the conversation

Cannes showed that great clients want agencies to take more risks

Work that provokes visceral reactions to what is and isn't creatively excellent can only be a good thing

By sonoo singh

There was a time when one brand or that one piece of work would own a disproportionate share of the conversations on the Croisette during the Cannes Lions Festival. But this year was different. It’s tempting to say that there was nothing particularly spectacular or bold for the industry to get excited about. And yes the UK did not have enough stellar work to win enough Lions, but there certainly was enough great work to prove that British agencies can still deliver creative excellence.

Ok let’s blame the clients then. Recession is looming, there’s the Ukraine/Russia war, inflation is sky rocketing, so marketers must be ceding control to their procurement departments or settling for creative mediocrity. Hell no!

One balmy night last week, I sat next to an FMCG marketer over dinner who said to me: “I’ve been asking my agency why they’re winning awards for their other clients but producing work for me that is not even shortlisted?” Another marketer, a first-timer to the Festival, said to me about a Grand Prix winning piece of work: “I hate it so much, I wanted to rip it off the walls of the Palais.” The point being, she was having a visceral response to what creative excellence should be. That can only be a good thing.

There were so many more similar conversations, where clients were questioning their own approach and sometimes their agencies’ ability to deliver great work. But what they were all seeking in droves was creative risk-taking. We all remember what happened two years ago - the smarter brands doubled down on their marketing spending (and were the ones celebrating in the Palais) and the others who cut down are the ones now paying the price and not being part of the conversations.

So - remembering how special this year’s Festival was - here are some more of my observations:

Generosity of spirit

This was Creative Salon’s first Cannes Lions. And as a young company - Claire (Beale), Jeremy (Lee) and I enjoyed many heart-filled moments of reunion. Certainly the week seemed less of a hustle this year, and was instead a reminder that our world of creativity is filled with wonderfully inspiring people and provides the opportunity to impact the world we live in.

I was on stage with Sir Martin Sorrell at a BIMA event last week, and though he called the whole Cannes experience “surreal” and discussed how the fear of recession is looming large over all of us, he conceded there was a sense of renewed energy from meeting people the way we did at Cannes.

Corporate activism is sometimes more than just a marketing ploy

I led a panel session with the Dove CMO, Alessandro Manfredi, WPP/Ogilvy's Jo Bacon, and Dan Fisher, global ECD for Unilever at Ogilvy to explore the critical role that creativity plays for Dove as it unlocks the power of purpose to drive culture, and makes a lasting impact on society and business. Of course, Unilever has been a poster child of ‘doing good’, so creative excellence while trying to change toxic attitudes to beauty is not too big a leap of faith. I hope it inspires the rest of the industry to take on the good fight and preserve equal rights. When the fundamental freedoms of women in the US have been stripped back, no brand or business can stay silent.

Be the grit in the oyster

Yet another diversity charter: The World Federation of Advertisers rolled out a global DEI Charter for Change. Rock solid DE&I should be table-stakes for any business now. And we know this well. The most powerful brands have a cultural view much bigger than just marketing spend. They don’t just market to the world, they tangibly exist in the communities they live in and serve. I mean, just imagine what might have happened if eco-warriors had been invited in to some of the more exclusive meets & greets. And all those DE&I panels - always the same folks talking to same people in an echo chamber. Yes they make a few headlines, but there’s not enough meaningful, lasting action happening.

And I leave you with this: “Whatever has happened, whatever is going to happen in the world, it is the living moment that contains the sum of the excitement, this moment in which we touch life and all the energy of the past and future.” - one of my favourite poets, and a fierce feminist, Muriel Rukeyser’s sharp observation about the celebration of life itself and the wonder of possibility in the (turbulent) times we are living in, perhaps, best captures the sentiments around the Cannes Lions festival.


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