Trends and Trajectories from Cannes 2017

Publicis Stepping Out

Get ready for the “Death of Cannes!,” “Death of Cannes?,” and “Vive la Cannes Lions?!” headlines in your news feed. With Publicis Groupe announcing they will forgo awards show next year, the ever-present conversation about whether Cannes is good for our industry is now at a fever pitch. The outcome won’t be as black and white as the headlines may make it appear. I do think this will change the flavor of Cannes 2018, but I don’t think it will mean that creative folks will no longer worry about having their work acknowledged (I say this as a strategist. We have egos too. They’re just smaller. — I kid creative friends! I kid!).

Women to The Front

The last few years the Cannes Lions have seen a steady increase in the dialogue about inequality in our industry. This year was particularly focused on women in leadership roles and the way females are portrayed in our creative work. It’s been great to see a number of talks and topics led by women at Cannes 2017. Additionally, it’s encouraging to see the public commitments being made among some of the large organizations that, if they genuinely commit to it, can make a difference toward a more diverse and even playing field in the business. A few examples: JWT + Creative Equals, See Her, and this amazing set of interviews by Lauren Greenfield.

The Third Chapter of Tech

Each of the last ten years Cannes Lions has seen an the tech armies getting larger on the beach. They’re here in a big way this year of course, but the conversation is less about the major platforms (ie. Chapter 1 — e.g. Facebook) or the shiny new tech objects (ie. Chapter 2 — e.g. VR). Four or five years ago you couldn’t walk 10 feet through the Palais without someone telling you you have to try some new app. This year I haven’t downloaded a single new app since I arrived here. Chapter 2 is well established and now fully entrenched. Just for perspective, Facebook employed 4000 people four years ago — now they employ over 16,000 — many of whom seem to be here. Chapter 3 is more about pulling it all together. Data is at the center of this conversation, and the new hot thing isn’t the latest Facebook release, but rather the little known adtech start-up that is cracking the code a little better.

The Biggest Brand Opportunities Might Lie Elsewhere

It appears our industry isn’t making much profound work in 2017 that will shape brands for decades to come. The decisions that are made in sales and marketing are increasingly judged in quarterly earning reports. This year that concern appeared in sharp contrast for me. In many cases agencies aren’t crafting brands for the future, they’re just hitting the mark for the weekly sales metric. Don’t get me wrong, that’s important work and I’m proud when our teams can deliver on the ask, but a little of the romance is gone. The really interesting stuff, and a direction that I’m excited to head, are the product decisions that can entirely change a consumer’s outlook on a company/brand. A better product speaks for itself. And as the saying goes, advertising is often the tax brands must pay for not developing a better one. Product decisions are years in the making, not quarterly reactions. To be a true captain of a brand in 2017 means you must have a one eye on the product and one on the street. Delivering on just one of those things isn’t sufficient. I hope we see more enduring product ideas in 2018.

There’s Still No Formula for Originality

Every year the industry runs to the hottest Cannes talks to see if they can finally deconstruct what makes some things pop and other things flop. The answer is never coming. When you listen to Cannes guests like A$AP Rocky talk about his rise to fame and the cult following he’s established, you’re not going to tangibly understand which creative direction your team needs to apply to the H&M holiday campaign. Culture and our industry simply celebrate originality, and you’re not going to be handed the answer to that question at Cannes — you’ve got to discover it for yourself. The secret to originality is that’s there’s no secret to originality.

Security Loomed Large

This final trend is an observation on our world as a whole and how our sense of safety is quickly waning. Following the numerous heinous terrorist attacks involving vehicles aiming at pedestrians, particularly the terrible attack in Nice just 30 minutes down the coast from Cannes one month after the festival took place last year, security at the event is like nothing I’ve seen before. The amount of newly installed vehicle barriers and swarms of Gendarmerie officers keep a constant thought of our world at war in the front of your mind here. It’s an unfortunate, but fascinating, context in which we try to celebrate many of the great things about human creativity, and often, in the best work, human kindness. As an industry we have a responsibility to improve the dialogue between ideologies and cultures.

Lastly,

Did you know McDonald’s offers Badoit sparkling water in France? Well they do, and it’s appreciated! Can we get that stateside? Ok, thanks.

[A version of this article originally appeared in Little Black Book on 6/30/17]