How does one pronounce “Cannes”? It is not ‘kaans’ as one is likely to assume, but ‘can’. And what makes ‘can’ ‘the’ Cannes - such an aspired destination?
Today, Cannes has gained a brand status across the globe. But the closer you look, you find that this status has consciously been built and nurtured over the years. France can boast of many Cannes equivalents, along their coastline. But this city stands out – thanks to it assuming the status of a city of international festivals; the film festival, the advertising festival and soon thereafter, the photography festival… And in true member-get-member (MGM) tradition, the fame of each new marquee event gives Cannes the additional sheen it now revels in.
This year, Cannes boasts of hosting the 57th international advertising festival. But must confess that in recent years it has gone well beyond mere advertising. It is now a platform that celebrates ideas and creativity in all forms of communication. And this year the festival has attracted delegates from 92 countries. Wow!
If the presence of media is any barometer of an event’s celebrity status, Cannes certainly takes the cake. The Times group, Star, CNBC, exchange4media, Campaign India…all of them are here, giving company to their peers from the world media. While I don’t know the exact numbers, but with every passing year the number of delegates from India have grown, handsomely. Compliments to the word-of-mouth from the regulars and the efforts of the Times group.
Today I spotted more familiar faces in the crowds – Aggie, Paddy, Ravi Deshpande, Shashi Sinha…the list continues. Typically you find the creative heads of our agencies coming, regularly. Oft accompanied by the agency’s CEO. Additionally some celebrated creative talent is also privy to an annual Cannes visit, as an additional perk. What about the suits and planners? Aren’t they an integral part of the ideas factories that the agencies represent? And given that the festival has gone 360 in its agenda and speaker profile, wonder why that does not reflect in the Indian contingent.
Now to the sessions. Must confess that I remain amazed by the absence of my Indian brethren within the confines of the Palais. And more so, within the auditoriums that host the seminars and workshops. One visible exception is Madhukar Kamath. I spot him dutifully attend every single session, pen and pad in hand. He feels that even if he carries home a few nuggets of learning every day, it is well worth his time. Kudos to Madhukar. Also, for bringing with him one of the strongest agency contingent from India.
Coming to today’s memories:
- DraftFCB had promoted their session well, during the last 2 days. And therefore the attendance was good.The agency team reminded us that the marketing complexity had multiplied, in recent times – 26 times, to be precise, in recent years. And their formula to address this growing complexity is ‘reduction’. They believe that there is only a 6.5 second window of opportunity, when a consumer is open to the brand – in his attention swings from leaning in to leaning out. And if only you could catch his attention in this brief moment when he is ‘open’…
- Hill and Knowlton had a speaker who cited examples when ‘flash mobs’ worked/didn’t work. It’s only when you remain true to the brand and bring-in an ‘act’ in a public place will the message strike home, in a memorable way. A magnum opus, for the sake of it will not help.
- There was a session on independent agencies and Aggie’s presentation stood out, as could be evinced from the thunderous applause he received. He equated a global agency network to a clock that has all the parts moving to precision, with no scope for individuality or emotion. He believes that once you realize that you are a human with emotions and passion, you will automatically want your own space that nurtures and encourages thinking out of the ordinary and unpredictable ideas. The ‘Aman ki asha’ campaign got the crowds very excited.
- The most awaited session, so far, was the Yahoo session with Ben Stiller as their ‘show stopper’. The smart delegates made sure they attended the prior session to ensure a seat. And then just didn’t leave the auditorium. But this session was a real crowd puller. There was a very long queue of delegates aspiring to get in, with not a seat to spare. Compliments to the organizers, who sensed this swell and avoided any disappointment. They quickly provided alternate rooms with screens that played a live telecast of the panel discussion.Ben Stiller was the hero of the panel, all right, not leaving much for the Yahoo moderator and other panelist (Jeff Goodby) to say or do. Ben was there as himself, the comic actor – and not as a relevant panelist to the proposed agenda - “the role of creativity in shaping our world“. Can’t say that many came out of this session with any tangible learning or take-home messages.
The evening saw the awards being announced for the Radio, Media and Outdoor categories. India remained represented in all the juries. But given the India talent and opportunity, I did remember the Pepsi slogan, "Yeh dil maange more", when the awards were announced.The Radio Lions – a Silver for Leo Burnett, Mumbai. The Media Lions – a Bronze for Leo Burnett, Mumbai. The Outdoor Lions – 2 Bronze, between CreativeLand Asia and Ogilvy, Mumbai. And 2 Silvers between CreativeLand Asia and Mudra, Mumbai.
An observation – ideas can come from anywhere – a PR Lion won, but not by a PR agency. A Media Lion won, but not by a media agency.
Tonight was the official Cannes dinner, on the Carlton beach. Lots of people. Lots of networking. I had a chance to catch up with the 2 youngsters from Levers, who have come thanks to the Bombay AdClub and Times group as the India nominees for the Young Marketers contest.
Somebody asked me if I will meet them at the ‘Gutter Bar’, post the official party. The Gutter bar is a name given to a road-side bar just outside the Martinez. A must for all attendees of the advertising festival, it has gained legendary proportions, with people spilling on to the roads till the wee hours of every morning.
Alas, such pleasures are for the young generation. I came back to the hotel to pen this piece and go to sleep. Tomorrow is another day.
Ajay Kakar is chief marketing officer of financial services at the Aditya Birla Group.