Bringing outrageous back

It took me ten years in advertising to get to Cannes Lions. Ten years of watching from the distance, waiting for time to catch up with life so that I were senior enough for my employer to buy me a ticket to Cannes. If I had known better I would have paid for it myself a long time ago.

The truth is, I was reasonably skeptical about the whole Cannes thing. To begin with I thought that setting up the biggest festival of advertising in the south of France -a city where no agency worth its salt has an office- was adland being silly for the sake of it. I was wrong; Cannes is a brilliant location to do this get together of talent from all corners of the world. Cannes has the facilities that a 10,000-attendees event needs (hotels, palais, bars, etc.) plus a great Mediterranean weather that advertising capitals like London, Paris or NY just cannot guarantee. And all this within a 500m radius, which makes running into people who introduce you to other people really easy.

But the real reason why I’ve loved my first experience out on La Croisette is because it’s brilliant. It has scale. It has all the handful of people that really drive advertising, both from an ideas and from a money standpoint. It’s lavish. It is ambitious, often pretentious. But above all Cannes Lions is advertising being outrageous. And that is exactly what adland is missing these days.

In that widely retweeted transition from mad men to math men, advertising has lost its edge. Ads, agencies and brands are hardly ever surprising any more. They are not provocative. They’re actually pretty dull most of the time. I could keep looking up for more synonyms on wordreference but to keep this short if adland were a person it would not be the guy you want to have a beer with. And that is a real shame.

I know that it’s fairly trendy to moan about how mainstream Cannes is, how pop-up spaces by creative agencies have been all but blown away by those set up by wealthier tech firms. But as a newcomer I still think Cannes is more interesting and global than any of the other advertising get togethers I’ve been to -admittedly I have yet to attend SXSW though.

I’ve seen a fair bit of that lost outrageous attitude back in Cannes these past few days. I’ve seen start ups selling emojis for a living. I’ve seen a strategy planner in his sixties formulate razor-sharps questions. I’ve talked to people I could only follow on Twitter until now. I’ve seen ridiculous yatchs and 26€-a-pop G&Ts. I’ve seen middle-aged sales people feel out of place. I’ve seen ubercopters. I’ve seen people having sex on the red carpet while the security guards were around. And I think that is the sort of fuel ideas need to grow: a bit of political incorrectness. Advertising by definition needs surprise to be able to stand out, it has to create that feeling of blimey-I’ve-never-seen-this-thing-before. Cannes Lions did exactly that in 2015, and it feels really good.

PS Amir Kassaei’s talk at the Lions about advertising needing its essence back was pretty fantastic.