The Cannes bubble: industry needs to change what it's talking about, thinking about, and actually doing
It feels a little uncomfortable to be in advertising right now, says M&C Saatchi group boss Justin Graham, fresh back from Cannes, where he thinks the ad industry misread the room.
I’ve just returned from an unseasonably hot Cannes Lions Festival and arrived in a, yet again, unseasonably rainy Sydney. In fact, it’s unreasonable. This once-in-a-generation rainfall event is occurring for the second time in 2022. Australia’s recent Federal election was lost and won on issues of climate change and integrity. Two mutually-inclusive issues that marketers the world over are grappling with as our industry faces an inflection point of our own creative making.
So after Cannes’ three-year pandemic-enforced hiatus and given the world has changed, I’d been looking forward to seeing how much advertising had changed too. I was disappointed, but on reflection, unsurprised. In recent years Cannes has been “size matters.” Doing more. Being more. More events. Bigger boats. Bigger parties. Bigger parties on bigger boats. 2022 was no different. I just wonder if as an industry we have misread the room?
The external context to Cannes is geopolitical uncertainty, arguably not seen since the 1930s, a devastating war in Ukraine, globally rising inflation and the looming existential threat that is climate change. However in reality, the Lions felt a bit like stepping into a resort bubble where the real world is an afterthought, only considered when the holiday is over.
The festival’s themes focused on the future of creativity, and this speaks to my confusion, it was much more about the future of creative technology.
There was endless chatter about the metaverse. Although we know Web 3.0 is coming, its manifestation is uncertain, in fairness it is already here, but challenged in its immediate impact. We know we’ll be using it, but the metaverse’s reality, no virtual puns intended, is still unknown.
Similarly, the volume of talk around “fluidity” has given it an unfortunate buzzword feel. Gender neutrality and its incorporation into advertising strategy shouldn’t need a lot of justification or explaining. Many participants have accepted inclusion as vital to our industry and already see it reflected in our culture. Of course, it’s an ongoing topic, but extended discussions seem unnecessary when there are other issues at stake.
Netflix was a festival debutant and Amazon is now a growing presence, both garnering much attention while spruiking their platforms and technology as the latest and greatest way to reach audiences in their hundreds of millions. I can only imagine that an ad-supported (“free”) Netflix would make the last episode of Stranger Things a four-hour marathon for those buying into the new world of the streaming giant…
Amazon unveiled an alternative to web cookies to help marketers identify people without actually identifying them; the privacy protection techno-wizardry of which makes my head spin. However, marvellous new technology and topical buzzwords are simply distractions to the real issues we face as an industry and as people. It sounds a bit deep for a marketing blog, but creativity as an instrument for demand alone is what got us into this mess. With a new perspective, creativity could become an instrument for demand and for sustainable business practices.
Award shows recognise work that makes a difference, but not often in a sustainability context. A case-in-point was the UN’s clever Jurassic Park-ish, “Don’t Choose Extinction” campaign, with its highly articulate CGI velociraptor, Freddie. “We had a meteor. What’s your excuse?” Freddie quipped. And with apologies to everyone with palaeontology side-hustles, the UN’s cretaceous creativity was slightly saddening in the sense that climate awareness campaigns continue to be needed.
Don't get me wrong. Sustainability discussion does occur at Cannes, but tends to focus more on the environmental impact of the event itself – refillable and recyclable bottles or unnecessary merch reduction kind of thing – versus fundamentally changing the way we think about creativity.
Away from the keynote events, there are very real, and meaningful panels on the climate impact of marketing. However, it’s almost furtive, like following the girl with the white rabbit tattoo and asking, “What is the Matrix?” I found myself at one such red-pill event, figuratively speaking, listening to a consistently impressive leader in the industry, and former client; Marc Pritchard, CMO of P&G.
P&G makes the top US laundry brand, Tide (note the brilliant ‘it’s a tide ad’ Super Bowl creation from a few years back). But what’s inconspicuous about Tide’s consumption is its R&D budget going 100 per cent into cold water cleaning. Because… washing clothes in cold water uses over 90 per cent less energy than a hot water wash, which if you know your emissions scopes, is the laundry equivalent of going net-zero instantly. Brilliant. It’s greenwashing for good.
Back in Sydney, my flight emissions guilt combined with the confronting climate context of another flood disaster. The bubble that is Cannes quickly burst into the significance of much-needed change to our entire industry’s strategic thinking, where it needs to start at the top. With leaders like me.
Every so often you hear something that sticks in your mind and inspires you to action, so to paraphrase a message old mate Marc P again shared in France:
“Creativity as a force for growth is our industry superpower and is important as ever, but creativity needs to be extended to also become a force for good.”
Creativity is the ultimate renewable resource. Walking back into the office I was reminded that we have some brilliant thinkers leading our employee-led networks, coming together from across our business to deliver strategies that will strengthen everything we do; with sustainability being a priority.
Creativity doesn’t need billions of dollars in investment, nor decades to come online. It can turn on like a light switch. Our industry has been solving demand-generation problems forever – and it’s forever that must be top-of-mind as we switch our creative minds to focus on demand generation for good.
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