Cannes Lions: Traditional advertising has hit the buffers and change is inevitable

Without fear or favour, Richard J. Hillgrove VI tips the tables up on world leaders, brands and countries who all often think they can hide behind the smoke and mirrors via their communications professionals. Bang On takes a full throttle, punk approach to dissecting and analysing modern PR and marketing. It's not for the faint hearted....

Rumours of advertising’s demise are far from exaggerated, and Publicis Groupe is just the latest in a line of industry luminaries to see the warning signs lit up like neon.

It has announced that it is sitting out the Cannes Lions festival next year – in fact, all awards festivals and trade shows. They’d rather save the money, or spend it elsewhere like on AI. Smart move.

Cannes was a great jolly when money was flowing from deep-pocketed clients, an opportunity to network and pat creative colleagues on the back, but these days the agency money men want a return on their investment and the focus is on networks of a different kind.

More importantly, clients are finding the return on their investment from traditional media campaigns somewhat lacking. Increasingly, they’re looking for better coordination between marketing and business performance.

The landscape is changing as consultancies and creative agencies converge. Management consulting firms are boosting their design and digital skills. They’re pushing deeper into the advertising and marketing space while the ad agencies aim to add some solid business savvy to their creative portfolios.

And the linchpin to all of this is digital, the new kid on the block taking centre stage as the UK’s ad spend reached rose 3.7% to a record £21.4bn last year, the seventh consecutive year of growth.

Internet ad spend accounted for around half of that, up 13.4% to £10.3bn for the year and mobile accounted for 99% of that growth. Spending on mobile platforms rose a whopping 45.4% to £3.9bn and there’s more growth to come, even if analysts predict it’ll come at a slower pace.

PR is going the same way. Journalists would rather go through Facebook and Twitter feeds than spend hours being fed at The Wolseley or Scott's. They have neither the time nor the appetite for such old-school schmoozing.

Creatives are going to have to come out of their ivory tower and roll their sleeves up. No more fun in the sun. No more relying on past reputation to survive. No more relying on a single creative idea to carry the day.

The new landscape calls for a tsunami of ideas in one vast ocean of a campaign with multiple creative refractions. Linear thinking is sinking; new media consumption is a sideways pumping action.

Never mind 2 or 3D thinking, we need 4D now. We’ve been spun into a kaleidoscope world where one idea necessitates hundreds of break-outs in all media across huge volumes of delivery platforms to cover traditional and social outlets. That’s before we even get to the network of influencers you need to help spread the word. Digitally, of course.

Video is important, but one lone voice isn’t going to hack it. A modern campaign needs a battery of original content, well-curated existing archive and masterful distribution. And the walls between digital and traditiional creative agency are clearly going to have to completely collapse as clients look for a single solution. It’s a hill they’ve already scaled in the US while we Brits stand at the foot wondering what equipment to take, how high to climb and whether we’ll survive.

Social marketers work on two premises to create meaningful traction in the marketplace. They might disseminate their message through a minimum of 100 platforms that they control yet which seem to be independent, and they use influencer hubs like These aggregate the output of influencers with substantial followings and share revenue with them in return for pushing brand messages to their audiences.

Still, the amount of content and creative ideas required to give any one campaign major success is gargantuan. Each creative concept needs to be broken out at least 75 to 100 times – that’s 75 - 100 iterations per each and every creative idea – before the many ‘seemingly independent’ platforms push the content out. Automation is key to making sure the tsunami hits critical mass.

The proof of the pudding lies in Iceland, a country brought to its knees by the 2008 banking crisis. Since then Instagram, along with over 5m individual pieces of content on the hashtag Iceland, has truly transformed the country’s fortunes.

Big names in the US social media world have turned Reykjavik into the new Casablanca, tourism is on the up and up and the economy is doing fine, thanks to a social driven phenomenon boosted by the likes of Justin Bieber and Kim Kardashian who have both recently shared their Iceland visits with their millions of followers. Perhaps Reykjavic could be the new home of the Cannes Lions, rather than Paris, Berlin or London.

Publicis Groupe’s announcement went down like a lead balloon in Cannes as creatives choked on their cocktails at a festival deemed by some to have lost its way and lost its focus, while it partied a little too hearty.

WPP’s Sir Martin Sorrell was quick off the block saying a boycott was not ‘the right approach’ even though his own company this year cut the number of staff attending Cannes by half. He even suggested moving the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity to a more central and cheaper location as WPP cast doubts over whether it would take part at all next year.

It wasn’t just jaws that dropped. Shares in Ascential, which owns Cannes Lions, fell by 3%. Understandably, the company are now said to be examining how they run the event in future.

Creatives might well stamp their feet at the thought of missing out on champagne and croissants on the Croisette, but the bottom line is this: traditional advertising’s gravy train has hit the buffers and change is inevitable.

It’s not as if we haven’t seen it coming. Marketers have talked about the death of traditional advertising since the late 1990s.

Last year Inc. magazine talked about how the ad industry has been going through a long and slow painful death and when Forbes asked if traditional advertising was dead, they weren’t suggesting it was merely moribund. They meant decidedly defunct, definitively deceased, dead as a dodo.

That’s evolution for you and that’s the way of the world at the beginning of the 21st century. Who knew the digital revolution would be so sudden and so disruptive? But it’s right here, right now and resistance is futile.

The writing is on the wall. The smart agencies will evolve and move on from the yachts and parties of the Cote d’Azur. That’s all so last millennium.

Bang On to Richard on email and Twitter @6hillgrove

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