Commentary

Cannes Lions: Pregnant Kim K. Vs. The Pickles

We all know there's obvious hypocrisy surrounding the annual Cannes Lions International “Festival of Creativity”: the insane costs, the scam award winners, the throwback hedonism at a time of agency cutbacks. But trying to savage it is about as effective as complaining that Kim Kardashian has no actual talent.

No one cares — ‘cause she sure is pretty and rich.

Indeed, the sketchy ethics of feeding the beast seem to fly out a window when you’re sipping a rosé on the balcony of the Carlton Hotel at sunset. The business is so tough — and here’s the reward. Honestly, who would turn down an all-expenses-paid trip to the south of France in late June? (I wouldn’t, although I didn’t go this year.)

Over the past decade, the increasingly tech-and-media-fied conference has also become celebrified, so it’s more like the other Cannes festival. Adrian Grenier, Marilyn Manson, and Sting were among the boldfaced names there this year, invited by ad and media agencies and tech companies for their auras. (Selfies with said stars also accounted for hundreds of annoying Facebook updates, with humble-braggy headlines like “So this happened.” )

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Which brings us back to Kim K., the celeb known for her hard work (and sex tape) and her many sisters, who, along with momager Kris, have leveraged their focus on a properly kajazzled ka-jay-jay  (and other female-type knowingness) to help them amass kabillions of dollars.

Kim, the biggest star of “Keeping Up with the Kardashians,” spoke at the festival this year, to tremendous fanfare. (Well, more like abject worship.)  The standing-room-only seminar was sponsored by Glu Mobile, the makers of the “Kim Kardashian: Hollywood” mobile app (28 million downloads and counting), The game is all about buying the right stuff (hair, makeup, clothing, accessories) and assembling the right glam team to conquer the red carpet. (Actually, the biggest story to come out of this year’s festival involved a much-retweeted photo of a couple making it -- to full-on intercourse -- on the red carpet in front of the Palais at 4 a.m. But I digress.)

The mobile mogul, clad in a Balmain gold-and-black-striped pantsuit, and leveraging three stories of cleavage above her tank top, sat on stage next to a Glu guy, who bobbed his head extra-vigorously every time she came up with a competent sentence.

The adulatory audience seemed equally overjoyed and relieved.

But first, Mrs. Kardashian West was asked: “What is the one essential value for building a successful brand?” Kim’s reply: “Authenticity.”

So really, the conversation can’t even be satirized. The woman who is famous for being an aficionado of elaborate sex and dress-up rituals and her platinum curatorial sense over selfie selection was able to  strip down the essential truth about marketing.  I hear that next week she is speaking in San Francisco about “the objectification of women in media.” I am not making this up. You can’t make this up.

In truth, I am as guilty as anyone for lamely borrowing Kardashian interest. Because what I really wanted to discuss was the Glass Lion, a new award introduced this year to the festival to reward work that shatters gender bias and prejudice in ads, sponsored in part by Sheryl Sandberg’s “See It, Be It” program. Chaired by Cindy Gallop, founder and CEO of IfWeRanTheWorld/MakeLoveNotPorn and former president of BBH US, the Glass Lion jury included eight women and two men: the reverse of the usual gender proportion.

In fact, the Lions organizers also improved the ratio of the rest of the juries and raised the number of women overall to more than 30%, a victory from the previously abysmal single digits.

Leo Burnett’s "#Likeagirl," a joint entry from the agency’s London, Toronto and Chicago offices for P& G’s  Always Brand, won a Glass Lion, and deservedly so. It’s an intoxicating documentary starring tween girls that urges viewers to redefine the phrase "like a girl" as something strong and powerful. It’s won multiple awards at other shows this year as well.

FCB Inferno’s "This Girl Can" campaign for Sport England, encouraging women of every possible size and shape to exercise, also picked up a Cannes Glass Lion. This spot seemed kind of standard to me in the suddenly crowded “you-go-girl” arena.  

But the Glass Lion Grand Prix choice, “Touch the Pickle,” for Procter & Gamble’s Whisper sanitary napkin brand, created by BBDO India Mumbai, is truly bold and old-wives'-tale-shattering. The 30-second spot exposed the misogynist legends surrounding menstruation, including the idea in Indian culture that a woman having her period should not touch a pickle jar. The myth is that anything she touches while menstruating becomes impure, and she’d therefore spoil the gherkins.

And this is exactly what the Cannes Festival is good for: exposing us to the work of other cultures that we’d never otherwise see.

A Health & Wellness Grand Prix Lion was introduced years ago, and one of this year’s winners was also created for the Procter & Gamble Always brand, this time from Leo Burnett Mexico. An inspiration, it set out to change behavior in indigenous communities in rural Mexico, where the leading cause of death among women is cervical cancer. Their lives are so circumscribed that women in these communities don’t even have the words in their vocabularies to talk about reproductive organs. The creative team distributed educational materials that redefined words like “cervix” as “baby’s home door” to start the education and awareness process necessary among women and their daughters to get informed and go for medical check-ups.

That’s quite a juxtaposition from Kim Kardashian. Culture, gender, all these constructs are full of contradictions and prejudices. Contrast not having a word for cervix with the by-now-everyday American term “vajazzling.”

In the end, if the juries at Cannes can keep putting work like this on the world stage, to show us just how crazy, indulged and post-cynical we’ve become, there’s hope. See you next year.

7 comments about "Cannes Lions: Pregnant Kim K. Vs. The Pickles".
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  1. Dean Fox from ScreenTwo LLC, June 25, 2015 at 4:35 p.m.

    Brilliant, Barbara, especially the Kim K. review. Her talent for hyper-profitable exploitation - of herself, her ridiculously oversized and overexposed physical assets, her family, and most recently, with her mother on behalf of her transgender stepfather - is truly in a class by itself. "Authenticity"? I wonder if she isn't so far inside her bubble that she doesn't grasp how funny this is to the rest of us?

  2. David Kleeman from Dubit, June 25, 2015 at 5:16 p.m.

    Great piece, as always! Take pride in capturing the mane hypocrisy of the Lions' celebration of Kim...who simply lent her name to a game that is one of the most manipulative out there...at a celebration of excellence.

    Actually, the fact that she's been asked to address objectification suggests that irony is dead...

  3. George Parker from Parker Consultants, June 25, 2015 at 5:33 p.m.

    The sad thing about the "K K" phenomenon is that it couldn't exist without the participation of the unwashed masses. The 28 million douchenozzles who have downloaded “Kim Kardashian: Hollywood,” are also paying millions for the privilege of going shopping with her. Even more pathetic is the realization that the adulatory Cannes audience you describe is comprised of representatives of a once great business that is rapidly disappearing down a rancid "Train Spotting" toilet.
    Cheers/George "AdScam" Parker

  4. George Parker from Parker Consultants, June 25, 2015 at 5:37 p.m.

    Barbara... I'll let you explain the "Train Spotting" reference. Although, I am sure the great majority of your uber erudite audience will get it.
    Cheers/George "AdScam" Parker

  5. Tom Scharre from The Hunch Fund, June 25, 2015 at 7:08 p.m.

    I see a euphemism on the horizon ~ "Pounding on baby's home door."

  6. Jim English from The Met Museum, June 25, 2015 at 10 p.m.

    Thanks Barbara.  Am glad that Glass Lion went to a Mumbai agency.  Media reports frequently of not only mysogynist culture, but violence again women in India.

  7. Claudia Caplan from MDC Partners, June 26, 2015 at 10:19 a.m.

    I have to start out by saying that I have the absolute greatest respect for Cindy Gallop. But I'm puzzled by the Glass Lions and what they intend to recognize. I assume that the "Glass" in Glass Lion is a reference to glass ceiling.  And yet, having read the criteria for eligibility here, http://www.canneslions.com/cannes_lions/awards/the_glass_lion/categories/, there is no reference to the work having been created by women.  So in fact, an all male creative team can win the Glass Lion.  Doesn't that kind of defeat the "glass ceiling" part?  Back in my copywriting days, I begged, pleaded, cajoled and threatened to become the first female copywriter to write ads for Honda Motorcycles.  Between the Japanese client and the fact that it was motorcycles, women were deemed inappropriate to work on the account.  I perservered and to me, that's breaking a glass ceiling. I would have rather seen the Glass Lion go to a kickass female creative team that did an amazing beer ad.  Since Dove Real Beauty, femaie empowerment has become a trope and a technique for selling women's products and in many ways, it's as cynical as bullying women back in the days of "Ring Around the Collar." I'm not really sure it empowers anyone to do anything but buy soap.  And the fact that most of this "female empowerment" work is limited  to cleaning products, apparel, beauty and feminine hygiene further makes the point.  Where's the empowering female car ad? I guess it's a step - I'm just not sure it's a step forward.

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