Cometh Cannes, cometh the brands, or so the hype around this year's Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity would have you believe.
Nearly one in five of the 9000 delegates attending the festival, staged earlier this month in the eye-wateringly expensive Cote d'Azur town, was said to be from brand-owning companies. These brand marketers mingled with the festival's traditional audience of senior ad agency executives and those latest fans of Cannes, the major technology companies Google, Facebook and Twitter.
When you discover that Procter & Gamble's chief marketer, Marc Pritchard, is pounding the same Croisette paving stones as Jim Farley, his counterpart at Ford, and Keith Weed, the chief marketing officer at Unilever, it suggests that adland's party-town is now the site for the serious business of agenda-setting.
Why do they come, many of them crossing oceans to do so, in an age when technology such as Skype allows marketers to connect virtually with their agencies with ease?
Talk to marketers such as Wendy Clark, Coca-Cola's senior vice-president for integrated marketing communications and capabilities, and it seems the serendipity of Cannes, where senior brand marketers can meet ad-network chiefs and technology-leaders in one 24-hour swoop, is the main attraction.
Coca-Cola threw a party for its agencies on the Wednesday, the first time the brand had put all those on its roster in a room together. 'This should be interesting,' said Jonathan Mildenhall, vice-president of global marketing strategy and creative excellence at Coca-Cola, before the party started. Meanwhile, Anna Crona, marketing director for UK and Ireland at the Cannes 2011 Advertiser of the Year, IKEA, came under her own steam to network beyond the festival Palais' walls, with many of the senior UK and US contingents doing likewise.
What of the content? The festival's owner, Emap, has sought to reposition Cannes Lions as more than a craft-driven jolly for ad executives. One sizeable straw in the wind is the absence of the word 'advertising' in the title for the first time, now replaced with 'creativity'. Another is the introduction of a Creative Effectiveness Lion, a category that requires quantitative proof of a campaign's impact on a brand.
The significance of this was not lost on Rob Malcolm, marketing lecturer at US business school Wharton, and former chief marketing officer at Diageo during the 90s. 'Cannes was, until recently, exclusively the domain of the advertising agencies,' explained Malcolm, who attended this year to host a workshop on global marketing management. This changed when 'about five years ago, Jim Stengel, who was then chief marketing officer at P&G, brought his senior team to Cannes'.
Malcolm believes P&G's inaugural visit was pivotal in developing the lure of the festival for brands, in that it 'made a statement to the world of clients that they should come'.
This year, Coca-Cola's delegation was a roll call of its most senior marketers, with chief marketing and commercial officer Joe Tripodi at its head.
'The creative industry expects Coke to be in Cannes and certainly the awards we pick up are a reflection of the progressive nature of our creative agenda,' said Mildenhall. The team from Atlanta was not disappointed, with Coke winning several Lions for 'The friendship machine', a Latin-American campaign by Ogilvy Argentina, which aimed to encourage friends to share a two-for-one Coca-Cola offer.
In yet another statement of intent, delegates from emerging markets swelled the client ranks at Cannes this year. Indeed, the week before Diageo announced its landmark acquisition of a Chinese drinks company, the importance of emerging-marketing territories to brands was high on the festival agenda.
Not only did companies from three such markets (Romania, China and South Korea) win a Grand Prix for the first time, but delegates from the BRIC countries (Brazil, Russia, India, China) came in force. Walter Perfeito, marketing director of Irmaos Perfeito, a white-label manufacturer for fashion brands, was one of the estimated 800 Brazilians attending. 'I'm here looking for marketing ideas, as my family's fashion business wants to expand to the West and be a brand in its own right,' he explained.
Then there was Unilever's announcement to festival delegates that its centre of gravity is shifting 'from New York to Delhi', providing a dramatic backdrop to its decision to send 35 representatives this year. Unilever is making this move 'east and south', chief executive Paul Polman told delegates, to better support the sale of its brands to 2bn customers in emerging markets.
Talk in the halls afterwards was about how brands' swing to emerging economies would have an impact on the way global brand marketing is organised. Unilever and Diageo have devolved power to their marketing units in these countries, a theme Diageo chief marketer Andy Fennell touched on in his presentation to attendees (see box, right).
With delegates from about 500 brands present at Cannes this year, Simon Clift, the former chief marketing officer of Unilever, observed senior agency executives 'speed-dating clients', a stressful and often unproductive activity, he noted (see box, page 31). The business-dealing does go both ways, however. 'I've hired agencies on the back of work I've seen here,' said Johan Jervoe, vice-president, sales and marketing group, at Intel Corporation (see box below).
It seems what was once a sanctuary for copywriters and art directors to trade ideas on their craft has turned into a marketplace that does not even go under the name of 'advertising' any more, full of buyers and sellers in search of a product. In session after session at Cannes, a definition for what marketing has become was sought.
Polman used the 'c' word in his talk, revealing that the company is 'reallocating budgets to enable us to make content in an always-on world'. That content can come from anywhere was the refrain throughout the festival, with marketers keen to discover how far techniques such as crowd-sourcing can, and should, go.
At crowd-sourcing agency MOFILM's dinner on Tuesday, marketers from Santander, Chevrolet and Coca-Cola watched showreels of spots made by young film-makers, assessing crowd-sourcing's ability to promote their brands.
In the same vein, Coca-Cola delegates lunched with festival speaker Robert Redford, the Hollywood actor, director and producer, talking about a partnership with his Sundance Film Festival.
'Coca-Cola is about story-telling and so is Sundance, so the meeting was about aligning those visions,' said Mildenhall.
'We see partnerships (like this) as an opportunity for us to develop really distinctive content.'
With so many potential sources of content, talk at Cannes was of how the growing power of technology platforms - Facebook, Twitter and Google attended the event in force - could be to the detriment of agencies. As Heineken's chief commercial officer, Alexis Nasard, told a select few about the brand's ground-breaking digital-advertising deal with Google, speakers warned agencies that their place in the world needs to be reaffirmed.
In Diageo's presentation, Fennell said agencies need to grow organically as they invest in digital and in social media. 'Bolt-on acquisitions don't work,' added Fennell. 'The winners in the agency world will be those who invest in the core product.'
For Unilever, the message was that the agency model needs to be revisited. In his talk, Polman said agencies' structures were not built around the consumer and were 'inadequate'. He also questioned whether agencies were 'moving fast enough in this world of engagement... or innovative enough to fuel online conversations with consumers?' It's a message that brand delegates present will also have noted.
Though the attendance this year was up 5% on 2010, Malcolm believes that to be more relevant to marketers, the event needs to 'broaden its content out of advertising, with more effectiveness awards'.
'The organisers are on a journey, but there is a long way to go,' he added.
With seven days of sessions, public and private meetings, parties and workshops on offer, brands seem to attend Cannes not to make decisions, but to help inform the decisions taken over the next 12 months.
For Coke, the 2010 festival yielded a paper about the fusion between creativity and technology. 'That document wouldn't have been so informed unless I had attended Cannes last year,' said Mildenhall.
So who knows: perhaps next year the once advertising-dominated festival may even justify featuring the words 'brand' or 'marketing' in its title.
MY BEST SESSION - MARKETERS PICK THE BEST OF CANNES 2011
JOHAN JERVOE - Vice-President, Sales and Marketing Group; Director of Creative Services and Digital Marketing, Intel Corporation
My Best Session - Robert Redford at Yahoo!'s Content as Conversation Catalyst session, Tuesday 21 June.
The Message - His desire to inspire young creative people at the Sundance Film Festival and nature's influence on the way they see their work - what humble ideas these are. How good for him to be such a superstar and yet be so passionate about good work.
My Take-out - Never be satisfied with mediocre work. We all know average work when we see it and should just not accept it.
You need to have that language defined with your key agency partners, so when you say, 'let's have a second go at this', they know what this is about. Redford was talking to brands while he was here and Intel has a similar creative partnership with DreamWorks, the animation film studio co-founded by Steven Spielberg and Jeffrey Katzenberg.
Likewise, Intel's relationship with the pop star Will.i.am is not about endorsement, but about technology as an enabler.
STUART WELLS - Integrated Creative Lead, Nokia Global Marketing Creation
My Best Session - Diageo's chief marketing officer, Andy Fennell, on emerging markets in 'Transforming Marketing', Monday 20 June.
Why I went - Diageo derives about one-third of its business from emerging markets, which it expects to grow to about 50% in the next three or four years. As Nokia is a global brand in emerging markets, too, I was interested to see how another global player handles the challenges.
The Message - Fennell gave us examples of Diageo activities in emerging markets, including one from Kenya, where Guinness sponsors a prime-time TV game show with contestants competing in trivia challenges and football-skills contests to win a cash prize.
At Nokia we often see that kind of proposal, but Diageo has done it well. It was an integrated piece of communication - you have the TV programme and the competition that leads up to it, and it's all routed back to the packaging.
The second example was the way in which Johnnie Walker Red Label's bottle and packaging were reduced in size in South Africa to decrease the price and make the whisky more affordable there.
My Take-out - Flexibility in managing marketing in emerging markets is key. Set your strategy at a global level, but allow the activation of it to be applied flexibly. Instead of the balance being weighted 90% in favour of global ideas and execution and 10% local, it should be more like 50-50. Diageo showed us that experiential and social activation has to happen at country level, to ensure relevance.
Diageo came from the 90-10 school, but has obviously moved to the 50-50.
AGENCY VIEW ON THE UK'S PERFORMANCE
WILL ARNOLD-BAKER - Managing director, Publicis London
The Cannes Lions festival has fewer attendees than its senior sister, the film festival, yet, like the unruly sibling it is, legend has it that three times as much alcohol is consumed. One tweet nailed the English as the culprits.
While we're on the parochial subject of the English, it might be timely to look at how we performed this year. The first headline I saw lamented the 'radio silence' in that category from the UK again this year. A second blog post bemoaned that Costa Rica and Bahrain had scored as many Press nominations as UK agencies.
Consider the following, however: the UK bagged three out of the first 10 nominations in the inaugural Cannes Effectiveness category. That Grand Prix went to Abbott Mead Vickers BBDO for its 'Sandwich' work for Walkers, with Leo Burnett winning Silver for McDonald's.
In the Titanium & Integrated category, my own agency, Publicis London, was nominated for the second year running and picked up Silver for 'The Megane experiment', our work for Renault. The other three of our four Lions this year were for entries in Media and Direct.
So what does all of this add up to? You can interpret it any way you want. For instance, UK agencies are more heavily regulated than their counter-parts in emerging markets. Or perhaps it's because UK creative teams don't believe that radio and other traditional categories are worthy of their efforts.
I think the truth is somewhat more heroic. UK ad agencies operate in a 'recessionary' environment and an oversupplied market, where everyone pitches for everything. The best way to get noticed is to grow your clients' business and that doesn't necessarily equate to a shiny press ad or celebrity-laden TV commercial.
We think this is indicative of a shift to whatever channel it takes to get the job done, rather than a technical malaise in the old ones.For Simon Clift's Cannes Diary click here.
WINNING BRANDS AT THE CANNES LIONS FESTIVAL OF CREATIVITY 2011 AWARDS
1 Google Grand Prix (Cyber); 22 Golds (Cyber, Outdoor, Film)
2 Harvey Nichols 14 Golds (Press, Outdoor)
3 Volkswagen Titanium Lion; 8 Golds (Cyber, Press, Film)
4 P&G Grand Prix (Cyber); 2 Creative Effectiveness Lions; 5 Golds (Cyber, Direct, Titanium & Integrated, Media)
5 Mercedes Benz 3 Grand Prix (Radio); 4 Golds (Radio, PR)
6 Bing/Jay-Z Grand Prix (Outdoor & Integrated); Titanium Lion; 3 Golds (Outdoor, Direct)
= Kandia Dulce 2 Grand Prix (Direct, Promo & Activation); Titanium Lion; 3 golds (Direct, Titanium & Integrated, Promo & Activation)
7 Nike Grand Prix (Film); 5 Golds (Cyber, Film Craft, Titanium & Integrated, Media)
8 Tesco Grand Prix (Media); 4 Golds (Outdoor, Direct, Media)
9 IKEA Advertiser of the Year; 5 Golds (Cyber, Design, Radio)
= Billboard 5 Golds (Press)
10 Puma Grand Prix (Film Craft); 3 Golds (Film, Film Craft)
= Samsonite Grand Prix (Press); 3 Golds (Press, Outdoor)
11 Chrysler 4 Golds (Film, Film Craft)
= Human Rights Watch 4 Golds (Outdoor, Direct, Design)
= Unilever 4 Golds (Film)
= Wrigley 4 Golds (Cyber, Film)
12 Amnesty International 3 Golds (Outdoor)
= Bayer 3 Golds (Press)
= Bund 3 Golds (Press)
= Cine Las Americas 3 Golds (Radio)
= Coca-Cola 3 Golds (Outdoor, Direct)
= Greenpeace 3 Golds (Press)
= Heineken 3 Golds (Cyber, Film, Film Craft)
= Lego 3 Golds (Outdoor)
= Mattel 3 Golds (Press)
= Modern Music School 3 Golds (Radio)
This ranking of brands has been compiled by Marketing using the official Cannes Lions Festival website www.canneslions.com as its source. We ranked according to a total points score where a Grand Prix = 7,
Titanium = 7, Gold = 5 and Creative Effectiveness =5. The table does not include Silver and Bronze Lions awards