My Lufthansa flight took off an hour late from Mumbai on my way to Cannes via Munich, which has made me miss my connecting flight to Nice, and has me stranded at Munich airport for 10 hours, as I write this. Guys, don’t blame India’s airlines over delays. Germans know how to screw up on time too. They just do that with their chins up. On the flight, I had four lockjaw airhostesses feigning to look after me.
However, this is not about that.
This is about this.
Is Cannes legit?
If you’re dumb, like I’ve been for many years, you’ll say yes, of course. What kind of question is that? Only those who don’t win at Cannes can ask such questions.
But if you’re smart, you’ll pause and think a bit, and then you’ll ask, “for who?”
Of course I can assume you’re smart, and you’ve asked that question.
Let me rephrase it.
For who is Cannes legit?
It is legit for juniors in our industry. Because it is legit for their seniors.
It is legit for seniors in our industry…for many reasons, good and bad.
It is legit for the media, especially for those who can still only write about advertising.
It used to be legit for me, because I worked at a place for many many years where it was really, really legit.
It is legit for junior and mid-management clients, because they look after advertising.
It is legit for a few very senior clients, who are invited to make speeches. Who’ve used advertising well to bolster their businesses. Who now also come for the Riviera to feel good about themselves.
Finally, it is really legit for the few sponges, who come to get inspired. Most of the time during the day, you’ll find them inside the Palais.
For who is Cannes not legit?
It is not legit for the Indian CEO, who’s bothered more about profitable business growth than advertising.
End of story.
Ask any Indian CEO, and she would rather go to the World Business Forum in Sydney or New York, than come to Cannes for the advertising week.
We know why.
Advertising’s impact has not yet reached the corner office. CMOs are rarely on company boards. Marketing is rarely seen as an investment. Amortisation of marketing budgets rarely exceed the year, unlike investments in long-term growth drivers. Has any company looked at investment in plant and machinery, or investments in distribution as a percentage of annual sales?
The tragedy is that brands built by advertising outlast all those machines seen as capital investment.
That’s the real job we in the industry have.
To make the CEO see the right value of advertising.
To give it the rightful honour and privilege of being part of boardroom conversations.
For that we need a festival, of a stature no less Cannes’, which celebrates ideas that drive business and profitability.
There isn’t one today.
Cannes can’t be it, despite their attempts. It is too strong a brand to now mean something else.
Cannes Effectiveness awards are, and I suspect, will remain a side-show.
Effies are not, as they rewards all kinds of ‘effectiveness stories’. You can win golds on brand metrics, or even communication metrics at that show. They’re not fussy, and won’t bother demanding results that demonstrate business transformation. Let alone asking to demonstrate and prove how nothing else worked.
And nowadays, at many effectiveness awards shows, you just need to demonstrate that your work changed the world. You’ll win big time. Why bother about small things like increasing shareholder value?
The IPA awards are only ones that demand the right metrics today. At least from what I know. But for a change, unfortunately, the Brits are happy staying within their borders.
As for Cannes, is it legit?
It can become, it it drops the defensiveness it has acquired in the last few years.
If it follows in the footsteps of the fashion and auto industries, and becomes THE destination to demonstrate experimental thinking - officially.
Like the auto and fashion industries, advertising thrives on R&D. Our fringe ideas are our R&D. Just like a concept vehicle is nothing but a bold dream that lights the path of the future for cars, our fringe ideas need to do the same for eventual scale-based work that transform businesses.
There should be no need for them, and no pressure on them, to masquerade as real work.
We need to liberate our most creative minds to go where no human thought has gone before, without having to prove that an idea has been commercially exposed, and financed by a client.
Sony and Philips of yesteryears, and Google and Tesla of today have been the innovation champions because of their passion for R&D.
Why should it be any different for an agency?
Cannes will be legit for all, if it, officially, becomes the R&D face of our industry. And doesn’t try to prove that it awards real work.
That job, I believe will have to be done by some other brand.
Just a thought, as I patiently wait to embark on the flight to Nice.
Thank you Lufthansa.
(Kawal Shoor is founding partner and planner, The Womb. He will be speaking at the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity on 19 June.)