World's best commercials are back
But recent events make the violence and humor in them seem out-of-date

One series from the world's best commercials which are now playing at CinÇplex OdÇon Quartier Latin, shows how much things have changed since the World Trade Center attacks.

The first ad shows an Arabic-looking sportscaster commenting on a local diving competition. A diver jumps off of a cliff and lands head-first in a slab of rocks, to the applause of a crowd of spectators and turbaned judges rating the performance. The tag line: "Fox Sports, sports news from the only region you care about. Yours."

The ads are part of a series that mocks fictional regional sports in third-world nations. Other ads feature Slavs in a slapping contest and blindfolded Pakistani-looking fighters beating each other with clubs.

The ads, though offensive, are funny and effective. At least that's what the jurors at this year's Cannes International Advertising Festival thought when they awarded the Grand Prix to their creator: New York-based Freeman and Partners.

The Fox Sports ads were among a host of violent commercials using "black humor," - a kind of David Letterman-inspired nihilistic humor that makes fun of other people's misfortunes -- that Cannes judges rewarded this year.

One ad for Volkswagen's Passat features a kidnapping. Another for Levis jeans features body parts being contorted and a dog running away with someone's severed hand. A third - for U.K. marketer Brandt,-- shows people destroying household appliances.

The Cannes International Advertising festival is similar to the other festival of that name, except instead of the film community, it's advertising professionals from around the world who gather to hob-nob, run shoulders with the competition, and fire up the creative juices by seeing what's hot in other countries.

It's an immensely popular festival that attracts close to 9,000 delegates from about 70 countries. Judges and attendees from Western countries dominate the event. But some third world nations, notably Brazil, have done well in recent years.

Advertising agencies nominate themselves. And because they have to pay for each entry, money talks. The more entries a country can pay for, the better its chances of winning. Canada has traditionally done poorly relative to its size and wealth, and this year was no exception. Of 25 nominations they submitted, Canadian agencies picked up only three prizes - all Bronze. Quebec agencies did even worse, landing a big goose egg, despite a sizable contingent of Quebec industry pros that attend the event each year.

One Canadian commercial from the reel- a Bronze medal winning commercial for Pfizer Canada's Halls Lozenges, produced by J. Walter Thompson -- was particularly in step with the year's black humor theme. In the ad a golfer repeatedly knocks down other golfers with his long drives because a sore throat dulls his "fore" calls.

But while many of the commercials among this years winners are well produced, the humor and violence seem totally out of place after the recent attacks on the U.S. financial and military complex.

Indeed, according to Marie-Claude Ducas, the editor of trade magazine Info Presse Communications, which covered the event extensively, the judges were split on the ethno-centric humor of the Fox Sports' commercials, with many supporting other nominees.

You can tell a lot about a society by watching its advertising. In our competitive world marketers have to obsequiously suck up to their target markets to get people to buy their products. That means advertising often acts like a mirror, revealing how target groups like to see themselves

Judging from how well the implicitly-racist Fox Sports ads performed, you have to wonder about Western attitudes to third world nations. Because while the ads were American, the Grand Prix their creator was awarded came from an international jury.

The highlight reels of Cannes winners are always a big hit with the public. This year-- the fourth they are being broadcast in Montreal - the number of showings has been increased, and the screening period doubled to two weeks.


The world's best commercials are playing (with English sub-titles) at the Cineplex OdÇon Quartier Latin, until October 25th. Showings are at 13:30, 16:00, 19:00 and 21:00. For information call 849-3456.


Photo Caption: This shockingly offensive ad for Fox Sports, featuring Arabic-looking athletes diving head-first into rock slabs, is part of a series that won the Grand Prix at this years Cannes Advertising Awards.


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