Why I won't be at Cannes Lions this year

May 14, 2019

A few years ago, we rented a 100' motor yacht called the Accama (see above). It came stocked with unlimited Champagne and Rosé. We shared it with the most interesting and influential people we could think of and soon realised that most of them could have just as easily been found in Soho House. We all had a marvellous time but, in spite of the hedonism, we came away feeling that the Ad industry had lost its mojo. 

Before selling it to WPP, I used to own an Ad agency. It was a wonderful business. We worked for technology companies and, in our small way, helped to give birth to the internet. Back then, our knowledge of communications and our skills architecting brands was deemed highly valuable. Particularly by the entrepreneurial engineers who ran most of the tech firms.

The price of magic has been devalued

Since the birth of Social Media, the whole world has learned something about mass marketing. Communication skills lessons come free with a Facebook profile. The general public have fervent opinions about all sorts of things and they love to rant about them. Many of the skills that our agency used to sell - things that seemed slightly magical at the time - have been democratised.

Advertising isn’t founded on honesty

Today’s successful marketing campaigns are increasingly based on what a brand is actually doing rather than what they may be saying. Social continues to demand more authenticity and more transparency. Consumers want to have conversations with them, in realtime. Agencies typically make the ordinary more attractive. Their work is clever, witty and polished. Less often is it raw, candid or live.

Knowledge is the future

With the rise of digital marketing came the industry’s slide toward science. If you can measure the efficacy of a marketing activity then, clearly, you should. If you can use programmatic platforms to target an individual's behaviour in a particular location, why wouldn’t you. But who owns the data? The media platforms (Google, Facebook etc.) are not creators but they know more about who's reading, clicking, searching or liking any content than agencies do. Brands know more about their customers than agencies do. Agencies are being sidelined.

What is required next?

Every business is now expected to forge a daily dialogue with its stakeholders. The demand for relevant, realtime brand conversations will only increase. This year, every marketer’s must-have is a bot. Bots will get smarter. Automated content creation and distribution will get smarter. All these developments will require faster content production cycles and a much deeper understanding of customers and the sector. The time when a freshly appointed agency Creative Director was able to wave a wand of wonder and change the fortunes of a brand feels over to me. 

The story lives on

Creativity in marketing will continue but, in my humble opinion, it’s moving upstream and downstream. The upstream model is about proposition design. If marketing is all about telling the story of the business, you need to create a great story. Many companies have shitty stories or a story rooted in a social deficit. We warm to AirBnB and SpaceX. Yet some are becoming wary of the sustainability issues around Uniqlo and Primark who make their products so incredibly cheaply.

The downstream model is rooted in the industry's insatiable appetite for branded conversation. Startups hire 22 year olds with a grasp of the Urban Dictionary to craft hip banter that makes them feel appealing. But the 'community manager' role becomes more challenging in a regulated financial service where everything needs approval or where the conversation requires deep understanding of the business and its multi-facetted markets. There is a demand to create a constant flow of smart, intelligent conversations. So I reckon a new service - woven together from a powerhouse of great creative minds and the world's best AI - is simply gagging to be born.

I won't be at Cannes Lions this year because I'll be at CogX in London instead. CogX is an event stuffed with the world's leading minds in Artificial Intelligence. See you there (or in Soho House sometime).

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