Hard Sell


1992 Cannes Advertising Awards

Museum of Fine Arts

Friday, October 22, 7 p.m.

Bouncing milk bottles, Catholic priests, sex, Arnold Schwarzenegger: it seems advertisers around the world will do anything to get you to buy their product. At least that's true based on the video compilation of the 1992 Cannes Advertising Awards, now being screened at the MFA.

Unfortunately, the advertisements featured seem to show more desperation than ingenuity. Rather than the wacky commercials you'd expect, the Cannes festival celebrates the more traditional (although admittedly slick) advertisement, showing a disappointingly large number of car, beer and perfume ads.


Even more unfortunately, many of the winners are from the United States, which makes their point of view unoriginal for an American audience.

Despite this U.S. bias, a decidedly British sense of humor pervaded the segments, and many of the more original advertising ideas were British.

The criteria for judging the ads remains a mystery. Although they were divided up into those receiving the bronze, silver and gold lion awards and the grand prix, the distinction seemed to be arbitrary. The grand prix, an ad for some brand of glue, showed a nun refixing a penis onto a baby Jesus.

One interesting observation: viewers from other countries have much longer attention spans, or air time costs less. U.S. ads on average are much shorter than either their European or Asian counterparts.

Two British condom ads were quite amusing: one showed three Catholic priests who refused money to promote condoms. "You can't buy the Catholic church, but you can buy condoms," the ad suggests.

Mixed in with the familiar Nike and Reebok commercials are more endearing ads for trivial products and more exciting ones for foreign products. The Japanese clips are compelling because of their unfamiliar perspective. One ad shows Arnold promoting something slimy: it looks like noodles but it's hard to tell.

A British commercial for "milk in the mornings" shows a cheery milkman and his dancing milk bottles, intriguing because it is a cultural practice foreign to a modern American audience. A perfume ad also tries to be original, mocking commercials in general. "Why are you watching this? Go on, switch it off!" the screen dares, in between segments from a steamy sex scene.

The awards do provide an entertaining hour and a half, partly because they cater to the attention span most natural to most college students. A compilation of foreign ads without any American-dominated gold lion pedigrees, however, would have been more amusing.

To be fair, the ads do say something about consumer culture in short cute soundbites with fairly interesting special effects. Of course, so does everything else on TV.