Why Cannes matters more than ever

Ketchum's director of research insights explains three of the main issues that are important to the health of creativity in advertising and marketing.

Cannes: the festival matters more than ever, argues RP Kumar
Cannes: the festival matters more than ever, argues RP Kumar

This week a veritable army of advertising and PR executives from across the world have descended upon the South of France. There will be the achingly fashionable beach couture, the client schmoozing, a little too much Rosé perhaps.

Naysayers may mock the self-important, bordering on incestuous backslapping and dominance of big budget awards work. They may even question the relevance of awards in an increasingly data-driven marketing world, where the results should be (some would say) all the awards we need.

I disagree. Call me old-school, but despite all its foibles, I still believe Cannes matters…in fact, I think it matters more now than ever before.

The annual Lions Festival has become a sort of beacon for why many of us chose a career in communications. And it does so at a time when our industry risks losing the core reason why clients come to agencies in the first place.

The premium that the Cannes Lions put on outstanding creativity reminds us all how powerful original thinking can be – and how it can serve as an instrument with which to perpetrate societal change.

For me this is especially important as I see three main issues related to the health of creativity in the marketing communications industry.

Together, these threaten to vitiate the pure, unadulterated creativity that, in the ultimate analysis, is what clients pay us for and is a major part of our contribution to society.

Disposable Creativity – The rise and rise of content marketing has spawned an intense pressure for immediacy, and unrealistic expectations as opposed to what is important and effective. Marketers are getting increasingly seduced by the novelty of the speedy response.

I get it. The ability to respond in real time to what’s floating out there in the ether is dizzying and hypnotic. But there is a critical distinction between what we can do what we should do.

Broadband, smartphones, dashboards, real time tracking and feedback – all of this allows immediate responses to anything out there but that doesn’t mean it’s always (or even often) right and effective.

Here’s a little test. Every time you run the risk of being hurried, shallow and obvious, you should ask yourselves, what did you do this year that will be remembered in 2025 and inspire future generations of creatives?

Being at Cannes reminds us that our industry mustn’t lose the power of the thoughtful approach, our focus on creating longer-term brand value, and creating lasting work that will stand the test of time.

Big Data. Small Minds? Seriously, is there a bigger buzzword than Big Data in our industry today? As someone who loves data and knows the power it can wield, it hurts me to see how poorly the industry understands the real power of data.

Yes, all those cool dashboards can give us an accurate mapping of the customer journey, but that doesn’t always equal a richer understanding of the customer experience.

This is because, for most marketers, big data merely tracks behaviours, not intention or emotional orientation.

Thus, Big Data is mostly being used to incrementally improve easy-to-measure campaign outputs, forcing us to "create to the test". Big Data, for most of us, has become a Big Distraction.

To be clear, the issue is not with Big Data per se. It’s with the way the industry seems to be approaching it. In my experience, it is best used, you guessed it, creatively, in a non-linear way.

There is huge creative opportunity in working closely with, and challenging Big Data to reveal its secrets, not in relying slavishly for Big Data to spew out strategy and only then putting the creative pen to paper.

Being at Cannes and seeing incredible creative work from across the world should inspire all of us to reassert the dominant power of creativity, to (re)gain our stature as the client of Big Data, not its follower.

The Creativity Eco-System – All of us are under heavy pressure on costs, deadlines, quality.

In my 27 years in the business, I don’t remember it ever being this intense. I can also sense a tragic outcome of this quest to "industrialize" communications workflow, a move towards more and more compartmentalization and specialization, preventing cross-fertilization of ideas and thoughts and memes and experiences…in turn undermining the messy bonhomie which is at the heart of the creative experience.

The giants of human creativity, who produced work of any import – Shakespeare, Van Gogh, Ginsberg (just to name three out of thousands) are remembered not because they had a particularly slick process.

However, what they did have was their own eco-systems – the Globe Tavern, the Montmarte, the West Village.

To be sure, very few of us are of that stature. But my point is, these artists are celebrated because they were able to intelligently collaborate and share their own abundant emotional experiences.

This helped them shape the universal and eternal stories we can all relate to. If they had not done so, they would have lacked the raw materials with which to understand humanity and culture and create things and ideas of lasting beauty.

Cannes is our eco-system. It is our snug harbour in the gale-force that is roiling our industry today. It gives us succour, a place to share our war stories, our mistakes, the detritus of great campaigns that were never executed, the improbable wins, the amazing experiences and fun we had while earning our living.

If for no other reason, this camaraderie, this bonding, this mutual inspiration, is why Cannes matters to us.

Of course the Cannes Lions Festival can’t and won’t address these three issues to the communications industry on its own, in fact it won’t even address them head-on.

But what it does for me is celebrate our industry’s ability to generate the big, disruptive creative ideas and by doing so I believe it continues to signal the true north of where communications needs to be headed.

That’s why this year I’ll once again be donning my board shorts, sipping a glass of Rosé and loving the Cannes Lions.

RP Kumar, Director of International Research Insights, Ketchum