The Cannes Lions  spectacular is going on now.  You know, the annual homage to advertising in the south of France.  They describe the event as follows:

"Inspiring Creativity is at the heart of Cannes Lions. The Festival is where creative professionals come to debate, learn and be inspired; where the greatest industry honours are bestowed; where those pushing creative communications forward are celebrated. Join us at this year’s Festival: 17 - 23 June 2012 in Cannes, France."

You know honestly, coming from the client side, this just rubs me the wrong way for a couple of reasons. Like Simon Cowell would say, this feels overly "self-indulgent".   In fact, sending agency folks to an ultra junket in Cannes that probably costs $10,000 a person seems like a glaring metaphor for what's wrong with the advertising industry today.  

First, who do you think is paying for the trips?  It's the clients of course.  Everyone wants agencies to do well, but in this current environment, Cannes just feels over the top; I don't care who your clients are, how big an agency you have, and how much money you make.  As a client, it becomes hard to rationalize the fees that we pay when the advertising economic model facilitates this measure of public junket.

Second, as someone who has 'consumed' advertising services for many years from companies large and small, the whole premise of the awards feels misplaced.  Everything seems to be about "creative".  Even the name: Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity.  But this is about advertising right?.  You know, commercials.  Shouldn't there be some acknowledgment of some of the other key adjectives involved in advertising, like "strategic" and "insightful"?  What about "effective" or "compelling"?  Heck, what about "revenue generating"???

Advertising is not simply and solely about creativity.  Creativity drives a huge part of the equation, but the other part is about the consumer, the business, the strategy, etc.  In a time when consumers are being assaulted by more and more advertising messages, and in new and increasingly invasive ways, the onus has to be on each and every touch point to be as compelling as possible so as to pierce through the clutter to gain traction in the consumer's mind.  A blend between both the creative and the strategic is absolutely required to get the job done.  

When it's all said and done, companies hire agencies to drive revenue.  Period.  It's all about sales and profit.  Sure we talk about brand loyalty and equity, purchase intent, etc., but those are all proxies for what is really important.  Even though I am someone who believes deeply in the power and beauty of brands, I understand that a brand is simply a means to an end.  That advertising agencies so deeply celebrate elements of their craft that can be disconnected from this bottom-line business reality feels out of touch at best.

I suspect much of this flows from the hypothesis that very few people grow up aspiring to be an advertising creative.  Young creatives, all through their youth and schooling want to be artists and, therefore, advertising is the fall-back position; it's about paying the bills.  Art is all about creating things from personal inspiration that are aesthetically pleasing to the artist.  Advertising, in sometimes stark contrast, is about strategic communication that leverages art and creativity, but the purpose of which is all about delivering tangible business objectives.  The process of advertising development can probably feel counter to the instincts around personal expression that seem to be near the heart of artistic expression.  For some, it probably feels like something of a sell-out - a compromise of their talents - to have to do this.  The ranks of agency creatives are probably filled with frustrated artists who, when they get together to honor each other, celebrate what is most important to their culture: the creative and artistic aspects of their job.   On the one hand, I certainly don't begrudge this.  I get it.  On the other, as a client, I have no choice but to be frustrated at the impact that this has on the end product.

The Super Bowl is another glaring example of this phenomenon.  Earlier I blogged about why the media frenzy that the game has become is actually bad for advertising.  Agencies compete to create the biggest laugh or the most memorable impression, but not necessarily the greatest business outcome for their client.  As a result, agencies begin chasing after things that are more about themselves than the ones writing the checks.

Agency people will (probably vociferously) disagree with all of this (and I humbly invite their comments), but advertising seems ripe for some kind of innovation; something that adds both a bit more  efficiency and client focus to the equation.  Companies sometimes pay exorbitant prices for work that is more often than we know warmed over from other clients, that is too frequently the result of creative impulse rather than a balanced strategic and creative process with consumer insights at the core, and that - whatever the source - fails to sufficiently move the needle.  With this as the lament, for the high-end of the industry to cavort in Cannes to celebrate things that don't necessarily drive the utility of their work for their clients just seems to be more a part of the problem than the solution.   One of my favorite adages is "to get different results you have to do things differently".  In this humble observers opinion, the Cannes Lion defines an approach to the advertising business that is dying to be done differently.

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Tags: advertising, agencies, agency, businessmodel, cannes, canneslion, change, innovation


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