Close-Up: Why Cannes matters: the client's perspective

Unilever's chief marketing officer, Simon Clift, reveals why visiting Cannes offers a chance to get some different work done.

There's more to life than football ... but not much more. Well, there's ads. Like every other sane person, I spent a lot of the run-up to Cannes having my World Cup viewing schedule interrupted by work. It gave me an excuse for some last-minute ad-watching preparation, of course.

The chance to smirk at the beer "bumpers" had to be weighed against having to sit through some true turkeys, of course. In a sense, this was the perfect preparation for Cannes. You need to be able to sort the wheat from the chaff with unerring accuracy, whether it's invites, meetings or pitches. It's always a bit weird being a "client" at Cannes, but Unilever people have been going there for ten years now and we have always felt we can bask in a little of the reflected glory of our agency partners.

It's not just about us having become comfortable enough to wear flip-flops to the gala dinner, it's about having worked hard at forming genuine working relationships with our agency partners.

It does help that Unilever's got some great brands and we've always done well, usually with the Doves and Lynxs of our portfolio (but across all of it for our grand total of 37 this year - including the Grand Prix for Media for Lynx). But it's more than just putting one over on your peers. It's as much about demonstrating that brand communication excellence isn't the exclusive preserve of the car and sports brands and that more everyday brands such as Knorr and Omo can compete.

It also helps that we work with some of the best agencies, of course. And, although we try not to play the party-pooper at Cannes, being the hard taskmasters that we are, we're always keen to make them sing for their supper, even if we do have to pay for it. We meet with the top brass to set the direction for the following year and to resolve any issues we have. This year, for instance, among a host of other things we discussed, we finalised our digital agency roster.

Cannes is great for celebrating successes and really does recognise potentially step-changing ideas. It's not the be-all and end-all - it doesn't really recognise the longer- term strategic work we do with our agencies - but other awards recognise this. It gave me as much pleasure that we won the big gong at the Effies in New York (for Dove) and that we were voted the client that most creative directors would like to work with at the One Awards, for instance

Like many other commentators, one of the things that really struck me this year was the renewed confidence in the industry about digital marketing and 360-degree marketing. No more hand-wringing about the demise of traditional advertising, just a determination to create compelling content, whatever the medium.

- Simon Clift is the chief marketing officer at Unilever.


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