Every year in late June, the global advertising community descends on Cannes, France for the Cannes Lions Festival the glitzy awards show that celebrates the best work in the industry. It's a sight to behold, with 11,000 agency folk, clients and technology companies from every corner of the earth coming together in one place. There's constant buzz with provocative conversations, parties galore and a show of amazing creativity.
Yet, this year it felt a bit like the Roman Empire during the Age of Caligula, one of history's most tyrannical leaders. Don't get me wrong — I love a good party. But, while the industry is partying, all on the client's dime, the world around us is radically changing as digital technology evolves the way we all communicate.
The contrast really becomes evident when some of the advertising industry's luminaries take the stage. One of my favorite moments came during an on-stage conversation between George Lois who created several powerful covers for Esquire, including the iconic one featuring Muhammad Ali as St. Sebastian, pinned by arrows, and Lee Clow. The discussion was fun and lively but the last line threw me for a loop: Lois ended the session by saying, "At the end of the day, it's about finding clients who let you do great work. And if they don't let you do great work, fuck 'em."
It was right out of an episode of Mad Men.
As you walked down the Croisette the rest of the week, you could see lots of dinosaurs basking in their glory while asking what all the furry and feathered things running around at their feet and flying around above them were.
Evolution could be seen in real time.
Earlier in the week, I had the honor of speaking at a session called "What Will Advertising be When it Grows Up?" with Gareth Kay, Chief Strategy Officer of Goodby, Silverstein and Paul Bennett, the Chief Creative Officer of IDEO and moderated by Jimmy Maymann, CEO of Huffington Post. All three had a unique and provocative point of view on how the industry must act to stay relevant as the world changes around us.
From my point of view, there are two issues at the core of this evolution. First as an industry, the fundamental way agencies charge is not aligned with their clients' needs. Charging by the hour incentivizes agencies to go slower and put more manpower on an assignment. We need to be aligned on common performance indicators with clients to ensure our method works. While some in the industry wish that we could remain as creative free spirits with our clients as patrons, clients are becoming so squeezed — and so focused on ROI — that that model isn't sustainable.
Secondly, we're one of the very few creative industries that codifies who gets to be creative by putting "creative" in their title. Other types of creative companies, like IDEO, expect everyone to be creative. We need to let go of this arrogance and allow creativity to come from everyone and everywhere.
Addressing these two issues requires a massive shift — and to make it happen we need to start by letting go of our self-image of being makers. "Making" is at the core of what the industry has historically done — from conceiving a campaign to executing and placing it. That made a lot of sense in a pre-production world, where we had one shot to get the perfect image on film.
Today, in our post-production world where everything can be tweaked, edited and shared after it's been made, our roles must change.
Instead of being executors of communication campaigns, we must become inventors, architects and conductors. The brands we all love see themselves that way. Nike and Apple, for example, don't really make anything. They invent products but leave it to their vendors to build them — vendors who they can change at the drop of a hat. It's much better to be an Apple than a Foxconn.
Looking around the industry there is reason for hope. Winston Binch and his team at Deutsch LA have started Inventioni.st helping brands invent products and processes instead of just making ads.
Likewise, Stefan Olander at Nike continues to be an inspiration as he helps architect what it means to be a sports company by building communities and platforms instead of just designing shoes.
Lastly, we've been on a journey at Victors & Spoils to establish an environment where amazing creativity can come from anywhere. Sometimes it's from our internal teams or ad experts but equally it can come from a brand's fans, followers and other customers, cultural wild cards (artists, social media pundits and thinkers) and teams inside the brand itself, including members of the marketing and product design teams.
What's the future of Cannes?
In recent years, the festival seems to be looking squarely into the past, buzzing about what happened last year and even last decade, longing for the Mad Men era and the dinosaurs that once roamed La Croisette. As in any environment some species will go extinct while others with new and better approaches will rise up. While that might seem scary, this kind of evolutionary creative destruction is essential for any creative industry to survive — and thrive — as the world around it changes.
Going forward, Cannes needs to become less of a glitzy gathering for self-congratulation and more a congregation of creative minds working to figure out the future — more TED than Academy Awards. While the festival will remain a central event in the industry, it must move beyond simply celebrating creativity in advertising to applying creativity to the industry's broad challenges. At the end of the day, creativity is the best tool for solving business problems. Having an annual event to discuss and embrace it will be an important driver of change.
See you next year in Cannes.