A wishbone of contention

In Advertising, Communicate, Dubai, Opinion, Published journalism on November 23, 2010 at 6:46 pm

Pride of Young Lions fails to roar

Originally published in Communicate, June 2009

Last month Communicate was invited to be among the 40 or so judges of the Cannes Young Lions competition in Dubai. The contest pitted teams of young creatives against one another to see who would win the chance to go and represent the UAE in Cannes this month.

Each year the competition picks a charity and the ads are created – in nine hours – against that noble cause’s brief. This year, the client was the UAE Make a Wish Foundation. The foundation grants wishes to seriously ill children between the ages of three and 18, and the brief was simply to raise brand awareness.

Some of the work on display looked like it could have been put together by those children. If their dying wish had been to work at an advertising agency, this might have been what they produced. It might have been quite impressive if the young creatives behind it were, say, at school. But they’re not; they are working at agencies. And not as interns, either; as fully paid-up members of staff.

Nearly all the entries, of course, featured smiling kids. And as the UAE MAWF can only give wishes to youngsters resident in the Emirates, the children were all very obviously from the UAE. Very obviously. If you want to know the preferred way of making a child very obviously from the UAE, it is to take said child, and call him Ahmed. It doesn’t matter what ethnicity he appears to be; as long as the copy calls him Ahmed, you’re fine.

In such a weak field as this, you’d have expected the few ads of quality to rise to the top with ease. But anyone who expected that has clearly forgotten they’re in Dubai; normal rules do not apply.

In third place was an execution that showed a hospital monitor’s line breaking from its peaks and troughs to become a smile. The most Communicate had managed to write in our notebook about that one was, “Tolerable.” Our point being that it wasn’t as bad as some of the others.

Like the silver and gold winners.

Second place went to a simple letter. A letter so bad we copied it down to put up on our wall to laugh at. Honestly – it’s up there now next to the white board.
You can see the ad above. Its first two words [“Dear God…”] perfectly encapsulate our immediate response when we first read it. And that was before we even began picking it apart.

Firstly, which wish in that letter could the MAWF possibly hope to grant? They can’t make the kid better, that much is obvious. Nor can they send him to the moon. Nor can they make him an astronaut. NASA will reject Harvard graduate sports stars if they don’t have 20:20 vision, so there’s little chance for an eight year old with leukaemia. Who is this mysterious “Doctor uncle?” And why does the child’s handwriting look suspiciously like a font? (Dakota, we’re guessing). The concept is not terrible – just the execution.

The winning effort, meanwhile, was one we had pegged as a comedy entry. A picture of a child. His name is Ahmed, of course, and he is being examined by a doctor while wearing boxing gloves (the child, not the doctor). The copy tells us that he only wants two things. (We’d guess that one of them is the chance to see adulthood.) One is to get a pair of boxing gloves. Well he’s got that, we can tell from the picture, so a full and complication-free recovery must be his second choice, right? Wrong. Ahmed wants to go three rounds with Mike Tyson.

Now if he’s not terminally ill already, he will be after fighting the man with the hardest punch in the world. A fight with Tyson is not good for anyone, let alone a sick kid. Sure, they’d just spar, right, and Tyson would just pretend to throw punches. Well, if that was the case, what would be wrong with the regulation 12 rounds? No, the only reason anyone would leave a fight with Tyson after three rounds would be because of a heinous brain injury. And Ahmed ain’t going to be the one delivering that.

Even if Communicate doesn’t agree with the majority opinion of the other judges, we say well done to the winners – they clearly made an impression. If we had one wish, though, it would be to see a far higher standard next year.


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