“20 years ago,” according to Mike Dolan, former CEO of Y&R and current CEO of Bacardi, “Cannes was a job fair. Now it’s about the work, funnily enough, and increasingly even about the clients”. We were on a yacht moored in Le Vieux Port to promote the book, “Does it Work?” He went on talk about how the Festival sponsors are changing too, and the surge of digital in everything. The rest of the panel, Ross Levinsohn, briefly the CEO of Yahoo, and Erin McPherson, Chief Content Officer from Maker Studios, both confirmed the rise of digital.
While phonetically Cannes may not sound that glamorous, eliciting images of cheap aluminium drinking receptacles, I would posit that is likely the paragon glamorous lifestyle. Ensconced on the Côte d’Azur, with white-sand beaches flanking La Croisette, billionaire yachts, helicopters, parties to stretch into daylight and $1000-a-night rooms at The Carlton, there is nothing cheap about the town. There is a reason the film awards (and the porn film awards after it) are hosted there. Both of these precede the Advertising Festival. One could imagine staying all three weeks, or even the entire summer, unhinged by constraints that keep the rest of the world in check. The energy is flammable and the egos, suffocating. But it’s ok. This is a concentration of the best creative talent in the world. I see it as a mashup of The Oscars (beauty & craft) and a Nobel Prize (intellect & insight) for global creativity.
On the periphery is the small army of “suits” (client service types), that come to connect, build relationships and hopefully, strike deals. For us suits, it’s like Davos for Advertising. There is simply no better event to network at if you are in the advertising industry. The top executives from clients and agencies will moor at their favourite hotel or restaurant each day, multiplexing their meetings in concertina fashion, often being only half-hour morsels.
For the suits, there is little partying. Rather there is a litany of elevator pitches, trying to catch the attention of these advertising giants, with the hope that you’ll win more time. For the suits, the day usually starts with a couple of hours answering emails and then onto a 10 am “breakfast” for the first meeting. If you are lucky, you have a stack of meetings. And this goes on until dinner, which can start as late as 10pm, and then onto the functions, which go through until the early hours. It is gruelling. Which makes sense, as this is an event for the creative minds to celebrate or commiserate their hard work. To be clear, while it is tough for the account people, if you love deal-making and developing relationships, The Festival cannot be missed.
Last year the key theme for me was “content”. While the ad industry’s always seen itself as storytellers, the format to tell that story was a rigid 30-second television commercial. So “content” at the 2014 Festival came to mean the telling of stories beyond that constraint. And the subtext of this was very much that social media was the framework. Dragging it out of the ‘community management’ ghetto and into a place where the “big idea” could live healthily.
This year, for me, it was all about online video. And this is clearly an extension of last year’s theme but with a clear link to the visceral format that drove the advertising space for the 30 years prior: film. So, I see this year’s Festival as a watershed – where TVCs and the Internet became comfortable bedfellows.
To this end, online film underpinned almost everything I saw. And the legendary David Droga sees this evolution too. To paraphrase: TV is like a Formula 1 one track (rigid, set structure, potentially high performance) and Digital is like the streets (complex, interesting, many routes). It is more complicated but, according to him, there is more opportunity for great ad people.
Perhaps the best example of the growing influence of online film was the Grand Prix winner of the Film category: Geico’s “Unskippable”. It really is an incredible result. To unpack this: a pre-roll YouTube ad, that completes its message in 5 seconds, beat out large budget television commercials, a format that has dominated the category since its inception. By subverting the constraints of the YouTube ad model, it delivered something interesting and entertaining, that allowed it to stand above others both in terms of reach and creativity and therefore, effectiveness.
So to me, it wasn’t only that this year’s Festival is about online film. It was also the start of a new epoch in advertising. A time where the most visceral format, film, succeeds in the multi-format world called the Internet.
– Justin Spratt is Managing Director of Quirk Africa. You can follow him on Twitter @.