened last year, so I marched into the chemist to complain.
He told me that they'd "put the wrong strains in the vaccine". God.
It seems the people in charge of the flu shots are the same lot that do the baggage at the airports.
Now, a bout of flu is normally good enough reason to stay at home and eat fistfuls of Maltesers washed down with Corenza C while vacantly watching Tour de France replays.
Alas though, I had commitments.
So I medicated. I took something called Advil. I haven't taken it before. Advil contains pseudo ephedrine which makes your pupils dilate and causes you to talk very fast and frequently. You feel pretty good actually, probably better than simple flu medicine should make you feel. I would imagine Advil is pretty popular with people who don't have flu at all. People who like trance music perhaps.
I had to give a talk at work and I'm not altogether sure it went that well. It was long and rambling and I talked very fast about not much. I suspect my eyes were darting around like a drug mule in an airport. As a flu medication Advil may be marvelous, but it plays havoc with your career.
Today at work I talked ever so slowly to try and make up for yesterday. Not sure if anyone actually noticed, they were too busy talking about Michael Jackson's memorial service. Lots of people thought it was marvelous and poignant. Some said they would definitely buy the CD. It is a fitting full stop at the end of a very strange life, I think, to have the CD of your memorial service go Double Platinum. I did think that the completely nutty Reverend Al Sharpton was great though, with his machine-gun- double-time-baptist-preacher eulogy thingy. Maybe they have Advil in LA too.

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Oh look, a Beagle.

I'm back.
It's a bit of a shock being airlifted out of the French Riviera after two weeks of gluttony and information overload. No more Maltesers for breakfast. No more rude French people attached to poodles. No more celebrity spotting. Unless you count seeing JP Duminy in the departure lounge at Heathrow. While waiting for my luggage at Cape Town International I noticed a lady with a little Beagle hanging out by the carousel. This was strange until I worked it out.
"Sniffer dog?" I asked.
"Yes, drugs and agricultural products."
Ten years ago this encounter would have sent me into a sweat straight out of Midnight Express. Fortunately my days of red eyes and eating Milo straight out of the tin while watching Teletubbies at 4am are over.
So I patted the Beagle, who was very friendly despite my non-possession of agricultural products.
Now that I am home I face innumerable dilemmas.
The first, my emotional-airport-coming-home-epic-moment, was ruined by my son James who failed to recognise me and seemed much more interested in the ceiling of the Arrivals Hall.
The second : what is the purpose of this blog ?
After all, it was set up to record my comings and goings at Cannes.
Anyhow, I have decided, in an uncontrollable fit of literary vanity, to carry on.
I am not sure what I will talk about. Some vague purpose will come to mind though.
Today perhaps, it is to be the one person on earth not writing about Michael Jackson.
Although I just have.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Bob Geldof is angry.

Yesterday, in the cavernous Hall Debussey of the Palais du Festival, Kofi Annan and Bob Geldof spoke about the end of the world. Kofi Annan spoke first. He was very sweet and gentle and diplomatic, which has probably stood him in good stead for the past decade. After all, you can't come on too strong when you're chatting to a Sudanese government-backed rebel with a rusty bread-knife between his teeth and a Kalashnikov.
After Kofi a well-meaning gent from JWT spoke about their new ad campaign, which is designed to make everybody convince the politicians to sign the Copenhagen agreement. It was crap. The mere fact that we have to do something to convince politicians to sign the Copenhagen agreement, thereby setting in motion a chain of events that, just maybe, might save the world, well, that's just sad beyond belief. As it is they'll probably all arrive in Copenhagen and meet over coffee and collectively sigh and then say "oh, lets not save the world today, we can deal with global warming for a bit longer, ta ta." That's the sort of insane decision politicians make every day. Then Bob Geldof spoke. Bob Geldof is very, very angry. He is also very, very smart.
First of all he slagged off the guy from JWT for his naff ad campaign. Then he turned to us and laid out a few facts about global warming and the end of the world as we know it.
The cynical ad guys, who obviously know everything and don't really care about saving the world unless it can win them a Silver at Cannes began to sit up and listen.
It was, without a doubt, the most compelling, moving, inspiring and powerful speech I have heard in years. Go Bob.
It was a bit of a celebrity studded day actually. I saw Spike Lee talk a bit earlier in the day about user-generated media. Then I spoke to someone who had seen Roger Moore having lunch. While this does not technically count, I think the mere fact that Roger Moore, the James Bond of my youth, was here is significant.
I saw the film shortlist yesterday and it was great, as it always is. It was shorter than previous years too, which meant only 5 hours of viewing, ending with a series of social services commercials that left me wandering the sunny streets of the Riviera feeling all dark and gloomy.
There's nothing like 7 Australian Road Safety ads to mess up your mood.

I will be leaving this morning. I am going to miss it. I will miss having handfuls of Maltesers for breakfast, my wife won't let me do that. I will miss the unhelpful concierge, who has actually helped me a few times now. I will miss all the incredible work and the lovely, smart people from all over the world I had the privilege of meeting.

It will be good to get home to my tolerant, patient, beautiful wife. And see my tiny boy who is bravely pushing out his first tooth and needs his daddy to dance with him again to Louis Prima in the kitchen.

I have liked being the Good Guy Across the Street, even though I stole the name from my friend Gordon, who was going to use it as the name for his start-up agency. Sorry Gordon.
I hope a few people have been reading.
I may even carry on when I get home.
Although I'll have to ask Gordon if I can carry on stealing his name.
Here's hoping.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

I am slowly turning red and bumpy.

We won something.
Which means I no longer have to consider throwing myself in front of a Citroen. It also means I can hang out with all the South Africans who have won heaps of Lions and not feel a bit akward when they ask me how things are going.
At last nights Press and Design awards Ogilvy Cape won a Bronze Lion for Volkswagen and Ogilvy Joburg won two Silvers for Nike and Greenpeace. We were the best SA agency on the night.
It was all good.
It also, for a short time anyway, caused me to forget about a mysterious condition that has caused me to come out in red itchy bumps. Everywhere. And I mean everywhere.
To avoid a humiliating interaction with a rude, unhelpful French physician I turned to Google.
I typed in "red" and "itchy" and "bumps".
For good diagnostic measure, and on the recommendation of my new Swiss friend, Pious, I cross referenced this with the word "allergy".
According to an obscure Google source I have developed a seafood allergy. This makes sense. Since arriving I have subsisted on nothing but Scallops and Maltesers. Not together mind you.
Generally I have handfuls of Maltesers for breakfast (they go really well with French coffee) and then eat Scallops for lunch and dinner. I like Scallops a lot. So it's a great pity they don't like me.
Perhaps its just French Scallops - a specific sort of rude, nasty, uncooperative type of Scallops.
I hope so.
Today I looked at all the Press and Outdoor winners plus all the Design pieces. It's quite something to be able to stroll through a hall and look at all of the world's best advertising work in just a few hours. There was some great, great stuff. The only abomination seemed to be a truly horrendous campaign for Wrangler that won the Press Grand Prix. Maybe it's just me but it looks for all the world like the Press jury went on an extened journey up their own rectums while choosing the grand prize. Hope they make it back in time for the closing party.

Tomorrow is the release of the Film, Integrated and Titanium Shortlist. I will spend about 8 hours in a dark room looking at the best TV the world has to offer this year.
Lovely. And not a Scallop in sight.
Although I might have a few handfuls of Maltesers.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

A 5000 trillion dollar budget.

I attended the Outdoor and Radio Awards ceremony last night.
I was resplendent in brown and pink. In France it is quite acceptable to be resplendent in brown and pink. A rumour went around (as they do here) earlier in the afternoon that South Africa had won a Grand Prix for Radio and another for Outdoor. And we did. Network BBDO won the big prize in radio for their Virgin "Insanity" campaign. Then Hunt Lascaris Joburg won 4 Gold lions plus a Grand Prix for their Outdoor idea for The Zimbabwean newspaper. For those of you who haven't seen the Zimbabwean campaign - it's brilliant - they pasted trillions of dollars of worthless Zimbabwean banknotes onto billboards and gave them out as flyers to highlight the pitiful state of the country. There was much ululating and flag waving and tequila drinking. I hung around on the fringes of the celebration shouting Vrystaat every now and then in the vain hope that people would think that I to had something to do with all this brilliance. Alas our Finalists last night proved to be about as appealing as an SAA hot breakfast (the one with the dodgy sausage). Maybe tonight, as Bob Seger and the Silver Bullet Band once said. Here's hoping.

The previous evening, let us not forget, was the Promo and Direct awards ceremony. The final swansong of the great and glorious Cannes Lions 2009 Promo Jury. Cue rapturous applause and frilly underwear being flung and loud American golf spectators from Kentucky shouting "get in the hole", OK maybe not them. The work, the best of which we chose from 1300 entries, was well received.
The Grand Prix was a remarkable idea. A Promotional Campaign for the Japanese City of Yubari which uncovered a brilliant insight and had a fairytale ending. A real story for our times.

South Africa won nothing in Promo or Direct. Costa Rica did. Lebanon did. South Africa didn't.
If the Promo and Direct categories were Football we would be Andorra.

You can check out all the winners on There may also be photos of the glorious Promo Jury doing their work. I miss them. Its not often you get to hang out with 17 bright, funny people from 17 different countries. I have jury withdrawal already. I wish we could just be the Promo Jury for ever.

Anyhow, off to lunch now with Paul Smith (no, not that Paul Smith) the Creative Boss of Europe Middle East Africa Region of Ogilvy. He will drink 2 bottles of expensive, crisp, ice-cold Rose and then stare into the middle distance (which will be a very attractive middle distance, probably including a turquoise sea and a few large boats, this being Cannes) and then tell us that we haven't done well enough and that we are shit and that we will have to do better next year.

And we will.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Its all a bit much really.

There is a lot going on here all of a sudden.
For a week Cannes has been relatively peaceful. Just myself and 50 or so other jurors pinging our PDA's and voting in air-conditioned rooms. Of course there were the French too, walking their poodles and generally being rude and unhelpful to anybody who attempted to interact.
But it was pretty quiet. Harmonious even.
Now, within 24 hours, the streets are filled with 6000 creative people from over 100 countries.
It is the world's biggest "Who's got the coolest t-shirt" competition. They are all very determined to GET FREAKIN' WASTED DUUUUUDE.

Anyhow the noble folk of the promo jury finished up yesterday.
The last day of judging was a marathon 12 hour session to award Cannes Lions. There was lots of heat. Lots of resorting to stereotype too, which was funny. Aussie judge being quite dry and relaxed. Spanish and South American judges being all fiery and passionate ("ees Gold or notheeng"). Russian judge being surly and threatening. British judge being a bit moany but also witty. Swiss judge being incredibly balanced and precise. German judge firm and loud and pushy. South African judge being heroic, wise, quick-witted, convincing, intelligent, likeable, considerate and erudite. At the end of it all we gave the Grand Prix to a truly astounding piece of work. It was quite goose-bumpy stuff voting for it. Of course I can't tell you about it yet. Although we did have a press conference, complete with flashing cameras and microphones and stacks of journos asking tricky questions.

Our agency has a few Finalists too, which is good. We have not done as well as we had hoped, but
there is no reason yet for me to go and throw myself in front of a Citroen. That I will do later in the week if we don't win. Or maybe just let a Citroen drive over my foot.

I have just been to my first seminar. The guy who invented Twitter spoke.
Which in these times is a bit like hearing Alexander Graham Bell chat about inventing the telephone. He looked like he had just come off the day shift at Blockbusters.
He calls himself Biz. He said he would not sell his company if offered a billion dollars. Which says a little about how important Twitter may become in our lives.
Last year there was a small earthquake in California. Within 60 seconds, if you typed the word earthquake into a Twitter wordsearch, there were enough first hand accounts and information to fill a 500 page book. The news services had one paragraph up on the wires a full 9 minutes later.
Last week in Iran Twitter began what may grow into the first social-media inspired revolution.
Yesterday Stewart Cink, a golfer at the US Open, was Tweeting to an audience of over 400 000 while actually playing in the event, the first ever recorded incident of live and continuous real time sports commentary by an actual participant in an event. Twitter is making history just about every week. All because a guy who looks like he should be working in a video store had a good idea.
Sometimes you just have to love the world.

Friday, June 19, 2009

I am doomed.

According to Janice, one of my fellow jury members, the creative director is dead.
She is an expert in social media and digital innovation. She helps brands use social media like Facebook and Twitter to talk to people directly. Hence my impending doom. Janice frightens me. Mostly because she might be right, but also because she is really, really smart.
My jury at Cannes is filled with bright, classy people like Janice.
Although not all of them are predicting my demise.

My breakfast waiter might want me dead. This morning I added an extra chair to our table, thereby turning a table for two into a table for three. This caused great and grievous consternation in french breakfast waiter land. There was much tutting and hissing and irritable head-cocking and muted hand waving. You would have thought I'd urinated in the muesli.

We have finished going through the entries now. We begin discussing the shortlist and awarding Cannes Lions this weekend. Then the Festival itself begins on Sunday.
The first seminar is entitled "The death of the creative director".
Gulpity gulp. So it's not just Janice.
There are a few famous faces flying in this week. Kofi Annan is speaking. And Bob Geldof will be speaking too. I hope he doesn't sing.
Roger Daltry, legendary vocalist for the Who, will make an appearance. He can sing if he wants. Probably better that he does. I mean, what the bloody hell is he going to talk about at an advertising festival?

There is no doubt the week is going to be dominated by talk of the future. Or should that be the present? So words like Twitter, Myspace, Facebook, social media, on-demand content, cloud marketing and death, of, creative, director will be the order of the day. I will endeavour to learn as much as I possibly can so our agency can keep up with all this stuff. And also, of course, because I do not want to expire. Not just yet anyway. Sorry to disappoint you, Janice.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

A few travel tips

A good thing to remember, when in France, is to try to avoid the French as far as possible.
This is difficult, France being populated largely by French people, but it does save you the countless ritual humiliations that seem to form such a vital part of being a tourist here.
There is a Concierge at my hotel. The Concierge is supposed to be the man who helps you do stuff. Like find a plug for my laptop. Thing is, he doesn't appear to be interested in me or my problems. He is an unhelpful Concierge. Which is a bit like being a really shy telemarketer or a dyslexic signwriter. Anyhow, back to the real reason for my being here, the World Advertising Championships. My first day of judging at Cannes was intense, exciting, funny (haha and peculiar) and punctuated by the terse remarks of a Dutch juror who seems convinced we are all idiots.
I have seen some interesting stuff. A spider in a glass tank for a bank. A human vending machine for a clothing store. Although I am embargoed from saying too much. According to Terry Savage, the CEO of the Festival, there are literally hundreds of journalists here scouring the streets and the web for titbits about what might win so they can get the scoop before the opposition papers do. Personally I think this may be overestimating the global impact of this Festival, but I will keep quiet for the time being. We have two more days of going through all the entries before we come up with a list of finalists. We confirm the shortlist on Saturday and then award Lions on Sunday. On Monday we have a Press Conference to let the info-hungry hordes of journos know what's won before the ceremony on Monday. Now, If you'll excuse me, I'm going to go and ask the Concierge if he can tell me where I can find a helpful Concierge.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Bonjour mon ami

As my Airbus bumped its way through tropical storm over the Equator on Monday night I began to wonder if i would make it here at all. Fortunately the on-board computer (which, it seems, is the only thing capable of flying an Airbus) did a wonderful job and we touched down safely at Heathrow. I briefly discovered the joys of Terminal 5, which is probably one of the nicest places in all of Britain, before jetting off to Nice.
So here I am. Cannes. I must state right now that I am writing this in the Business Centre of the hotel - on a French keyboard. French keyboards are, well, very French. Meaning they are different just for the hell of it, uncooperative and everything is not quite as it seems. I had to get the receptionist to come and help me make an @ symbol, which is humiliating in the extreme.
We had our jury dinner last night in a very smart restaurant where the starters cost about the same as a downpayment on a small car. I met some of my fellow jury members. Every single member of the 18 person jury is from a different country. Its a bit like Miss World, except you dont have to answer that question about if there was one thing you would do for the world what would it be. And no bikini contest.
I have just discovered the apostrophe. ' . There. Please excuse the previous couple of hundred words which completely neglected it. Anyhow the jury are all very wise and all seem to know a lot more about promotional advertising (which is my category) than I do, but I figure I can wing it for the next few days by nodding sagely. Next time I hope to write this on my laptop, which is lying disabled in my room due to plug incompatibility. I miss my keyboard.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Chris from Cannes, not.


Haven't left yet. I am still in Kenilworth, which is nowhere near Cannes.

I have, however, received a pep-talky email from my jury chairman in Cannes - a fellow who goes by the name of Bill Rosen. Bill, it seems, feels very inspired by the weeks to come and wants us, his jury, to feel inspired too.
It is difficult to feel inspired when covered in baby vomit and Guava and Date Purity, but I will try. For Bill.

Bill says we have a huge responsibilty to seek out the world's best work. At the moment I am seeking out a clean towel to clean up baby goo.
I am also growing increasingly distracted by South Africa's inability to penetrate the defences of Iraq.

The next time I write I will be in Cannes. I promise.

And I will be inspired. I promise, Bill.