Scam ads and the slippery slope to being a total idiot

Opinion
Matthew Charlton

Matthew Charlton is the CEO of Brothers and Sisters. He was a founder of BETC London, has run agencies in London, Amsterdam and the US and has worked on brands including Johnnie Walker, PlayStation and Sony Ericsson.

Cannes is in the air and so is the spring-like whiff of scam ads. For those who don't know what that is, it's ads that have never really been commissioned by a client or serve any purpose other than to win awards.

This year, no doubt, the conversations around the conference halls in Cannes will be scented once again with the talk of "Wow, isn't it amazing a laundrette can afford a 500k print shoot?".

Well I have to say I don't really give a monkeys about that. If the industry as a whole is comfortable with blurring the lines that far to produce some stunning work I can live it.

But, and it's a massive but, when people are prepared to hijack issues such as a little girl being shot to try and get their sad little arses on a podium then it indicates how the blurring of the lines can turn people and the industry into a complete monster.

I had personal experience of this running PlayStation years ago. Some gold hungry morons from our group in a far-flung place decided to create a suite of ads comping in images of fairgrounds into real shots of the gas chambers in Auschwitz – and then hijack poor PlayStation and put its name on it. They ran in a single coffee shop, once, and then they entered them into an awards show. Unsurprisingly, the chairman of the jury from Israel took massive exception to them. The implication of these ads were a potential global horror show for all if us – agency and client.

In the end we managed to sort it all out after about four weeks of absolute hell, with client and a journalist who wanted to expose it all as a real campaign, which it never ever was. And PlayStation was incredibly supportive of us, as was Tim Lindsay, my then boss, who fought like hell with me to get justice in the company to the people who did it.

But people get put at risk... jobs, losing accounts. I was under so much stress thinking that it would blow up into an international incident that I thought, on a few occasions, I was having a heart attack. Myself and lots of really decent people were dragged through hell by the total lack of sense and humanity shown by a few gold hungry idiots who placed the chance to win a little trinket over six million people being murdered. I still shiver at the thought.

So scam is a very slippery slope. It's not about internal processes; it's about trying to remember that winning at any cost and losing touch with any sense of values each if you have as humans turns you into a monster.