Just before this year’s Cannes adfest I thought I'd be radical and suggest the whole thing is an anachronism. Unfit for purpose. Actually, this is what I said:
”Meanwhile, in the real world, people don't know or care about Cannes. They'd probably be surprised by how lavish Cannes is, given what little regard they have for the advertising industry. Which is probably a good thing. Cannes is out of step with the real world.”
Turns out I was wrong. Over the following days lots of people far more eminent than me had critical things to say about it all. Here's a very small sample.
Mark Ritson | Adjunct Professor. As the marketing elite wake up in Cannes for another day of sunshine and round tables, my Marketing Week column from a few years ago on the lessons from Cannes seems as instructive as ever. Back to work peeps.
And then there was this sublime critique by Bob Hoffman (ad contrarian) - Read the whole thing here: http://adcontrarian
" A very European planner gave a talk about how we have to stop thinking short-term and realize that brands are built by long-term strategy. Those who focus on the short-term will disappear in the long-term. (Then she hurried out to see how many tweets her talk got.)"
More About Advertising was also there taking pot shots, here ridiculing the vapid language and empty rhetoric.
“Trust was the most popular word at Cannes this year, the actual meaning of which covers a multitude of strategies and intentions. It is usually delivered with a serious face and a slowing of speech, a bit like Esther Rantzen moving to the earnest bit on That’s Life! After the bit when everyone laughs at a vegetable that looks like a penis...
Trust also became an adjective last week. I went to one talk where ‘trusterizing’ was used in the same sentence as ‘digital inflection point.’ At this point I felt there was only six degrees of separation to cunterizing.”
And then there was the grubby episode when Phillip Morris turned up and tried to flog their fags.
People shuffled around looking at their shoes, pretending to have nothing to do with it. All fair game and nothing a slightly tipsy sun-burned industry couldn’t brush off when they’re having such a good time.
Little did they know shit was about to get real when, out of left field, came a disruptor. No, not a soap brand executive with a radical idea for selling direct to the consumer, but real people with real issues willing to put their real selves on the line for something bigger than their next bonus. Beneath the sarcasm directed at an industry still in love with itself erupted a serious undercurrent of social disquiet, highlighted brilliantly by Extinction Rebellion.
The Drum of course had to seriously cover this flashpoint with all the objectivity of advertising’s breathless cheerleader.
Cannesdemonium: Extinction Rebellion crashes Cannes Lions to rally ad industry
"William Skeaping, a former creative strategist at ad agency McCann London and a prominent player within Extinction Rebellion – has been meeting advertising execs throughout this week in Cannes. He has been attempting to persuade them to get them on board the sustainability agenda in light of a prediction from the UN that we only have 12 years left to limit climate change disaster.
Live from the scene, he tweeted: "Came hoping we could get the advertising industry to help tell the truth about the climate and ecological emergency but now have a sinking feeling that we're totally fucked."
Which they then followed up with an article about the virtue signalling of 'Purpose-led brands'
The brand purpose hypocrisy at Cannes Lions
‘Brand purpose’ was a popular topic. Maithreyi Jagannathan, P&G’s associate marketing director for healthcare, and Ajay Vikram, the chief creative officer of Publicis Singapore, discussed an ad campaign featuring a transgender Indian mother and a girl with a rare skin condition… Jimmie Stone, Edelman’s chief creative officer for New York and Latin America, unveiled a five-step guide to building a brand with purpose.
“But see what happened when someone actually wanted to do something real about the environment. An activist group named Extinction Rebellion exposed the feel-good sentiments as utterly hypocritical.”
And there were many other article and criticisms all over the internet frankly exposing Cannes for what it is. A massive excuse for a piss-up, out of step with the world falling apart around it, to which it has so fulsomely contributed down the ages.
So frankly, by the end of the week I not only felt my initial criticisms of the event had been justified, I felt positively validated by the depth and breadth of skepticism, cynicism and downright vitriol coming from so many other quarters. It'll be interesting to see how the organisers respond for next year, for, have no doubt, there will be a next year.
For the record, I believe everything about Cannes is anathema to what we are supposed to be doing, namely; connecting brands to the people who want to buy them. What we do isn't 'glamorous', it isn’t ‘special’ and we aren’t particularly good at it. Seriously, I mean that. There's no rigour, no recognised science, and no defining theories for what we do. Don't believe me? Read this:
In fact, marketing's, as the Arctic Monkeys put it, can be described as - 'Whatever People Say I Am, That's What I'm Not'. Don't believe the experts, media commentators or celebrity planners, you can't bottle marketing. Especially sitting beside a pool sipping freshly squeezed OJ.
‘Advertising’ (or whatever the catch-all term is that now describes what we do), isn’t even an industry. We serve clients who want to sell their goods and services and, (radical though this may sound), we serve the people who might want to buy those goods. And that’s it. The rest just gets in the way. If you’re not very good at it, then go do something else. Perhaps, back in the day, before we had the internet and before we'd learned to question the advertising bullshit, maybe, then, Cannes was a good idea. But this is 2019 and hanging out in Cannes isn't going to make you better at advertising. In fact, it will probably make things worse.