The Cannes Lions Festival of Creativity 2018 has come to a close. The streets are empty but for locals and tourists, who can now get a seat in any restaurant, and the window-shaking beach music is absent, returning quiet tranquility to the nights.
Yet even as the final stragglers pack to leave, there remains unfinished business and unresolved issues that will continue to be debated by many in the industry across clients, agencies, media and so-called tech.
At the heart of this debate seems to be one question: what is creativity?
John Gapper, a correspondent with the Financial Times, filed his view towards the middle of the event in a piece called, “Advertising’s Creative Vision is Old Fashioned.”
“Most debates this week were about technology rather than art — six second Snapchat video ad formats, behavioural targeting, artificial intelligence, ‘dynamic creative optimisation’ and suchlike…That tension between art and commerce in marketing is intensifying…most advertisers simply want to find people as efficiently as possible and persuade them to buy things, whatever the format.”
Further, he states, “Marketing creativity is not dead, but it needs to be reinvented. The most interesting inventions in Cannes this week were not ads but new ways to reach consumers without making them pause in front of a screen.”
Gapper disparages “traditional agencies” and their old-fashioned practitioners, while praising so-called “Digital Transformation Agencies” who seemingly understand that “[t]he way the product is delivered is a form of creative marketing. “
His conclusion: “Anything on which the return cannot be measured is vulnerable.”
Let me begin with his conclusion…a statement of truth if I have ever heard one, and frankly, the bedrock of the entire universe of marketing. You see, if it doesn’t sell and if the sale doesn’t lead to the next sale, then either the product/service and/or its marketing are ineffective. And what better measurement of effectiveness is there than bottom line?
Sadly, and for too long, the industry has been seduced by likes and shares, by digital trails and the endless amounts of data being collected that would better target, better align product and audience, and, of course, allow endless mind-numbing measurement.
And yet, despite it all, listen to what the biggest advertisers are saying:
At the conference, Pinterest’s global head of sales, Jon Kaplan, noted, “We may have over-rotated into that kind of data-driven marketing. And there’s kind of no soul and no creativity and no real brand love associated with that.”
Unilever’s Keith Weed, who was also a Cannes attendee and panelist, tweeted: “If we as an industry want to keep the consumer trust, we need to overhaul the standards of behaviour on digital channels.”
Let me be clear. This is not a screed against digital or any form of creative marketing or advertising. On the contrary, I wholeheartedly agree that we need more and more creativity to help marketers cut through the clutter.
In fact, I’d argue strongly that we need a return to real creativity, the kind that both builds brands and sells products—and thinking that somehow that thought is old fashioned…is, well, just old fashioned and out of step.
Let me begin by defining terms on my terms:
The stack that we address in Cannes and every day in marketing is made up of three components:
And it’s the interplay of the three that makes our industry so dynamic and puts us in constant evolution.
Creativity is all about one thing: the story. Every brand and product and activation mentioned in Gapper’s article has a story at its core. In fact, Amazon and Facebook and Google are all obsessed by stories, including telling their own (often on old fashioned broadcast TV and print). To assume that stories are limited to 60 second commercials is to show a sad lack of knowledge about some of the great campaigns of history.
Without a story, there is nothing. Thinking that Dollar Shave (another example given in Gapper’s article) was a success simply because they targeted well, is to not have paid attention to any of their marketing efforts and activations.
Stories are as old as humankind and will long outlive the tweeting thumbs of today.
Innovation, (my lexicon solely) is how we distribute the story.
The first cave painting was an innovation, as the pointed stick dipped in some pigment shared a story of a hunt. Broadsides, newspapers, magazines radio, cinema, TV were all innovations, and our stories made them all successful. Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, Instagram and the rest are the innovations of our day, but all are empty software programs without our stories.
Technology, on the other hand is how we create these innovations, learn to target them, and make them increasingly more interactive and responsive.
Facebook is not a tech company, it just uses digital technology brilliantly based on a deep understanding of human behavior: that people love to share stories.
Radio was not a technology nor was television, but they made great use of it and continue to do so. And, of course, newspapers and magazines came about because of technology—paper, ink, and the press are now linked to digital, by the way.
So, there you have it. The nexus of creativity, innovation and technology that drives our industry continues to evolve, and makes it an exciting and dynamic business to be in.
Don’t be complacent but remember that complacency is not old fashioned—it’s rampant. Marketing is first and foremost about people. Their wants, desires, tastes, behaviors and the stories that connect, inspire, motivate, and create demand for more.
This, in my view, was the message I got from consumers and from clients of all sizes at Cannes.
We in advertising need to be proud. We need to be forceful. We need to be smart. Companies like P&G are cutting their budgets, not because of “old fashioned” marketing, but because activist investors are attacking them on all fronts, and marketing has always been the victim of budget cuts…anyone in the industry with a historical view can tell you that this fact pre-dates anything digital or otherwise.
One last thought—obviously you need a great product or service, but without the nexus of CIT there is nothing. Listen:
“You can’t sell anything if you can’t tell anything”—Beth Comstock
And there you have it…a great story, shared in a powerful way, fueled by the latest technology.
What do you think?
Click here to look at the winners and I think you might just agree.