'Meet Graham' was too similar to a 1985 anti-smoking ad to win, says Cannes Lions juror

The Integrated and Titanium juries dismissed the work from Clemenger BBDO because it reminded them too much of 1985's "The natural born smoker."

Clemenger BBDO Melbourne’s cautionary effigy "Meet Graham" took home 29 Lions—including two Grand Prix awards for Cyber and Health And Wellness and eight Gold Lions—at the 64th Annual Cannes Lions Festival of Creativity.

But the sculpture created for the Transport Accident Commission of Victoria received no Lions for Integrated or Titanium. Those juries felt "Meet Graham" was too similar to a spot released more than 30 years ago to merit a win, a spokesman for the juries told Campaign.

"The consensus of the Titanium and Integrated jury was that ‘Meet Graham’ was very well executed," he said. "However, many felt the idea was very similar to "The natural born smoker’ that was done several years back." 

The 1985 public information film from FCO London was lauded at the time for its imaginative portrayal of a man whose body was evolutionarily acclimated to the damage done by cigarettes. Like "Graham," he has an alien physique: a large nose, self-cleaning lungs and extra eyelids.

While "Graham" plays its premise straight, envisioning changes to human bone structure and organs necessary to resist the impact of a high-speed car crash, the FCO spot allows itself some cheeky commentary—a "Natural Born Smoker" has "smaller ears, because they don’t listen."

But the creators of "Meet Graham" deny they were influenced by the 1985 spot. "We’d never even heard of it," James McGrath, creative chairman of Clemenger BBDO Melbourne told Campaign.

"Clemenger BBDO Melbourne has built its reputation on originality. We are incredibly proud of that promise. How others judge it, and their motives for doing so, we do not know, nor is it any of our business," he said. "The smoking ad referred to is a 32-years-old TV spot. It was absolutely not the inspiration for the sculpture and tech-based idea developed for our client." 

But others in the industry are skeptical of that position. "’Meet Graham’ might as easily have been called ‘The First Natural Born Car Crash Survivor. I was sent online comparisons between the two from July last year. So it's not ‘this week's observation,’" said John O’Keeffe, worldwide creative director at WPP. "I suspect some involved might not have known the original. But I doubt no one spotted it as it went through the layers to production."

BBDO Worldwide Chief Creative Officer David Lubars defended "Graham," noting that the issue had already been dealt with before juries began deliberating. "We were greatly disappointed and surprised to learn that ‘Meet Graham’ had been rejected from the Integrated and Titanium categories," he said. "The implication that it had drawn inspiration from a UK TV ad from over 30 years ago—aside from being preposterous—was raised and addressed at the beginning of the festival."

Cannes Lions did not return requests for comment about this story, but Clemenger BBDO Melbourne was awarded Agency of the Year on the final day of the festival, winning 56 Lions and helping to push BBDO Worldwide to its sixth win as Network of the Year.

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