Spoiler. The point at the end of this piece is it’s all about the idea. You know this already, it’s been written a million times before, so now you can go back to watching that xx/Calvin Klein video again and wondering if it’s great or a bit like a moving catalogue.
I’ve been on an interesting journey to get to this conclusion because of my recent first tentative steps into the media world, which also coincided with Cannes. But before I get into that, I just want to talk about my journey to Cannes. You see, it was this bloke across the aisle on the flight, wearing what can only be described as a Dominatrix Disco of a trainer. They were sparkling silver Gucci flat soles, adorned with a brace of biker studs running up the back. I couldn’t take my eyes off them. I took a photo of them. I wrestled myself back from having a furtive stroke of them.
I now have this role with eyes across the media business. I’ve been warmly welcomed in by my Havas brothers and sisters so I can understand what lies under the bonnet. First thing to conclude is that I have a lot to learn. Second thing I note is how clever it all is. I’ve got up close with programmatic, DMPs, data stacks, the single customer view and other such stuff. I’ve also seen attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion – that was impressive too.
The question is how does all that clever stuff help in what is our ultimate quest: to stop what we do becoming lost like tears in the rain.
How do we ensure that we are not simply moving from an interruption to irritation?
There is great seduction in the theory that hyper-personalisation helps. It finds people and, done right, offers up what we might still be looking for in a prescient and perhaps even useful manner. On the other side, it can follow us around like the aftermath of a good Vietnamese meal.
This whole thing is a mind fuck that I can’t make my mind up about. In theory, it could mean we get away from interruption and into actual right message, right place, right time. But, to get that right for everyone, all the time… Well not yet. And then there is blocking, about to get even more blocky in January.
Technology’s impact on what we do is, of course, way beyond how it can be deployed in ad buying. It has created a "jump culture". Jumping from screen to screen, starting at one place in the web and then it takes us jumping all over the shop into all kinds of unpredictable corners. That, in turn, has influenced entertainment (or maybe entertainment influenced it?) Songs from Kanye to Kendrick are jumping around in style and tempo, editing, storylines in movies and books. The list goes on. And it’s choppy.
How do we meagre advertisers follow that, in every sense? Linear narrative is a massive challenge. The data gleaned from randomness thrown off course.
And sitting above entertainment culture is what Adam Curtis calls "the culture of individualism". Where we all now construct our own version of the world, rather than a collective one. So the idea of "clustering" audiences is increasingly questionable. The polls have repeatedly shown how wrong that is.
Because a vital part of constructing an individualistic view of the world is our ability to construct our own individual media, our own bespoke media universe that may intersect with others at certain points. But at how many of those intersections are the same people existing to create a "cluster"? And I thought clusters were fucked?
"What’s the way through all this?" I reflect as I don’t drink rosé in Cannes. (Let’s not drink rosé in Cannes. Let’s stop talking about drinking rosé in Cannes. Let’s have a Rosé Boycott).
Then I remember Superhumans. Helpfully reminded by how many fucking awards it won. In my view it was the most deserving of all winners. It was the award winner for our times.
From a media perspective it took one slice of its own media and served it up as a banquet. Channel 4 took a real-life sporting event and turned it into a media phenomenon. Creatively, it was a tour de force that formed a cultural event. Dougal’s film gloriously jumping as our eyeballs follow rapt. Things will never be the same again. All down to simple insight, conviction and artistry. And that’s the idea part, the notion of Superhumans. Even the word Superhumans. An idea borne out of insight, empathy, respect and admiration. A joyful, life-affirming, awe-inspiring idea, that yielded a campaign of utter glory. Media and creative and experiential and sponsorship and fuck knows what else but it’s all there, working together in all its beauty.
It made all those individualist individuals become a cluster of giving a fuck. Making tears of joy that could never be lost in the rain.
Then on the way back from Cannes, I realise that the other remarkable thing is that the Superhumans film was one of the few winners I’d actually seen in the real world. And not just in the real world but as nature intended – actually on a television. The most significant consequence of hyper-targeting is that we see so little of "other stuff". Precision messaging, based in learning, has created an era for advertising of mass invisibility. The great films we make now are PR events: created for events, to provoke, to earn social cred for sharing first, or if you live in the UK, for Christmas.
Knowing how to land something in all of this jumpy, individualistic mass-invisibility, social cred-seeking chaos is a proper challenge.
One that was met by my other favourite Lion in the MailChimp campaign. It was more than their humble claim in the case film of "knowing how the internet works". It actually proved they know how today works. An idea that had no line between media and creative. An idea that knew who it was, who it was talking to, how to talk to them and where to say it. Wait that sounds a bit old-fashioned…
Mark Whelan is the group chief creative officer of Havas UK.