Andrew Walmsley on Digital: Shifting balance of power
A view from Andrew Walmsley

Andrew Walmsley on Digital: Shifting balance of power

At Cannes all eyes were on the online media suppliers, but don't imagine mobile's out of the running.

Last month's Cannes advertising hootenanny was the usual backslap-fest, with agency bigwigs flying in from all over the world to hobnob in front of the Carlton, as teenagers roared up the Croisette in Lamborghinis. None of the Lambos was driven by ad folk; but for all the austerity talk, the best hotels had no vacancies.

So far, so traditional. What was notable this year, however, was the dominance of online media suppliers; with both Microsoft and Yahoo!'s stands too big to fit the exhibition space (although Microsoft was represented there, too, in several places), and YouTube and Adobe both taking substantial space, traditional players were crowded out and largely invisible.

This is part of a major offensive by the digerati to win over Madison Avenue and Soho.

As the prospect of the web overtaking TV and print grows, those who currently control content generation can make a big difference to the attractiveness of the new media.

Web-based TV needs web-friendly advertising and iPad-based newspapers need iPad-friendly advertising, and right now it's the traditional creative guys who are thought to be the only game in town. Hence teams of senior 'love-bombers' flown in to butter up the advertising business.

Although absent from Cannes, Apple is, as usual, in the vanguard of the advertising love-in. The launch of iAds, its new ad format, is getting planners and creatives excited. Is it set to change the world, or can we settle down and wait for another shape of banner ad?

Launched by Steve Jobs in a video that swings between patronising and hilarious, iAds are positioned as a way for app developers to make money. In a Brass Eye moment, a graphic appears showing two axes - emotion and interactivity. TV ads, says Jobs, are far out on the emotion axis, but have no interactivity. Web ads, on the other hand, are moderately positioned for interactivity, but have no emotional power.

You can see where he's going, and moving on quickly, before his audience realises what bollocks he's talking, a new cross appears on the graph; predictably, at the top right-hand corner.

Now, if there's one thing marketing folk know, it's that 'top right-hand corner of a graph' = 'good'.

Sure enough, iAds is supposed to deliver greater interactivity than the web, with the emotional power of TV. Cue whooping, tears etc. from the assembled delegates - and, apparently, substantial cheques from some of the biggest advertisers in the US.

There are difficulties with mobile advertising, some of which iAds addresses. It returns you to the app when you've finished. It creates a buyable ad platform for agencies and standards for creative, and, most important, it looks like advertising - or, at least, like a mobile microsite. The trouble is, it misses the true value of mobile.

This is a personal device that's with you all the time. More than any technology you own, it's there to do what you want, in the moment.

So when Jobs dismisses search on mobile as 'hasn't happened', he's just wrong. It's estimated to be about 9% of search volume at present, set to grow to 20% within two years - far bigger than its share of web pages delivered.

Mobile is already punching above its weight in search, but in future, we have to stop thinking about us searching for things; instead, they will search for us. Location-based, behaviourally targeted, intelligent agent-driven commercial messages will tap us on the shoulder when we'd most like to be approached.

Then, the idea of broadcasting websites to unwilling consumers will be put in its true place - a useful tool, but hardly centre ground.

Andrew Walmsley is co-founder of i-level


  • Cannes is a port and city resort on the Cote d'Azur in South East France. A fishing village that was owned by monks and attracted pilgrims in the 11th century, it was developed as a health resort in the 19th century.
  • A visit in 1834 by Lord Brougham, a former Lord Chancellor, helped to build Cannes' reputation among the English aristocracy; a statue of him now stands in the city, on the waterfront. The French establishment was soon drawn to the area, and the arrival of the railway made the town more accessible still.
  • Cannes is France's second-most important city for business tourism after Paris. Leisure tourists outnumber business travellers only in the peak season.
  • The Croisette is a palm-tree-lined waterfront avenue, and home to many restaurants and exclusive boutiques.
  • The city is probably best-known for its International Film Festival. Founded in 1946 (although the inaugural event had been planned for September 1939), the annual festival takes place in May. Not open to the public, it is a key showcase for the cinema industry.
  • Other festivals and trade markets held in Cannes include Midem (music), Mipcom and MIPTV (television), and the International Luxury Travel Market.
  • Cannes is twinned with the London borough of Kensington and Chelsea.