M&M Global viewpoint: Rivalry behind the revelry at Cannes Lions 2015 | M&M Global

M&M Global viewpoint: Rivalry behind the revelry at Cannes Lions 2015

M&M Global editor Alex Brownsell reflects on the increasingly bitter battle between long-time attendees to Cannes Lions and newcomer ad tech companies.

Cannes blog

The overriding emotion of those departing the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity is surely one of relief. It sounds churlish to complain about hot sunny days and late night parties, but – for organisers and attendees alike – the experience can feel gruelling.

As a first-time visitor to this part of the Côte d’Azur, I was looking forward to seeing the global advertising, media and marketing sector in its full glory, and experience this once-yearly debate about the industry’s future. Rather than witnessing a convivial discussion over an ice cool glass of rose wine, I was taken aback by the adversarial nature of the debate.

In the left corner are the native inhabitants of Cannes: the self-styled creative agencies that have been visiting the French Riviera for decades, using the festival as an annual celebration of their best work, and for whom success is measured in gold, silver and bronze.

Their opponents in the right corner are the Johnny-come-lately ad tech companies: everyone from MediaMath and TubeMogul to xAd and Millennial Media (which generously donated M&M Global use of its yacht for interviews) was present to attempt to steer the conversation away from glossy TV and radio ads towards the efficiency and effectiveness-enhancing qualities of technology.

Mistrust and antipathy

OK, so the ‘Mad Men’ versus ‘Math Men’ debate may be getting wearisome. But do not doubt the mistrust and antipathy in some of those exchanged glances on La Croisette: in this article, for instance, Karmarama executive chairman Jon Wilkins argues that tech firms are “tickling the tummy of the creative lion while slowly pushing it to extinction”.

Executives I met from Ogilvy & Mather lamented the lack of focus on the awards, in which the agency had invested significant resources, with media and delegates instead distracted by the latest whizz-bang announcement (take Snapchat and the Daily Mail’s new joint-venture agency, Truffle Pig) or celebrity cameo. Trust me, those awards shortlist write-ups were brushed aside the moment Kim Kardashian strolled into the Cannes Lions Press Centre.

Some of the more established technology players are aware of this sensitivity, and are taking steps to prove their commitment to creativity. Facebook’s head of global business marketing Sarah Personette told me the social network wanted to emphasise creative excellence in its branded locations across Cannes, while Twitter organised ‘#WalktheWork’ tours of the best awards entries.

The danger, of course, for ageing executive creative directors bemoaning the arrival of technology companies is that they appear as out of touch as those French taxi drivers going on strike and blockading French airports in protest against Uber. Progress can only be delayed, not stopped forever.

It is changing consumer behaviour, not the actions of technology companies, which is revolutionising the marketing communications business. Only by embracing these young and hungry technology firms can a gathering like Cannes Lions retain relevance, no matter what the stalwarts of the industry might think.

How global?

My other priority was to understand how global the event really is. Historically, most of the work feted at Cannes tended to originate from Western markets like the UK and the US. Given the shifting sands, and rising importance of emerging markets, this is no longer sustainable.

It is clear that the festival is working hard to change this: Tencent’s SY Lau was named Media Person of the Year, while there was a noticeably strong Asian contingent in Cannes. Other markets such as South Africa were able to celebrate breakthrough performances – its agencies walked away with 16 radio awards, including four golds.

Media companies were able to help add to the diverse global flavour, with the likes of MEC flying in their hottest talent from across the world to experience the razzmatazz of Cannes. Senior leaders from APAC and LatAm joined their colleagues from North America and Europe, meaning – for many agencies – the occasion had a global feel, if only at executive level.

Yet, in both share of voice and sheer dominance of La Croisette, it remains impossible to look beyond the mostly US agency networks, media owners and tech firms. The beach was carved up between Google, Microsoft, Facebook and Twitter. Even the most eagerly-anticipated newcomer in 2015, Evan Spiegel’s Snapchat, hails from California.

Cost remains a barrier to entry, of course. Collectively, the industry spends hundreds of millions of dollars on both attending and ensuring its voice is heard at Cannes. This is much harder to achieve for a fledgling media and advertising business in Lagos or Mumbai, for now at least.

But, one day, they will take their place, and those naysayers will need to ready themselves for a whole new bout of change.

No Comments Yet

Leave a Reply