The Regular Visitor’s view
Patrick Collister, Editor of Directory
Issue 52 | September 2019
I haven't missed a year at the Cannes Festival since 1991.
My first visit was in 1984, I think.
Cannes wasn't that important then.
When I won my first Gold Lion in 1989, someone else picked it up and it was delivered to me some weeks later in a Sainsbury's bag.
Now Cannes is the most important week of my year.
As it has been every year for well over a decade.
It's not just the work but the talks that help give me focus and direction for the year ahead.
Usually I come back having found in the Bronzes and the Shortlists the ideas that point to the future.
Not this year.
In fact, for every sign-post I thought I found, I came across another pointing in an opposite direction.
I was going to call this piece 'Cannes Considered' but, actually, 'Cannes Conflicted' is closer to the truth.
Woke or what?
The first contradiction was in the goody-bag.
Cannes Lions has made a big thing of sustainability in the last two years.
In 2018 they created the Sustainable Development Goals Lions to recognise work that "harnesses creativity that seeks to positively impact the world."
In 2019, they signed up Deloitte Digital as their first Sustainability Partner.
What this meant was that Deloitte's provided every Cannes delegate with a snazzy water bottle.
It was the only goody in the goody-bag.
If you're only going to have one thing in the goody-bag, isn't the whole exercise just a tad wasteful?
Apparently the Closca bottles could save 150,000 plastic bottles from fouling up the system.
And the bag was made from biodegradable materials.
My real worry is that when I think of companies genuinely committed to sustainability, Deloitte's is not a name that springs to mind.
It isn't in the Global 100 Most Sustainable Corporations in the World index.
Intriguingly, Accenture comes in at Number 93. Maybe they would make a more plausible partner to Cannes Lions?
Go to Deloitte's website and there's some blurb about "committed to driving societal change...Working in innovative ways with government, non-profit organisations and civil society."
This looks woke to me.
'Woke' being the word of the week once the new CEO of Unilever used it in his keynote to warn the industry of 'woke-washing'.
Alan Jope declared that on his watch every Unilever brand will be a purposeful brand.
But he went on to warn, "At a time when we are trying to deal with real-world issues, fake purpose is dangerous. It will further destroy trust in our industry."
He said, we should not trust any brand communication not backed by substantial impact in society.
Woke, then, is spurious, fake.
A bottle in a bag.
Not welcome here
This led immediately to (what appeared to be) a second contradiction.
If Cannes Lions is genuine in wanting to provide a stage for the people whose ideas may help make the world a better place, how come Extinction Rebellion were made to feel distinctly unwelcome when they pitched up at the festival?
So unwelcome, in fact, that when they did turn up at the Palais, they were wrestled to the ground by French gendarmes and forcibly ejected.
(Extinction Rebellion is a UK-based protest movement. Founded in 2018, it hit the front pages in April 2019 when its supporters blocked off Oxford Street with a pink boat.
In May, they turned their attention to advertising.
In an open letter to The Guardian, they wrote: 'Advertising will increasingly be seen alongside oil and logging as obviously toxic industries and those with the job title 'creatives' will soon find themselves rebranded as 'destroyers'.')
I'm happy to be able to report what actually happened.
When a group of activists turned up in Cannes on their bicycles, Phil Thomas, CEO of Ascential and Chairman of Cannes Lions, did offer them a stage.
The Debussy stage, to be exact, which seats 1,000.
The Mayor of Cannes got to hear of this and his immediate response was, "Non, non, non."
He explained that if Extinction Rebellion got given a platform, then opposition group Les Gilets Jaunes might demand the same.
No way was the French Government going to allow that.
Phil, embarrassed, had to withdraw the offer.
As a big fan of Cannes Lions, I'm relieved to learn that the organisation is not as hypocritical as some might think.
But I do wonder if Skeaping might not be right in saying agencies are in denial.
They may be keen to have ideas about the issues of our time, but they are a lot less keen to do anything practical about them.
The vagina as seen by nine men
So, here's the next paradox.
Adland is hot under the collar about gender discrimination.
There is an entire category at Cannes devoted to work intended to bring culture-change.
The Glass Lion recognises "work that implicitly or explicitly addresses issues of gender inequality or prejudice."
This year, 'Viva la Vulva' from AMV BBDO won a Gold.
Actually, it won several Golds.
It's a marvellously crafted piece of work.
But the writers and art directors were all men.
As were the Chief Creative Officer, the two Executive Creative Directors and the two Creative Directors involved.
I took a look at all this year's Glass Lions and counted up the number of creatives credited with winning the eight awards.
Sixty in all, of whom just 11% were women.
Les Lionnes is a group of French women working in advertising.
They crunched the data of all the winning work and found that only 9% is gender equal.
Of the 932 Lions awarded, the Lionnes narrowed their list down to 100.
It is an unpleasant fact that our industry remains fundamentally sexist.
This seems to be borne out by a growing pay gap at UK agencies, as reported by The Drum in April 2019.
One top executive has described progress as being "on a journey".
In this instance, the train doesn't seem to have left the station.
What's disappointing isn't that guys are winning awards women should be winning.
It's in believing the business is changing and discovering it isn't.
Everybody hates us
It's not just that people hate advertising, which they do.
They seem to hate everyone involved with it.
An IPSOS study in November 2018 ranked advertising people as less trustworthy than politicians.
It didn't help having colourful stories about Sir Martin Sorrell on the front pages of the newspapers.
Nor stories of criminal behaviour, agencies alleged to be ripping off their clients.
In reaction to this groundswell of antipathy, adland has come up with ever more awards 'For Good'.
Cannes Lions among them.
I have a problem with this inasmuch as it seems to suggest advertising that tries to sell stuff is 'bad'.
You can understand why jurors want to hand out Lions to work that's worthy, that has some sort of social purpose.
It makes them feel good about the industry and feel good about themselves.
But therein lies a contradiction.
Advertising's primary purpose is commercial.
But looking at the 28 Grands Prix, I could find only six that had clear commercial intent.
Only five of the entries of those 28 actually talked about sales.
One of those, curiously, was 'Broadway the Rainbow'.
While other brands were running ads in the breaks of Superbowl LIII, Skittles put on a live show in New York.
The story was of an actor who gets cast to appear in a Skittles ad.
But he gets second-thoughts about it.
He has bad dreams.
Cue for a song, "Advertising Ruins Everything".
Gosh, they must have loved the irony of it all at DDB Chicago.
Now, here's an excerpt from a blogpost written by someone who went to the show.
"In the final moments, the onstage crowd got so angry about the prevalence of advertising that they rioted. They even killed Michael C. Hall (the character).
It may have been delivered with razzmatazz but that closing message was cynical and bleak, flatly stating that consumer culture is rotting our spirits faster than candy is rotting our teeth."
The blogger concluded that this honesty is good for advertising.
Personally, I think it is very bad for advertising when the industry starts peeing inside its own tent.
On a lighter note
Um... what lighter note?
I don't know if it's exactly a contradiction, but there has been one big, noticeable change in advertising over the last decade.
It's stopped being funny.
Actually, it's even stopped trying to be funny.
Brands have all become so damn worthy.
When I get the opportunity to talk to clients, I do say that having a purpose doesn't necessarily mean saving the planet.
It could be a fine and noble purpose just to cheer people up on a wet Wednesday.
To give 'em a smile when the news is full of gloom.
'Whopper Detour' – Titanium Grand Prix, Direct Grand Prix, Mobile Grand Prix, 5 Gold Lions for FCB New York
'Burn That Ad' – Gold, Silver, 2 Bronzes in Direct, Silver in Mobile, Silver in Outdoor for David São Paulo
At this point, enter Burger King.
Ten years ago (or more), Crispin Porter & Bogusky persuaded BK that they weren't a food brand.
After all, no-one buys a Whopper for its nutritional value.
No, they were an entertainment brand.
When people need a bit of a lift, they stop off for a burger and fries.
So, if the brand has a higher purpose, it is to give people a metaphorical (and literal) sugar hit.
Also, you've got to admire their cheek.
In taking a pop at McDonald's, they haven't been half-hearted about it.
They've gone for the full-frontal assault.
'Whopper Detour' is a simple promotion. Download our app and get a voucher for a free Whopper.
But fixing it so you could only download the app at a McDonald's restaurant, now that's ballsy.
Perhaps even more brazen is 'Burn That Ad'.
It's an app from David Sao Paulo that uses augmented reality to give people the ability to incinerate any McDonald's ad they see.
But for a laugh, have a look at the 'Clowns" press campaign from Spain.
Gold in Print & Publishing for MullenLowe Madrid
And for more out-loud laughter, watch any of the "BK Bot" commercials (or the whole lot at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LR021UqRq0U )
The spots purport to have been written by a bot, force-fed 1,000 hours of advertising case studies.
"Announcing the Chicken Sandwich from Burglar King. Tastes like bird."
Fernando Machado, CMO of Burger King. Serial winner at Cannes.
A creative hero
I don't know if this is a contradiction either, but it's certainly a manifestation of how the festival has changed.
For the second year running, I would hazard a guess that the most awarded individual at Cannes was not Droga, Goodby or Lubars.
Not Pyush Pandey or Mark Tutssel or any of the Chief Creative Officers.
It was Fernando Machado.
And good for him, the BK CMO.
Actually, good for the rest of us too.
His name was on 33 different pieces of work submitted to the festival by 15 different agencies, winning 40 Lions between them.
Ironically, Burger King was Client of the Year in 2017.
But in 2018 and now in 2019 the brand has dominated the awards circuit.
Phil Thomas said to him: "Burger King is owned by an investment group. How the heck do they let you get away with what you do?"
"You've got it the wrong way round," replied Machado. "They have no interest in what I do. They look only at the numbers. I do what I do because it works."
Therein lies a message for marketers everywhere.
Or does it?
Peter Field came to Cannes to tell everyone that award-winning advertising no longer outperforms unamusing, uninteresting, unconsidered advertising.
Again, this looks to me like an industry with no confidence in itself.
Field, author of "The Long and the Short of It", trained in the creative cauldron that was BMP (morphed into adam&eve DDB today). He was always an evangelist for creativity. His book "The Long and the Short of It" showed that award-winning work outperformed 'ordinary' work by eleven times.
I would not have invited him to Cannes to depress us.
Can you imagine Alex Ferguson going into a new season at Manchester United saying, "We're not very good this year"?
Agency Terry & Sandy hired a plane to fly over Cannes publicising their FreeDroga campaign
Perhaps more depressing was fallen hero David Droga, who took to the stage with his new boss, Brian Whipple.
It was the hottest ticket of the week.
Hundreds queued in vain to get into the auditorium.
There was a general feeling in adland that, in selling to Accenture Interactive, Droga had sold us all down the drain.
New York Agency Terri & Sandy even started a #FreeDroga movement to raise the $475 million he'd need to buy himself back.
But there was also a sense that maybe he knew something the rest of us didn't. That he had found the way ahead not just for his business but for the rest of us as well.
Ominously, though, Cannes billed the session as 'A Collision of Worlds'.
Droga tried to say that he was not selling out.
But then told us he didn't want to be 'the best in a shrinking business'.
Not the encouraging message most of the audience wanted to hear.
He tried to say the deal was about the enhancement of creativity.
That it would give his agency the scope for 'end-to-end creativity'.
That brands are built on exceptional experiences.
That there's no real distinction between technology and creativity.
But it just didn't wash, really.
Especially when I took a look at what Accenture Interactive were bragging about as great work.
'The cruise experience transformed', says the blurb.
Passengers with Carnival Cruises were given medallions. These connected to thousands of data points embedded in the ships, which linked to 'interactive portals and other digital experiences'.
Sounds a bit like the sort of thing Disney were doing a couple of years ago.
So, lashings of conflict.
Men vs women.
Agencies vs consultancies.
Technology vs creativity.
Selling stuff vs cause-led communications.
Scam vs for real.
(For instance, what was MullenLowe Madrid doing creating a campaign for Gay Pride in Moscow?)
I could keep going.
If most people now consume most of their media on a screen this size, why are agencies still making work for 26" TVs?
But I won't, except to point out one last anomaly.
Overall entries to Cannes Lions were down 4% in 2019.
There were 30,953 entries.
The Film/TV category, however, was up a chunky 29%.
And there was some beautiful work on view.
But here's the thing.
If most people now watch ads on a screen measuring three inches by two inches, what's the point of lavish production values?
One of the most thought-provoking talks of the week (for me) was 'The Power of Ugly'. Tim Leake is the Chief Innovation Officer of Californian agency RPA.
He talked about how the grottier an ad looks, the more successful it will be.
This is a build on Per Pedersen's talk a year ago. The Global Chief Creative Panjandrum of Grey told us then that the first rule of advertising now is to make ads that don't look like ads.
If it's glossy, it's inauthentic.
Puts people off.
So why does the industry seem to be doing more of this stuff?
The stuff that is ungenuine? Slick? Peddled by those sly deceivers of Madison Avenue and Fitzrovia?
I don't know.
Come to think of it, this piece should be headlined 'Cannes Confused'.
I guess I'm at one with the young Indian journalist, Mithila Saraf, who was as baffled by it all as me.
"But then,' she wrote '...you see the Whopper Detour, the BK AI ads or the Cheetos Museum and you find yourself laughing out loud purely out of relief that someone is working just for their brand. The pent-up tension of the festival is broken by this unapologetic work and you tell yourself – it's OK, life will be good again.'
But as I looked out across the Bay of Cannes, all I could see were murky waters.
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