Cannes 2013: Was the theme transition?

Dale Gall, Profero's CEO offers his view points on what he perceived to be the theme of this year's Cannes Festival of Creativity, having appeared at an IPA breakfast event to discuss the organisation's ADAPT strategy. That theme of this year's festival, he says, was transition.

Last week I appeared on a panel at Cannes hosted by Ian Priest, the new IPA President. It was to debate the merits of his recently launched ADAPT* platform for the industry. My first thought was ‘bugger a panel at 9:00 am on a Thursday at Cannes’. My second thought was about how supportive I am of Ian’s drive to create a more productive dialogue between agencies and clients around the need for commercial creative – indeed our need to adapt. My third thought what the hell am I going to say?

Cannes was just the venue, not the theme. But it is hard not to think of Cannes when you are there viewing things through a Rosé tinted liver on La Croissette.

It struck me that in the past, emerging out of this annual celebration of the world’s advertising creativity, a yearly theme has usually emerged. One year it was Brazil and the rise of South American creativity as a global force, another year it was digital media platforms such as Google announcing themselves creatively; there was the year of social; the list goes on. These themes tend to represent shifts in the industry, new ways of working, new areas of importance and opportunity.

So what was the theme of 2013? If there was a theme it appeared to me to be “transition”, in fact, I was harsher during the panel, calling the theme “malaise”.

There was no shortage of great ideas that achieved great results, such as “Dumb Ways to Die” (even though this showed how out-dated the category definitions for the awards are). But talking to peers, clients, journalists and looking at the work - no clear theme emerged other than the sense of being in a state of transition. There was a lot of agreement around the need to adapt, but no clear agreement on what or where to. Everyone could agree that new channels, new technologies, new platforms and consumer behaviours have transformed the possibilities of marketing and the skills required to realise these possibilities. There was agreement on the need to collaborate more but there was no mutual understanding of when and how. More importantly, amongst all of these new marketing possibilities, there was no clear agreement on what now matters most – on where to be held to account. History shows us that when people are not accountable, bad things happen.

This lack of agreement on what counts has not gone unnoticed at the Boardroom level. In a recent global survey of 1200 CEO’s, 80 per cent of them believed their CMO’s were not connected enough to the financial needs of the company.* CEO’s expressed no such concerns about their CIO – which may explain a recent Forrester survey “most CMO’s want to improve their working relationship with the CIO."

So, for me, Cannes 2013 represented an industry in transition, and not even at the point of transition in which the direction for many is clear. But out of transition comes opportunity. Perhaps this is the true theme of Cannes and why Ian Priest’s ADAPT platform is so timely. The opportunity exists to move from being excited and explorative of all the new marketing possibilities to one of evolved focus and accountability. To focus on business objectives and customer insight no longer just in terms of marketing communications but rather as marketing commerce. To work more vertically and align across business and agency specialists to achieve stronger, clearer commercial objectives that make the most of and bring together emerged technologies, media and creative. Because when these three come together around an idea real business transformation happens - at scale and in ways that everyone can agree counts.

*ADAPT is an acronym for the five key areas Ian Priest and the IPA want the industry to focus on: Alliances, Diversification, Agility, Profit and Talent.

* Fournaise Marketing Group interviewed more than 1,200 large corporation and SMB CEOs and decision-makers in North America, Europe, Asia and Australia.

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