So, last week, thousands of lucky advertising industry professionals from every corner of the globe flew, drove, rode, sailed and railed it down to Cannes, France for the 2011 edition of the
Advertising Creative festival known across the world as the Cannes Lions. I was there, and since I keep being asked what I thought about the week-long event, this is my very unofficial recap. But first, a few quick thoughts.
What didn’t rock (aside from the €35 cocktails).
The wi-fi. Clichés, clichés, clichés, and more clichés. The fact that the Lions still haven’t gotten rid of “viral” categories in spite of the fact that there can be no such thing. The preponderance of #3 Ralph Lauren polos. The guy in the Audi R8 who tried to take up two parking spots on the Croisette just as I was parking behind him. (Bad idea.) A surprising lack of social media integration savvy or focus. A surprising lack of spelling acumen in regards to banner ads (the kind that airplanes tow over the beach). The mindless retweeting of whatever pre-packaged soundbites “influencers” might deliver on stage, regardless of how poorly thought through they may be.
Cannes in June. The food. The Carlton, Martinez and Majestic hotels. The Haute Corniche. Robert Redford. Patti Smith. Ogilvy’s clever #DO100 campaign. The big book. The ads. The giant kitty. The Croisette and the beaches. Sorbet cassis & sorbet poire (the most perfect 2-scoop sorbet combination in all the world). The parties (although I only managed to go to one). One of the biggest gatherings of the world’s most talented creatives in recent history. Excellent coverage from several industry insiders via blogs and twitter. Fireworks.
Speaking of coverage, I have to give serious props to the Porter-Novelli team for the job they did both on their blog and on Twitter this year, and particularly Danny Devriendt and Marta Majeska for taking over the #CannesLions hashtag on the twitternets. If Gold goes to Porter Novelli, Silver goes to the Fast Company blog. Bronze can be shared by everyone else.
Some key articles you should look over:
And now, for a few talking points.
- What viral is and isn’t. Once and for all.
“Let’s agree on something, please, here from the beaches of Cannes: you cannot buy viral! You cannot make viral! You should not sell viral! Period! Viral is something that will eventually happen, if the online public decides it will. There is no magic formula, no guaranteed ways of making it happen. It is, by definition, purely an organic thing. Whether marketers and spin doctors like it or not, going viral is a community driven phenomenon. Seed all you want!
“Buying a gazillion online views and paying for countless banners does not guarantee a campaign to be/become viral. It guarantees views, eyeballs, and opportunities to see. Nothing wrong with that: that is what the job is about. Getting the message to the audience. Simple.
The online world has no need for more viral. The online world has a need for more quality, more skill and more community understanding. As Robert Redford says, more compelling stories. Instead of burning all this useless energy and money in trying to fake something viral, I’d rather see the effort invested in state of the art insights and metrics, strategic choices that drive change, awesome engagement strategies and a flawless execution and delivery plan with respect for the organic nature of the social web.” – Danny Devriendt
Beautiful. Read the rest here.
- Fear, misunderstood.
“Fear is the enemy of creativity.” – Sir Ken Robinson
With all due respect to Sir Robinson and the hundreds of people who wrote that down during his lecture, fear is not the enemy of creativity. In fact, fear and creativity coexist just fine. Fear can be a catalyst for creativity. It can also be a crucible for it. Ask any artist about fear, and you will find that it is an integral part of the creative experience. Fear is often also a language of creativity.
What Sir Robinson should have told his audience is that fear is the enemy of execution.
- Regurgitate less. Challenge more.
I want to caution event attendees (at the Lions and elsewhere) to occasionally challenge speakers, not just agree with them just because they are on stage or touted as an expert. Listen to what they are saying. Analyze what you are hearing. Digest it before regurgitating it. Not everything they say might be accurate. Don’t just assume that they are right because they are delivering a keynote. Don’t just assume that something is true or accurate or awesome just because dozens or even hundreds of people are retweeting it either.
Since we just talked about Sir Ken Robinson, let’s use his session (one of the most retweeted of the festival, and possibly the richest in soundbites) to illustrate my point. Almost everyone agreed that he was inspirational, charming, brilliant and engaging. No question. Having said that, check this out: (Quotes taken from tweets from the session.)
First, some of the statements that struck me as perhaps slightly less than impressive, either because they were far too obvious or not super well thought through.
“We can’t predict the future but we can anticipate it to make things better in the present.” – SKR
“Creativity is the process of having an original idea that has value.” – SKR
“We have to redouble our commitment to creativity.” – SKR
“We are living in times that have no precedence.” – SKR
“We don’t perceive the world directly. We do it through our perceptions.” – SKR
And then a few that were actually solid (though not exactly earth-shattering):
“It is more painful to restrain creativity than to release it.” – SKR
“Great leaders know their job is to create the right conditions. Not command and control.” – SKR
“Real innovation and creativity quite often happens within tight restraints.” – SKR
All of these statements (the good and the not-so-good) were equally retweeted, equally praised, equally shared. The lesson here: Don’t become a digital lemming. Whether the speaker is Seth Godin, Bono, Sir Richard Branson, Will.I.am or in this case, Sir Ken Robinson, don’t assume that every word out of their mouths is fact, and don’t act as if everything they say is game-changing wisdom, especially when it isn’t.
PS: Thanks, Sir Robinson, for being a good sport.
- “Advertising is dead.” (Again?)
“Ad agencies are yesterday. Agencies that turn consumers into agents/advocates should be the model.” – will.i.am
Yes and no.
Yes: Agencies that play a part in turning consumers into agents and advocates for brands, products and causes will always be more effective and successful than those that don’t. It is the model (and has always been the model).
No: Ad agencies are not yesterday. I just spent some time around quite a few of them and saw their work: Advertising is still relevant, valuable and cool. Hell, when done well it’s fun and it works. So let’s not eulogize advertising just yet.
Where we go from here: Ad agencies have a decision to make: Stay old school and make it work, or evolve by integrating disciplines like PR, digital, mobile, reputation management and social better. The third alternative is to be complacent and fade into irrelevance, but that will be a decision made by individual agencies, not the industry as a whole.
Why am I so hopeful when it would be a lot more rock & roll to throw stones at the advertising industry? Five reasons:
1. I am not in 8th grade.
2. There are new and exciting revenue models for agencies in mobile and social. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure them out and build service offerings around them. Knowing this, why wouldn’t anyone in the agency system not want to go there?
3. Clients/brands are already asking for it. Who wants to be the first agency to tell a major client “no?”
4. Ad agency leaders aren’t stupid. They understand the value of awards like Lions, but they also understand that awards only go so far; they also need to be able to demonstrate results for their clients beyond impressions and estimated media value. With an increasing number of us out here in the world capable of tying campaigns to increases in sales, changes in consumer behaviors (and ultimately ROI), big advertising probably won’t want to be left behind for too long.
5. If ad agencies don’t own new services like community development, digital reputation management and all things social, someone else will. Who in the ad world wants to see a chunk of their clients’ budgets vanish into the hands of a bunch of digital startups? Anyone? Bueller? Bueller?
Speaking of digital startups…
- Cultural alchemy.
“Agencies need to start acting more like tech startups.” – Rei Inamoto
Yes and no.
Yes: Agency professionals who aren’t technically savvy today (including the upper echelons) need to become literate – no, fluent – in mobile, digital and social. It isn’t just a matter of survival. It is also a competitive necessity.
No (1): Agencies don’t need to become technology innovation engines. It just isn’t what they are good at. They just need to become technology adoption ecosystems. (There is a difference.)
No (2): Since the majority of tech startup seem to follow a “build it now, worry about revenue models later” philosophy, be careful what you wish for. Agencies can’t bank everything on an idea, partner with VCs to develop it, then worry about making money 2-5 years down the road. Different models = different cultures. Different cultures = different models.
Where we go from here: Agencies simply need to start collaborating with technology pioneers on an ongoing basis. That’s really it. Two reasons: 1. There is no tactical advantage to falling behind. 2. Technical innovation can increase agency capabilities, cut costs, accelerate the campaign development process, and blow everyone’s socks off (consumers and clients). Who wants to turn that down? You?
In other words, agencies whose creatives, account teams and strategists don’t already completely grasp both the potential of social, mobile, gaming, geolocation, and sCRM (for starters) and the way they plug into consumers’ lives, aren’t exactly taking the pole position in their industry. From Old Spice to BMW to Jay-Z, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see the possibilities. Digital isn’t just websites, apps and content. Find a way to mainline technology into your model, even if that means building an internal team whose job it is to manage that for you.
- Talk is cheap.
“A global campaign will never be successful globally, if it’s not relevant locally. How can you ensure your audiences get culturally relevant messages wherever they are in the world? Involve the locals. Have all communications signed off by a local product manager or marketing manager. Have a local community manager who communicates and engages with the local audiences. Think globally, act locally – I know this slogan has been overused, but it doesn’t mean that it isn’t true.
“Speaking a language is not enough. In order to successfully blend into a culture, you must know that culture inside out. And that goes way beyond the language.” - Marta Majewska
- The power of stories.
“Stories have been around us since the beginning of the humanity. They have been a fundamental part of human communication and the essence of human experience. It is the stories that provide us with context through which we learn, understand and remember.” – Marta Majewska
“A good story is something you haven’t known. Something that hits your gut, your heart and therefore your emotions.” – Robert Redford
- More Redford.
“You can’t be alone in your sandbox if you want success.” – RR
“To be trusted, you need to prove integrity. It starts with authenticity and quality.” – RR
“Nobody votes for a new idea. If you believe in something, you’re going to have to do it yourself.” – RR
“The only thing that really succeeds is change.” – RR
“The first time he came to Cannes, he was broke and backpacking through Europe, and found himself sleeping in the winter cold beneath the famous Carlton Pier. As he huddled in his sleeping bag, he heard the sounds of people above him, people drinking, gambling, wearing tuxedoes, and he wondered what it would be like to be up there in that luxury.
“16 years later, he returned to Cannes, this time for a film. He put on his tuxedo, opened up the doors to his balcony at the Carlton, looked down and saw the pier. “I saw myself sitting under the pier,” he said, “wondering what it was to be like where I was now.” - Jeff Sweat, Editor-in-Chief, Yahoo! Advertising Blog
Class act. I love it when someone has nothing to sell. They always speak from the heart.
On the other hand…
- Cliché soup y crouton.
As for statements like “we must take more risks”, “we must embrace technology”, “we must be more creative”, “we must innovate more”, etc. yeah, I think we know. It’s always nice to hear it and all – and it pumps everybody up – but if entire keynotes are going to be based on stating the obvious, please also include some concrete examples outlining how you suggest agencies make that happen. Same with statements like “we should serve clients better”, “we should create more relevant advertising” and “we should build cultures of courage.” Give the audience a blueprint. A game plan. A process. Something. Otherwise, all we end up with is tweetable hot air. And if that’s all audiences want, here is my contribution to this year’s utterly cliché and incoherent #CannesLions twitbites:
“Adopt new technology. The future of now is the future.” – #StepfordTBB
“We really need to organize around the bread, not the cheese.” – #StepfordTBB
“If the mother of invention is necessity, culture is her second cousin.” – #StepfordTBB
“The more authentic our branding is, the more people will trust our messaging.” – #StepfordTBB
“We must re-invent everything.” – #StepfordTBB
“Community management is the new viral.” – #StepfordTBB
“If mobile is the new web, social media is the new mobile.” – #StepfordTBB
“Silicon Valley is the new Madison Avenue.” (Ooops. Someone might have actually already said that. Doh!)
“We will be the first agency in the world to attract one billion likes for a brand on Facebook.” – #StepfordTBB
Okay, I’ll stop here. You get the idea. We can do a lot better.
- Originality. Or not.
Speaking of jury mistakes, how exactly does the Cannes jury explain this fiasco? (And I am not even talking about the agency-client confusion. I mean how does the Cannes jury justify awarding a Silver Lion to an ad campaign that uses pedophilia as its narrative?)
A new buzzword.
“Too much marketing messes up the communities. So think ‘communiting’, not marketing,” other wise words by Will.I.am. “Communiting” as a word might not have existed until yesterday, but we like the word and we definitely like the idea that lies behind it. “Communiting” is about enabling and fostering communities. About facilitating, not dictating. About engaging, not trying to sell. About truly becoming a part of the community, contributing to it and showing that you care. – Article by Marta Majeska
Like I told Marta, yes, the spirit of the thing is great. More community focus is imperative, and ad agencies (and their clients) need to both understand this and live it every day. (Burst the bubble, break down the walls, mingle with consumer communities, and whatever you do, don’t just broadcast). BUT… the last thing we need right now is a new made-up buzzword. So with all due respect to Mr. Will.I.am, perhaps we should take the time to fully grasp what enabling and fostering communities means before we start making up awkward and unnecessary words. Communiting? Ugh.
Tell you what: If you want to adopt Will.I.am’s terminology, go ahead. But first, you have to be able to clearly explain what “enabling” a community looks like for a brand and its agencies. Go ahead: Draw a sketch of the process. Once you’ve done that, outline the process of “fostering” a community. Then and only then, if you still want to, can you get away with using a term like communiting, or communitizing, even.
And please, please, please, don’t you dare create a “communiting manager” role. Community managers are happy with the current nomenclature.
Footnote: Marketing and Community enabling/building/fostering are not mutually exclusive. You can do both. In fact, the more you build your consumer-facing programs in a way that allows different functions like marketing and community management to complement each other and be well integrated with one another, the better your results will be. It isn’t an either/or equation. It’s an and equation: Marketing AND community building. Together.
Source of the discussion: http://blog.porternovelli.com/2011/06/24/think-communiting-not-marketing/
- Spelling is irrelevant.
I can hear it now: “Our guerrilla campaign resulted in 379,000 impressions in 52 countries in less than 76 hours, for an estimated media value of $12,350,480.”
I guess that’s better than “I’m a copywriter, damn it, not a spelling champion!” or even “I didn’t think it was my job to make sure the printing company didn’t screw up the spelling,” or even “I’m in digital, not tow plane marketing!”
Ah, good stuff. And the perfect example to use in your marketing class before discussing the age old question: Is there such a thing as bad publicity?
Advertising isn’t dead. Quite the opposite: Advertising is evolving into a richer, much more complex, more intricately integrated discipline. From what I have seen, advertising is still as cool as ever. And yeah, the industry has its share of annoying, insecure, egocentric twats, but even that is changing. People’s backgrounds in the agency world are becoming more diverse, which is one of the best things that could happen to the industry. For the first time since perhaps the late 80′s, the gates are coming down. Agencies are looking for different kinds of skills and backgrounds and abilities. They are experimenting more with their new hires. And with the incredible opportunities open to the agency world in the coming decade, (we might actually find ourselves on the verge of a second golden age for advertising) all I can see is work, work, and more work (really cool work) just waiting to be taken on. That’s pretty exciting. Let’s meet back here again next year and see if that potential is still just potential and pretty talk, or if it is starting to be realized.
Okay, that’s it for me. Congrats to all the winners! If you want to get the official story, check out the Cannes Lions site. Lots of stuff there for you to look at.
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Oh, one last thing: Social Media Day is being celebrated globally on June 30. Join me in Antwerp for a 1/2 day of social media integration and management workshops & a pretty fly afterparty. (Or send one of your minions if you can’t make it.)
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One final shot from the Cannes Lions, before they take down the flags: