Campaign India's Bindu Nair Maitra caught up with Publicis Worldwide's chief operating officer Richard Pinder to find out his views on the festival this year, among other things.
Do you think Cannes has changed over the past three years?
I think the interesting thing with Cannes is that if you look at three years - '08, '09 and '10 - then '08 was the last year that everyone had a party: every single agency had a big party on the beach and all the stuff about "It's not about the beaches, it's about the lecture room" was forgotten. 2009 was like a mini-summit, you could get a seat in any restaurant or conversation with anyone you wanted. 2010 feels like 2009 with 35% more people. It's more seminars, and then every single one of us full up with meetings and discussions, and that I think is the essence of Cannes. So there is more buzz and energy, but it is about the right thing, and not about enjoying the sunshine.
What defines Cannes this year?
I think the last year was most clearly defined by the presence of Google and Eric Schmidt. This year will be defined by the presence of Mark Zuckerberg. There are many fine speakers and people coming in, but Mark is here and it's the first time he's come here. We are absolutely in the midst of the social network revolution that, even last year, was just starting I would say. So the defining conversation in Cannes this year will be social networking.
What do you see as the future of advertising in the next couple of years?
I think in the next couple of years we're going to see the realisation of what has been coming for a year or two now. We've just discussed it when we talked about Cannes and social media. The concept of creativity is back on the boardroom agenda; even Singapore wants to be a creative country and is actually delivering it. A lot of places where the concept of creativity was rejected 5 or 10 years ago, in the boardroom with finance directors even in big countries, now have it back on the agenda. And it falls upon the shoulders of all those of us in advertising to not throw that away and make the most of this newfound interest in creativity, to show that our industry can grab it and run with it. Which means not doing scam ads for local restaurants, because that is not what I call creativity. What it is about is designing ideas that people want to spend time with and share with each other - what I will call contagious ideas, that will change conversations both now and in the future about brands. Now that is what we should see a lot more of.
Any examples you can cite of brand conversations?
There's a multitude of stories about changing conversations, some what we have inside our own network in the Cannes award show this year- some social causes like iHobo, where a little app went on to become the most downloaded app in the United Kingdom for a social cause. But there are also things that are a little bit more commercial and viable like the Charmin story in the US, where by engaging with an app called "Sit or Squat", they have managed to turn a toilet tissue into a fabulous advisor network for when mums or kids are out and about. So conversation changing is happening all the time right now.
How much do clients appreciate that brand managers need to control the conversation?
I think the very top clients appreciate this fact enormously. According to a speech by Mark Pritchard, CMO of Procter & Gamble, at Cannes, he sayswe're no longer marketing to consumers, we need to be engaging with and building communities of consumers. The world's largest marketer is basically saying "I am not about targeting people; I am about building something that attracts their interest." If you look at Hewlett Packard, the world's leading technology company, their vice-president of the image and printing group just two weeks ago made a speech all about conversation and managing the conversation, because we don't control our brands, consumers do. So, I've just given you examples of two of the largest companies in the world and they certainly believe it. And I haven't found one meeting or discussion, in the two years I've been talking about this, where any client has rejected that.
Are agencies up to speed in understanding brand conversations?
I can't speak for all agencies. I know that my own network gets very aware of it. I think what tends to happen is that you get some very strange anomalies and that's what I find fascinating at the moment. One particular client, fabulously interested in a case study we had a year or two ago, where we did no advertising at all, but created a story that ended up on the nightly news, he said we want that for our brand- same category, different country. And we ended up with ten TV scripts in research. We thought, "How the hell did that happen?" Turned out he asked for it,I asked for it, my team tried to deliver it, his guy is bonussed on the basis of a validated television film. So everything that was working on so many lines till the HR department didn't align the bonus metric with the actuals. So these kind of things keep happening and people criticise the agency for being advertising-centric, and you go "Hmmm, but look at the dynamic". You will find this happening a lot where the incentives and the final imperatives are not aligning with the wishes of the guys at the top.
How do you tell the difference between buzz and conversation?
I won't deny that buzz is conversation. What we are urging people to be cautious of is what we call the "Firework Principle" where something gets talked about very quickly but not with the intrinsic values that relate to the brand. So you do some fun event and everyone notices the fun event, yet there's no linkage or relevance with the brand - or if it is there, it just disappears very quickly. And we're very aware that the stunt line of creating conversations is a short-lived game and it's not something you can build an industry on. What we also know is that conversations have been happening around brands forever. The difference is that there used to be 6 people around a coffee table or 3 guys around a bar table; now they're in a place where 20 million people can see it. What we're trying to do is have a long, engaged conversation with the consumer and not just the firework piece of buzz.
Do small, independent agencies winning awards worry a large network like yours?
I think in any industry, competition should be welcomed. In this industry, what happens is the small either stay small or get bought and very rarely, do they become big and independent. Am I worried? No. I think it's a great way for the industry to showcase its talent, for people to show their own capability and if we're not always able to find the best people ourselves, perhaps we'll just have to go find them from outside.
What's Africa's potential?
I think India is a very good informant for us on Africa. Forget South Africa, because that is a Western market in some ways, and forget north Africa because that has a very different cultural imperative, closer in some respects to Europe or the Middle-East depending on which part you're talking about. If you're talking about sub Sahara and Africa - you really can split that into east or west. West is more Anglophone and Francophone, East is more Anglophone and these are places of huge interest to clients right now. At the Publicis Groupe, we've just built an owned hub in west Africa. We're doing it out of Ghana with a planning executive who used to work with the Publicis Groupe and then went to Wieden to be a planning director on Nike. We took him and he's gone home to Ghana where he's set up an agency there for the Publicis Groupe - which includes Saatchi and Leo - and has attracted so much business that in its first 14 months, it's bigger than Publicis South Africa. So clearly there is an opportunity for this model of owned entities in one or two places and using sub-hubs for example, in the Francophone piece like Senegal, because Ghana's an Anglophone country. What I think is very unlikely is that we will be investing money in every single country because the habits and practices of those countries are quite hard to reconcile with the Sarbanes-Oxley control we have to go through. We know our clients want us to take responsibility so we'd rather take it in a few hubs and then work with affiliates.
What about finding talent for places like these?
I think it's fairly easy to find talent if you're not looking for it in 35 places. For example, Publicis Ghana has Kofi [Amoo] as its CEO who's an excellent talent from the US ad industry. We took the Lowe creative director from Lowe India, Promit [Malik], to be the creative director there and he's doing an excellent job. So you can find Ghanaians or people from other parts of the world who understand the importance of getting into local society and understanding and you can build an agency just like frankly we do in other places. The real trick in Africa is not to do it with 3 or 4 networks of the same holding company because there isn't enough talent and not to do it in every country