Cannes Candid by Gary Goldsmith: Thursday

CANNES, FRANCE Not a long entry today. Mainly because it was a very long night. One of the nice things about coming to Cannes is the chance to see old friends from around the world and reconnect over a few drinks. For the first time since the judging began, I did that. Hello Gutter Bar. Hello 4 a.m. I won’t go into any details as it has no bearing on the show.

We did spend Thursday narrowing the list way down and awarding our first medals. When we voted on the first Lion, a silver, there was a round of applause from the entire group of judges. The same after we awarded the first gold. There began the long and sometimes tedious process of going through each piece on the short-shortlist, voting for medals by a show of hands and debating the results. After three days of nonstop voting alone in the dark, it was good to begin the next phase of judging and begin seeing some of the best of what we had picked. We made good, steady progress, which made today much easier.

Today we voted the rest of the medals and the Grand Prix. And no, I can’t tell you the winners. But if you log on or read my piece in the magazine on Monday, I’ll let you in on some of our thoughts and rationale for the winners.

Cannes Candid by Gary Goldsmith: Wednesday

We have chosen the shortlist. Finally. After viewing it all today, there were some very predictable outcomes and a few surprises. I can’t reveal any more right now, but it will be published on Thursday. Tomorrow we will begin discussing and assigning medals. At each phase, as you zero in on the best work, you feel better about the overall show. But it was not, in most of our minds as of now, a groundbreaking year. We’ll see how we feel after tomorrow.

Another two trends have emerged, to complement the animals and midgets. The first is large groups of people doing unusual things in urban spaces, a la Nike’s “Tag.” I loved the “Tag” spot. Beneath the great execution, it was classic advertising: demonstrating the product in a highly unusual and memorable way. Many of its imitators are less so, and obviously less original.

The second is the gratuitous chopping off of limbs and heads. I liked it when Mike’s Hard Lemonade did it a few years ago. But I’ve seen at least 15 campaigns since do so in an attempt to be shocking and funny, and it doesn’t really work. The more provocative the gag, the faster it gets old and tired. That’s where we are with that stuff.

The press and poster show is tonight, and although I have mostly been sequestered in my little black judging room, I did make my way down to look at the work. My quick take was that there was some very good work. Very Cannes-like. Very visual, short lines. Beautifully designed. I’ll go back and spend more time looking at it later.

One judge observed today as we sat outside eating lunch that if we could somehow make what everyone will view inside the Palais Saturday night as stunning as the views looking out, we would have a great show. Amen.

Cannes Candid by Gary Goldsmith: Tuesday

CANNES, FRANCE The line at the Palais for delegates to register for their badges is up to 45 minutes. The restaurants are packed. The bars are at full tilt until almost sunup. It is festival week meets spring break at Cannes.

Tonight the opening ceremonies will take place, and the media and direct awards will be given. With the photographers gathering outside the Palais, the journalists in early information-gathering mode and working the attendant advertising luminaries, and creatives pouring in from every corner of the world in anticipation of the week’s events, some here say that it takes on the ambiance of Oscar week or the excitement and glamour of the Cannes Film Festival, held last month.

Other more cynical observers say that it is just the advertising version of a giant sheet-rockers convention, filled with suppliers hawking their wares, people angling for new jobs and a few gala evenings where a self-centered industry indulges and congratulates itself.

My own perspective is that in a business that demands as much of the people in it as ours does, and in a time as difficult as this is to produce great work, it’s more important than ever to recognize and celebrate it. If everyone leaves here just a little more inspired and determined to do better next year, it will have been worth it.

From a judge’s perspective, it was another hard day spent removing the work that doesn’t belong in the show. Again, each of our three eight-person groups looked at about 600 spots. The overall perception after three days of continuous viewing is that there is not much great work to pick from.

This is the case at this stage in every show I’ve ever judged, and it’s easy to see why. If even one out of every 10 pieces makes the shortlist, it means that out of every 1,000 spots we sat through, 900 were rejected. But it also means that at the end, we will have a list of 500 spots we deemed good enough to go forward. That’s a lot.

I won’t say much more about today’s offerings, other than that in one of the categories I watched, Banking, Financial and Insurance, 27 spots featured a person, animal or inanimate object being thrown through a plate glass window. And yes, I did in fact see another animal misbehaving, snowboarding in this case, and two more midget spots.

Tomorrow we get together as one large group, do more weeding and settle on a final shortlist. I’m looking forward to seeing the best work compiled and beginning the discussions.

My hope is that there will be enough great work to have some fierce debate and tough choices ahead.

Cannes Candid by Gary Goldsmith: Monday

CANNES, FRANCE A long day of judging. Our group scored more than 600 films again today. As is usually the case in the early days of judging even the best of shows, I am struck by the overall sameness and commonality of the work. Little stands out.

Work that looked good in a conference room or when viewed all by itself is meaningless here. We are viewing it in a way that is much more realistic in the sense that it is thrown in with hundreds of other spots. Combine that with the inevitable numbness and disinterest that begins to set in after six or seven continuous hours and we are close to experiencing the work in the manner that our consumers do. When something does stand out and commands your attention, you feel relieved and rewarded. The danger is that you’re so happy to see something that shows signs of life that you over-compensate and score it too high.

With this tough and experienced group of judges, that’s not likely.

And while I am sworn to secrecy in terms of specifics (it’s much like Las Vegas: what goes on here, stays here, at least for now), I can give you some general impressions.

One: The use of animals doing things that they can’t and shouldn’t be doing is still a quite popular format. Turkey’s skiing, rabbits talking and dogs that know karate are among the 30 or so I’ve seen in two days.

Two: Montages that appear to be composed with beautiful stock footage and tracks from popular songs are also a commonly repeated genre. Tasteful but utterly forgettable. The logos are interchangeable. Is it for an airline, a resort, a hotel, a dating service, a real estate company, a bank? Who knows? Who cares?

Three: Humor, or the attempt at humor is still a dominant theme, but true insights are rare.

Four: Pinocchio has already appeared twice.

Five: We have already seen the obligatory midget campaign.

Since we spent the afternoon watching almost 300 PSAs, I feel compelled to go straight back to my hotel and lock the door. I will not drink and drive, I will not drink and swim, I will not drink and use a table saw, I will not drink to much, I will not drink too young, I will not drink at all, I will not smoke, I will not breathe second-hand smoke, I will not have unprotected sex, I will not jaywalk, I will not do drugs, I will tell my child not to use drugs, I will not ride a motorcycle without a helmet, I will not drive without a seatbelt, I will not drive even a little too fast, I will not drive and use a cell phone, I will check the batteries on my smoke detector, I will have every conceivable health exam, I will wear sunscreen, I will not play with guns, and I will not commit suicide.

And most importantly, I will not go to the Gutter Bar.

Cannes Candid by Gary Goldsmith: Sunday

CANNES, FRANCE In the days before the festival officially begins, Cannes is a calm seaside town. You can get a table for lunch at the Carlton Beach, and one for dinner at most any restaurant you choose. The streets are relatively quiet, populated mostly by groups of relaxed tourists looking for a little sun or strolling the avenues in search of the appropriate trinket or souvenir to bring home.

By midweek, that all changes. The calm vanishes. Tables anywhere are scarce. And the tourists will be pushed aside and replaced by thousands of advertising literati. The trinkets and souvenirs they are in search of are not sold at Hermes, Gucci or Chanel. They’re looking for the gold, silver or bronze that is available only at the Palais.

Sunday morning I did something I haven’t done since I was last a judge here, seven years ago. I saw what Cannes looks like in the morning. It’s a sight not many people who are here for the festival see. When we met downstairs for breakfast at about 7:45, before our opening session, it was already shaping up to be a glorious, sunny day. But the forecast for the judges is six days of air-conditioned cold in mostly darkened rooms.

After our dinner together on Saturday, a wise pep talk this morning from our judging chairman, Piyush Pandey, and a full day of judging and lunch, the camaraderie and bonding that often happens among the judges here is already beginning to occur. Natural disasters, wars and the forced viewing of more than 6,000 commercials in a week tend to bring people together.

In my group alone on Sunday, we watched almost 600 spots. As is always the goal during the first several days, we focused on elimination. The great work will rise to the top and be endlessly measured and debated later in the week. That will be the fun part. Now is about quickly removing all of the work whose entry represents the triumph of optimism over reality. And in spite of the much-written-about financial contraction in our business, optimism clearly is not in short supply. Entries are up from previous years. And the amount of spots that make you ask yourself “Why?” is quite healthy.

Tomorrow, the merciless weeding continues.

Gary Goldsmith is chairman and chief creative officer of Lowe in New York and a film juror at the International Advertising Festival.