After much anonymous posting and quite a bit of industry back-stabbing, Cannes Lions has finally dispelled allegations
that TBWA\Hunt\Lascaris' much awarded Trillion Dollar campaign
for newspaper The Zimbabwean
might qualify as scam under its rules of entry.
Cannes Lions International Advertising Festival CEO, Philip Thomas, recently confirmed to Bizcommunity.com that, upon investigation, his organisation is satisfied that the Trillion Dollar campaign falls outside its definition of scam since “the medium was the money and the client paid for that medium.”
In South Africa, local awards show the Loeries allows what it calls pro-active work
, which is work done on behalf of a client but perhaps with a small flighting and production budget, to be entered into its awards show. Opinion is divided on whether this constitutes a back-door for scam advertising.
But Cannes Lions has been clear in how it defines scam ads in its entry rules and, last year, issued a statement
which read: "Entries cannot be made without the prior permission of the advertiser/owner of the rights of the advertisement. All entries must have been made within the context of a normal paying contract with a client. That client must have paid for all, or the majority of, the media costs."
[The 2010 entry form has since been edited to read: “All entries must have been made within the context of a normal paying contract with a client, except in the charities and public services categories. That Client must have paid for all, or the majority of the media costs.”]
Contacted for clarification
Prior to the Cannes Lions statement, I contacted the publisher of The Zimbabwean
, Wilf Mbanga, for clarification of the cost aspect of the project. Cannes Lions after all clearly states that the client must carry media costs. Mbanga simply replied, “Nope - we never paid a cent!! They have done everything pro bono. Thanks.”
Liz Linsell, SA marketing and sales manager for The Zimbabwean
, followed up by saying: "Our original, internally-generated publicity initiative was to handout billion rand [sic] notes with our logo and contact number, and the agency contacted us thereafter, developing the concept and the campaign pro-bono.”
Mbanga would later change his statement to claim that the newspaper did in fact incur hard costs.
“There was an electricity cost for lighting the billboard that we were invoiced for via Liz,” according to Mbanga. “As you know the backbone of the campaign was the use of the worthless currency. We incurred costs in the sourcing and transportation of this money, Liz has calculated these costs as approximately R46 000, including her time spent on the campaign development and liaison.”
Staff time a soft cost
That is quite a jump from ‘not a cent.' Staff time, by the way, was considered a soft cost by Cannes Lions in its ruling on the case.
From The Zimbabwean
's side, there also seemed to be contradictory statements as to whether the agency approached it first or vice versa.
Damon Stapleton, executive creative director at TBWA\Hunt\Lascaris, cleared up any confusion by confirming that the agency approached The Zimbabwean
after noticing its initial subscription drive, where Zimbabwe trillion dollar notes overstamped with the newspaper's logo and contact details were handed out to motorists at CBD intersections in Johannesburg and Cape Town.
The deal to assist the paper was struck over a cup of coffee in what was a rather informal affair. He also confirmed that, while The Zimbabwean
was responsible for getting the Zim dollars into the country, it carried no other costs.
Mbanga claimed the discrepancy in his original statements to Bizcommunity.com regarding the matter and information he subsequently supplied to Cannes Lions were due to the physical distance between himself and his marketing manager - he is based in London and she in Cape Town.
Stapleton believes pro-active work should be judged on a case-by-case basis and not necessarily held against the black and white rules recently introduced by award shows. Andrew Human, CEO of the Loeries, has made a similar point in the past, but turned it around to say that on closer inspection, most of these rules offer more grey space than black and white.
Rereading the Cannes Lions statement that all entries must have been made within the context of a normal paying contract with a client, and that the client must have paid for all, or the majority of, the media costs, they do seem to offer considerable scope for fancy footwork. What constitutes a normal paying contract - The Zimbabwean
? Art directors and award junkies rejoice.
I'm glad TBWA\Hunt\Lascaris gets to keep it awards. It did something smart and good for a worthy cause. And the plight of The Zimbabwean
deserves to be highlighted - running an independent newspaper in exile must be one of the hardest jobs in journalism.
To me, there still seems to be a discrepancy between the spirit of those ‘tough' rules on scam ads introduced by shows such as Cannes Lions and how those rules are applied. Quite obviously, they are widely open for interpretation. I've got no problem with that but at least be upfront about it. Advertising is growing tired of its smoke and mirrors image.