EUROPE: The skill of not playing the game

EUROPE

This year Wimbledon has provided the perfect mix of old and new, known and unknown.

Among players who have stood out in the tournament – including, of course, UK semi-finalist Tim Henman – one has to single out Justine Henin, the 19-year-old Belgian who has been transformed from an unknown quantity into a UK household name over the course of two weeks.

As I pointed out in this column a month ago (MW June 14), following Henin and Kim Clijsters’ performances at the Roland Garros tournament, the interest generated by representatives of a country or community who achieve international success can have a knock-on effect on a wider range of activity.

Henin’s arrival as a force in women’s tennis, alongside that of other young talents – such as Switzerland’s tennis star Roger Federer – signals the emergence of a generation of players who challenge the status quo.

But is there evidence of a similar change happening in advertising? Were similar signs evident at advertising’s version of the “Grand Slam”, the Cannes festival?

In truth, no. The mood of many participants at this year’s festival was more subdued, pessimistic even, than in previous years. A certain resignation seems to have taken hold among the advertising communities of countries that do not figure among the usual line-up of finalists.

There were exceptions of course. For instance Austrian agencies were elated when five of their ads were shortlisted in the film and TV category – the first time for a decade that campaigns from Austria had reached this stage. Elsewhere, small European agencies such as Denmark’s Robert Boisen & Like-minded, found themselves rewarded for innovative, insightful campaigns.

Following the festival, however, the mood was more downbeat. The Belgian newspaper La Libre, in an article called “Belgium: One Point” – referring to the single Cannes Lion awarded to a Belgian agency – lamented the inability of the country’s agencies to win awards. It suggested that the only answer to the dilemma was to mimic the “coolisme and glamour” approach of advertisers such as Diesel and Nike.

Is the only answer for agencies not on the Cannes winners’ reel to copy the style and content produced by the festival winners? Not necessarily.

Using the same logic, Justine Henin would have spent years developing the same kind of double-handed backhand favoured by her opponents. This would have deprived her of the single-handed backhand strokes that give her a distinct advantage, and which delighted the Wimbledon public.

Europe’s agencies typically produce excellent campaigns for the context in which they are seen. A context that, despite the trend towards globalisation, is often national rather than international.

If agencies were asked whether they would prefer to produce campaigns that won international awards, or campaigns that met the needs of their local clients, I suspect that, though they might want both, most agencies would happily settle for the latter.

John Shannon is president of Grey International

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