Publicis CEO Sadoun says there is too much 'scam' work at the Cannes Lions

Publicis GroupePublicis CEO Arthur Sadoun
  • The Cannes Lions, like many advertising awards, are rife with fake ads that did not run as part of an official client campaign and were created solely for an awards show, Publicis execs believe.
  • “Normally when the creatives finish Cannes, they are already starting [work for] next year to do scams. And this year we didn’t do any scams because there was no Cannes, so they focused on the real work,” Publicis CEO Arthur Sadoun says.
  • Publicis is boycotting all advertising awards shows – including the Cannes Lions, which start next week – for one year.

PARIS – Publicis Groupe CEO Arthur Sadoun believes there is too much “scam” work at the Cannes Lions, referring to ads that are created with the sole purpose of winning awards that consumers rarely see.

Last year, Sadoun banned all Publicis ad agencies – which include Saatchi & Saatchi and Leo Burnett – from entering work into any annual advertising festival. He wanted staff to focus instead on an internal effort to create an artificial intelligence platform named “Marcel,” which the company hopes will become a powerful tool for serving clients. Publicis has stated that it has zero official entries in this year’s competition, which begins on June 11.

Sadoun made the accusation in a long conversation with Business Insider at the VivaTech conference in Paris in May, in which he described the yearlong effort to create Marcel, Publicis’ new AI app, while facing down an internal rebellion from art directors and copywriters who were annoyed that their work would not be seen at the most prestigious event in the ad world calendar.

The desire for Lions is so fierce among creatives at all agencies that as soon as Cannes is over, many start working on what Sadoun and his top executives called “scam” work: The production of flashy, innovative, one-off ads that don’t run as real campaigns but might be slipped into a specialist magazine or placed on a one-off billboard purely to qualify them for next year’s award shows. Few people see them, except for award show judges.

Scam work for Cannes is rife throughout the entire ad industry, it’s not a Publicis-specific problem. In 2011, for instance,MOMA Propaganda of Brazil won a Silver Lion for a Kia print ad that the client never commissioned. The Cannes organisers later stripped the agency of two Lions awarded to the shop’s fake ads.

Cannes kia sleeping beautyCannes Lions / MOMA PropagandaA fake ad for Kia, that the car company did not commission, won a Silver Lion at Cannes in 2011. The agency – which is not owned by Publicis – was later stripped of the award.

“Normally when the creatives finish Cannes, they are already starting [work for] next year to do scams. And this year we didn’t do any scams because there was no Cannes, so they focused on the real work,” Sadoun says.

Nick Law, Publicis’ chief creative officer, called it a “parallel economy” inside the agency business. “It’s all a shadowy economy of making ads … the strategic importance of them, they don’t seem like clients [approved them]. Like, what are they doing that for? In some cases, clients recently have been complicit too, because of the whole culture around Cannes. Most clients aren’t like this but there are some clients that get a taste of that world and are complicit in some of those scams. I do think that’s correcting now because people are very aware of it.”

A spokesperson for the festival told Business Insider: “Cannes Lions takes all accusations of scam work extremely seriously. We have a team of 20 specialist awards managers to help make sure entrants meet all the requirements. We ask for specific information concerning eligibility and make requests for media schedules and further information when necessary. We request confirmation from the client and reserve the right to contact the client directly. We also ask for sign off from a senior member of the entrant company before anything can be submitted.”

“And this is where all awards organisers need the industry to work with us,” the spokesperson said. “Because we require this sign off we are understandably assuming the agencies are 100% clear that the work they submit is 100% legitimate. We can root out a scam where we see it but it is the entrants who historically have submitted it in the first place and they need to take that responsibility seriously. The positive element is that it is far, far less of a problem now than it has ever been.”

While some inside Publicis were dismayed by the Cannes cancellation, “what was more interesting was the outside reaction,” Sadoun says. “If you look at the people who have been publicly against this you won’t find one good creative who says this is wrong. Because we came at a moment where it was at the end of a model anyway. Cannes was not about creativity anymore.”

“Once I started to look at the creatives who would come and join the group, I’ve been seeing everyone in the market who has a high profile, they all told me the same thing. They said all the prize [juries] came to us, to say bad things about what you are doing, and we didn’t want to because at least you are trying something.”

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