August 2010
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At the cutting edge of ideas

We are here to learn. We are here to be inspired. We are here to make connections.” These were the words of Bob McDonald, Chairman of the Board, President & CEO of P&G, the world's largest advertiser. He was answering Maurice Levy, the Chairman & CEO of Publicis Groupe, on why he was at Cannes and why P&G had been increasing its presence year on year. I don't think anybody could have summed up the 57th International Advertising Festival at Cannes better.

For a week from Sunday June 20 to Saturday June 26, the Debussy auditorium hosted over 50 wonderful seminars while the Grand Auditorium witnessed four exciting award shows. The Cannes Lions Advertising Festival has just gotten bigger and better. So much so that Philip Thomas, the festival CEO, announced that Cannes 3.0 is on its way in June 2011 — complete with a new look and descriptor. It is befitting, considering that Cannes truly captures the change that our business has witnessed, becoming more representative of the global industry that builds brands, influences behaviour and makes life better for the billions of consumers who trust brands and consume them day in and day out.

Yet, as the fireworks lit up the Cannes skyline at the Closing Gala, with thousands of delegates bidding each other farewell even as the lucky Cannes Lions winners partied hard, I was left both exhausted and enlightened. It was a packed week, attending perhaps the widest spectrum of seminars that I have ever been to, listening to over 100 speakers, walking into workshops and feasting my eyes on all the short-listed entries, be it Design, Promotion, PR, Direct, Outdoor, Print, Television, Craft, Media, Integrated and so on. Not to forget, the network parties, the producer cocktails, the client dinners, the Carlton, the Majestic and the Gutter Bars, and of course, the much-in-demand India Nite, courtesy Bhaskar Das of The Times of India.

A week of learning, inspiration

The Cannes Lions Festival this year, as Bob McDonald put it, was one of learning and inspiration. It was also the perfect platform to celebrate a fantastic cross-section of ideas. So much so that despite the temptations of the inviting beach, the Crosiette, Eze, Gourdon, Nice, Monte Carlo and picturesque villages and hideouts, I was largely indoors in the Palais, soaking in as much as I could. And I was not alone. Never before have I seen such large crowds in Debussy. And I doubt if there ever was a better line-up.

Bob McDonald; Marc Pritchard, Global Marketing and Brand-Building Officer for P&G; Keith Weed, the new CMO of Unilever (which was awarded the Advertiser of the Year); Mary West, the CMO of Kraft; and Joseph Tripodi, the CMO of Coca-Cola were just a few of the advertisers present.

The list of illustrious industry personalities included Sir Martin Sorrell of WPP; Maurice Levy; Michael Roth, the CEO of Interpublic; Tony Granger of Y & R; Bob Jeffries of JWT; David Droga; Tim Mellors of Grey; James Hilton of AKQA; Jon Wilkins of Naked; Chuck Brymer of DDB; Chuck Porter of CP+B; Miles Nadal of the very successful MDC Partners; Giles Hedger, the Chief Strategy Officer of Leo Burnett Group; Jeff Goodby; Richard Pinder, the COO of Publicis Worldwide; and our own Piyush Pandey and Agnello Dias.

The field was also illuminated by several well-known consultants including Jim Stengel from UCLA; branding and advertising expert Simon Mainwaring and Marcel Fenez of PWC. Besides, there was the Hollywood lot including Ben Stiller, Nick Cannon, Common, John Landau and Spike Jonze. Nikesh Arora from Google, who shared the stage with Darren Houston of Microsoft, participated in an interesting debate. And, of course, who can forget the biggest draw of the event — Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook. The list was long and varied... it still makes you wonder what exactly Yoko Ono was doing there, though! The highlights were many, the learnings several, the observations plentiful. Let me share some of them with you ...

Sessions on schedule

The seminar slots were just right. Each session lasted exactly 45 minutes. Regardless of the fact that some panels had up to five people up on stage, everybody ensured that the timetable was strictly adhered to. The importance of the moderator or the interviewer was, therefore, magnified.

Mark Zuckerberg's session was just perfect. The sharp questions posed by Abbey Klaassen from the Ad Age drew clear answers from Mark. Special mention has to be made of the Maurice Levy session. He did a great job overshadowing Martin Sorrell's debate with Keith Weed.

Another great session was Joseph Tripodi, CMO of Coca-Cola, speaking about ‘scaled storytelling' that can leverage emotional connections to help multinational giants, such as Coke, tell stories to consumers across borders. For me, these were the very best sessions over the six days.

The seminars covered a cross-section of the entire communication spectrum. Right from creative to media, from clients to agencies, from PR to direct, from content to campaigns, the variety was excellent and gave us all-round exposure. It underscored the fact that the ‘Business of Brands & Ideas' requires an appreciation of several disciplines — each interlinked and interdependent. Reaching the consumer and engaging with him/her has never been more demanding and complex!

If social media and technology were the buzzwords, the supremacy of the ‘Idea' was highlighted with equal fervour. If exciting, entertaining and well-crafted commercials were applauded, the importance of ‘content' along with the exciting new possibilities that exist today were also discussed very lucidly.

What became very clear is that today we are seeing an exciting cross-over between tech companies, media companies and communication agencies. Isolated silos of operation no longer make sense. The implication for our industry is simple — stop dreaming that the world of brands and ideas belongs to you. Unless you embrace the myriad opportunities thrown up by technology and partner with the ever-evolving media constituents, you will see your delivery and, more importantly, relevance diminish very quickly. These are truly exciting times if all of us embrace change.

The entertainment and advertising industries have by and large operated on parallel lines. The instances of brave individuals such as our own Satyajit Ray, Shyam Benegal, the legendary Ridley Scott, and so on are few and far in between. It has appeared that these luminaries graduated from one to the other. This will need to change sooner than we expect it to. It will no longer be one or the other. Going forward with the importance of ‘content', and more specifically ‘branded content', our industry will need to learn and harness the opportunities that exist in Hollywood and Bollywood more aggressively. This explained the number of examples that we saw and all the ‘stars' that graced the stage during the week.

‘Full service'

The concept of ‘full service' no longer means just media and creative together. True, full service would imply that the solution provider (in our case the agencies) appreciate, see, nurture and involve partners in PR, direct response, and activation. Creative people will need to understand and harness these disciplines; planners will need to provide not just media neutral but media rich strategic solutions. The ‘account man' needs to retool himself and become a true ‘brand custodian'. Agency heads better start redeveloping their training programmes.

The festival awards Direct Agency of the year, Media Agency of the year and so on. However, these awards have now lost their relevance. In fact, they are in direct opposition to the point above. They contradict what everybody was not just preaching, but vehemently insisting they believed in. If the future belongs to the ‘idea and its media-rich execution', there should just be one ‘Agency of the Year' Award. The others just seem like irrelevant retrograde practices.

The highlight of the Festival was the continuing rise of the independent agencies. I applauded the fact that Happy from Brussels in Belgium, Anomaly from New York, Jung von Matt from Hamburg in Germany and Forsman & Bodenfors from Gothenburg in Sweden (to name just a few) sparkled with their work and won really big awards. The old favourites of Wieden + Kennedy, Crispin and others of their ilk continued their dominance. Are we seeing the wheel turn full circle? Is big no longer beautiful?

Tomorrow will bear fruits of the democratisation of ideas. Teams from countries as varied as Peru, Colombia, Vietnam, the Dominican Republic, the Philippines, Korea, Denmark, Sweden, Venezuela, Hungary and Puerto Rico won the various Young Lions awards, making sure that this movement was not lost on us. Global exposure, technology and the new world order were on parade.

The clients up on stage, the examples that were quoted, and some of the ideas that were applauded gave us a true picture of the new direction. ‘Purpose' is the new buzzword. From Indra Nooyi's Pepsi programme, to the Puma story of promoting football in Africa and the new definitions of ‘serving the customer' that came from P&G, we are witnessing a new corporate order. A purpose inspired growth strategy and purpose leading to profit will be the new mantras.

The advertising business has certainly changed forever. While there is definitely no substitute for ideas, the importance of flawless execution was highlighted again and again by all the Lions winners. At the same time, ideas are not the preserve of the creative department or the agency anymore. This was underscored by the numerous examples of ‘crowd sourced and out-sourced' winners. The MOFILM session was an absolute eye-opener. Partnerships and collaboration need to be woven into the DNA of the agencies that want to be winners in the years to come. The guiding principle should be ‘to integrate' and not ‘to interrupt'. The basic philosophy has to be engagement and not just ‘reach'. The important deliverable should be ‘brand conversations' and not ‘brand campaigns'.

The different ideas and execution that won outlines the fact that winning awards is no more the preserve of big agencies as it was in the past. The width of the winners was impressive. My friend, Julian Boulding of the independent agencies network, Network One, did an interesting analysis. He mentioned that of the 14 Grand Prix awarded, only three were called ‘advertising films'. The others involved engagement and experiential ideas, all brilliantly executed.

As you reflect on the festival, campaigns and ideas such as Livestrong ‘Chalkbot'; Toyota's ‘IQ font'; VW's ‘Fun Theory'; Best Buy's ‘Twelpforce'; Monopoly ‘City'; Canon EOS' ‘Photochains'; ‘Sounds of Hamburg' for the Hamburg Philharmonic Orchestra; Gatorade's ‘Replay'; Heineken's ‘Italia'; ‘We Choose the Moon' for the JFK Presidential Library; ‘Choose a Different Ending' for the Metropolitan Police; HBO's ‘Cube'; Orcon + Iggy Pop for ‘Orcon Broadband'; and, of course, Philips' ‘Parallel Lines', come to mind. In the recent past, one took back memories of two-three big, winning commercials such as ‘Budweiser Wassup', ‘Dove Evolution' or ‘Philips Carousel'. This time around, the diversity of ideas was impressive.

A consistent message reiterated by many on the Debussy stage was to design products not around where the consumer is now, instead to design products and services for where the consumer will be heading in the future. Marketers would do well to pay attention to this desirable trait.

I believe there are two ways in which the Cannes Lions Festival can be experienced. One can either treat it as encapsulated in the words of Bob McDonald at the very beginning of this article, or one can treat it as just a week in France with great skies, beaches, good wine, good food, and of course, those fantastic parties. My advice — don't combine a holiday with the festival. Should you choose to holiday here while attending, you may certainly have a good time but you will inherit only limited learnings and a limited scope for inspiration.

Given the above, it is no wonder that the Cannes Festival is set to emerge in the new Cannes 3.0 makeover next year. After all, when the world has changed and the business has undergone such a dramatic transformation, why should this celebration of our industry hang on to the past? Congratulations to Terry Savage, Philip Thomas and the team. May the next year be bigger, richer and more exciting!

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