Innovate or Riot?

It’s easy to go to Cannes, stay in the ad-land bubble of talks, networking soirées and VIP parties, and not really think about the impact our industry has on the ‘real world’. Don’t get me wrong, the easiest way to win a Lion is always to do some lovely Corporate Social Responsibility work and, over the years, we’ve certainly seen some great examples producing positive results for brands and communities alike. But this year, as we experienced first-hand the backlash of innovation on livelihoods with taxi driver protests over the spread of Uber, the bubble not only burst but also exploded over a few faces.

Of course, if you have €200k invested in a business (the figure thrown around as the cost of a taxi licence in France), I can certainly understand why you would be concerned about the rise of a competitor. But, as an investor in business, you also need to ensure that your product develops over time and your service evolves to continually satisfy the needs of your customer. Travelling around Cannes this year we used both Taxis and ‘Ubers’ and — without fail — the taxis had scrappy notes on the headrests stating that cheques (who even carries a chequebook these days?) and credit cards were not accepted. Leading to the inevitable patting-of-pockets sign language and the pidgin pleading of “ATM merci?”

You don’t have to be sitting in the back seat of a French taxi for the benefits of Uber to be very, very clear.

The taxi business model hasn’t changed in years, and the price is now being paid. And they’ll not be the only ones. At the Innovation Lions we saw businesses and agencies looking to challenge almost every norm — from Kano allowing kids to code computers and The SuperGroup developing rapid prototype systems, to the future of AI and how we could be moving into a world where there’s a subscription for absolutely everything.

If the taxi drivers put the collective effort they displayed to organise a riot into re-organising their industry, they may be able to come up with a solution. Driving themselves forward, so to speak. But their reaction was predictable, short-sighted and, dare I say it, defeatist — moan about a problem rather than come up with a solution. Look for someone to blame rather than accept responsibility. Get aggressive rather than get creative. Can you imagine if that was how the advertising or tech worlds worked? Cannes would be a very different place.

Thankfully, the marketing industry is adept at spotting opportunity in adversity and innovating quickly and effectively. Case in point, those taxi strikes at this year’s festival. With the airports blocked and under-siege Uber Cars in short supply, one of the only ways to the airport was via Uber Helicopter (yes they already have that sewn up as well). Suddenly those elusive meetings with clients or agency heads were being granted with the promise of an Uber-copter to the airport. Where before it was hard to get an audience, now there was the chance of an intimate tête-à-tête at a thousand feet where a relationship could prosper or a deal could be struck.

Simply turning a negative into a positive. Capitalising on an opportunity. Très bon.

Okay, fair enough, that’s more quick savvy thinking than true innovation, but you get my point. If the taxi drivers had reacted as quickly, or as pro-actively, then maybe they wouldn’t have to resort to riot. Maybe they would be the ones finally giving Uber a run for their money.


Article by Tristan Pride, Creative Director at Havas helia

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