The Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity, which concluded at the weekend, is the largest annual gathering of the world's advertising and PR professionals, designers, digital innovators and marketers.
This week-long event attracted 11,000 official delegates (with thousands more at various fringe events) and more than 38,000 award entries this year. The turnover of the event is now in the tens of millions of pounds – and seems to get bigger and more lucrative each year.
Largesse and the merger of disciplines
After spending a week in Cannes, I was struck not only by the astonishing largesse that has returned to the post-recession Cote D’Azur (witness Rudimental headlining the colossal Google party on the beach) but also by the accelerating integration of global marketing sector.
Indeed we are seeing the destruction of the boundaries that used to separate marketing "disciplines".
This merging of disciplines is apparent both in the winners of the various "categories" and in the types of campaign that take the festival by storm each year.
Most of the so-called PR Lions in 2014 were won by advertising agencies – or at least ad agencies in partnership with PR agencies – and about 80 per cent of the Media Lions were similarly from non-media specialists.
Even in the Cyber Lion categories it is often online films, or integrated media drives, that pull in the plaudits.
This is confusing for many. Not that the Cannes Lions bosses care. The proliferation of categories and multiple opportunities to win means growing entry numbers for their event.
But the significant development underlying all this is that – quite rightly – almost all Grand Prix winners in any category today are a very modern blend of paid, owned and earned media techniques.
The big winners – a surge towards earned media
Last year it was ‘Dumb Ways to Die’ a rail safety campaign by McCann Melbourne, that took home five Grands Prix and defined the new zeitgeist. And this year the same agency hauled in the gongs for ‘Guilt Trips’ another rail-related campaign for V/Line that used limited paid-for media.
Among other awards last week, Guilt Trips won the Grand Prix for Creative Effectiveness.
The agency’s executive creative director John Mescall (who has just been promoted to global ECD for the McCann Worldgroup) evangelises the advantages of low budget ideas, which have to find their own traction on digital media. He said: "Avoid TV because if you f### up, everyone sees it, and you get fired. Do an app instead, and if it works, everyone loves you."
As a result of this surge towards earned media, it is understandable that "content and storytelling" are the Cannes mots du jour.
More recently however, this has meant storytelling via the short-form video messaging required on social, mobile mediums (for example, the Volvo Trucks' ‘Live Test Series’ featuring Jean-Claude Van Damme from Swedish agency Forsman & Bodenfors).
At the same time content increasingly refers to the longer-form programming that has won so many plaudits (for example Chipotle 'Scarecrow' – a joint campaign by Creative Artists Agency and Edelman).
A significant PR Gold was won by an "ad agency", Droga5 New York, in partnership with a "PR agency", Weber Shandwick US, for Mondelez’s ‘This is Wholesome’ campaign for Honey Maid snacks.
It was a bold drive based around same-sex marriage, which required high levels of issues management from the earned media partner.
But equally one senior ad executive admitted to me of Volvo’s Live Test Series: "It’s basically a PR campaign," talking about the series of crazy truck stunts to ironic musical soundtracks, which spread virally around the internet. The campaign even won a Grand Prix in Film.
'Scarecrow' meanwhile, is a short film, by CAA, in which Chipotle Mexican Grill takes on "big food companies" in order to highlight its own sustainably-sourced ethos. But the campaign launched on YouTube with no paid media for the first four weeks.
This was followed by a placement in a national newspaper and a social and PR drive by Edelman US, as well as the launch of an interactive game and a mobile coupon to drive consumers to Chipotle restaurants. The campaign won Grands Prix in PR, Cyber and Branded Content, among other accolades.
Thankfully, the other really big winner at Cannes this year was both highly integrated, and originated in the UK. ‘I’m sorry I Spent it on Myself’ for Harvey Nichols was the brainchild of London-based Adam & Eve/DDB.
The Christmas 2013 campaign picked up the Grands Prix in Promo & Activation, Press, Integrated and Film (just short of dumb ways to die’s all-time record last year).
Media and collaboration
How do developments in advertising media dovetail with all this? Well, a fascinating debate between the bosses of Viacom, Twitter and WPP revealed the high level of collaboration now taking place between TV owners, social media giants and media agencies.
In this way brands can plan integrated campaigns that spans the spectrum from movies and box sets to Twitter – and crucially use any of these media to amplify the others. For example Viacom recently signed a deal with Twitter to offer exclusive song extracts from its artist, Ed Sheeran’s new album via tweets.
Philippe Dauman, Dick Costolo and Sir Martin Sorrell grudgingly agreed that the real growth in both audience engagement, and therefore client marketing spend over the next few years, would come via mobile devices.
This is because of the faster than expected development of rich media on mobile devices – and their proliferation in hot-growth markets such as India, Brazil and Indonesia.
Interestingly, the Cannes Grand Prix in Mobile went to a frankly brilliant campaign from FCB Sao Paulo called ‘Nivea Sun Kids’, which would work in any nation. A tear-out bracelet from a Nivea magazine ad when applied to young children would send an alert to their parent’s mobile phone if they ran off beyond a certain point.
Smart use of technology also meant Ogilvy One’s ‘Magic of Flying’ campaign for British Airways won the Grand Prix in Direct and several Media gold awards. This saw integration between BA’s flight info systems and a digital billboard, so consumers could see an ad of a little boy staring up in wonder at the actual BA plane flying overhead, with details of where it was flying to and from.
Collaboration came in the form of the campaigns too, with ‘The world’s first all-Lego TV ad break’ from PHD UK winning two media golds and several other awards.
Beautifully simple ideas
Ironically, as we all grapple with the complexity and collaboration of today's marketing and media world, there is a counter-intuitive imperative to offer massive-but-simple ideas that cut through the clutter, that underpin powerful brands, possibly for decades hence.
Last Friday, to finish Cannes week, I moderated a road-blocked seminar in the Palais de Festivals with the global ad industry's two biggest rock stars, Sir John Hegarty and David Droga.
Hegarty (nearly 70 now) still chairs BBH, the ad network he founded in London in 1982. Droga (45) on the other hand runs the global Droga5 network from New York.
Despite being two quite different characters - the snappily dressed English gentleman and the edgy Aussie street fighter - the world of commercial creativity hangs on their every utterance.
But one essential thing unites these two ad creatives – their dogged pursuit of brilliant ideas and emotional connection between their campaigns and their audiences.
Hegarty is more of a purist. His campaigns – Levi's, Audi, Lynx – rely on simple insights that run for decades of advertising, accompanied by beautiful film. Droga's work – Newcastle Brown Ale in the US, Puma – tend to be social media and PR-friendly, creating buzz and attitude around events.
Both have healthy disdain for bland global advertising however. "Global advertising doesn't work. It glides past people, isn't part of their culture, doesn't touch them," said Hegarty in Cannes. He is the antithesis of big business, yet ironically drives huge brands with his campaigns.
Droga too rails against blandness. "You can have a great idea anywhere. It's not reserved for big markets with big budgets", he said.
But in reality both are grappling with how to apply their creativity to the explosion in smaller-screen, mobile devices around the world. Droga admitted "cracking mobile" was the biggest challenge facing the ad industry today.
The biggest cheer of Cannes however, came onstage at this session. It was a typical Hegarty swipe at the corporate world in this complex, lucrative, multi-channel future. "Sitting on a beanbag doesn't make you creative", he warned.