Going to Cannes? Then cut the boorish swagger
A view from Cat Davis

Going to Cannes? Then cut the boorish swagger

Like most people, I'd run a mile from anyone who was happy to be described as arrogant and self-important, so imagine what our clients think....

"Swagger: a very confident and arrogant or self-important gait or manner". That’s the Oxford Dictionaries definition of a trait that many have bemoaned is currently missing in UK advertising, but is sure to be on display (even just temporarily) in a couple of week’s time on the Croisette.

And as the sore hungover heads full of regret and remorse kick in the following morning to those same red-faced, sweaty Brits in Cannes, should we as an industry also reflect on whether swagger is exactly something we should be striving for?

Arrogance and self-importance aren’t particularly attractive traits in anyone. Like most people I’d run a mile from anyone who was happy to be described as such, and they are even less so in business, so imagine what our clients think. 

It’s entirely likely that a desire to show swagger is part of the problem with the overtly macho management cultures that has led to all the problems in the gender debate.

It’s also probably part of the reason so many people are put off joining advertising in favour of sectors where their skills are more likely to be recognised and rewarded, rather their ability to be arrogant.

Moreover, it’s entirely likely that a desire to show swagger is part of the problem with the overtly macho management cultures that has led to all the problems in the gender debate.

Is it right that women have to feel that they have to behave like men in order to get in? Swagger reeks of the after-work beery pub culture, of away days and pointless bonding exercises.

As Gemma Charles quite rightly wrote in Campaign, "People are your best asset", but the industry isn’t looking after them and without them it is nothing. By tacitly encouraging them to be arrogant or self-important it becomes less attractive still.

That said, Robin Gadsby does make some very good points – advertising has been self-obsessing itself into an existential crisis, while technology has forced it – sometimes kicking and screaming – to re-evaluate its business model.

But that doesn’t necessarily mean that in order to re-establish its place, it must become arrogant or self-important. Rather it should be remembered the contribution that it makes to client business (as Gadsby also points out) and how, at its best, it effects positive societal change or attaches itself to or influences the culture around us.

In these instances more appropriate epithets for our behaviour should be pride and self-confidence – and these are two attributes that have perhaps been sorely lacking in our period of self-flagellation. How more attractive to both our clients and potential talent, and mentally rewarding for our people, to work in an industry that is self-confident and proud of what we do.

Hopefully among the swaggering crowds in Cannes, buoyed on in their own D’Ott-fuelled temporary jamboree of self-importance, there will also be a time to look at the work, find some inspiration and make a commitment to being proud of what we do for our clients and confident of where we as an industry are going – without the need for the boorishness that swagger seems to imply.

Cat Davis is a new business consultant and former CMO at Grey London and CGO at Cheil London.

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