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Agency Culture Cannes Lions Marketing

What the ad industry should really be talking about at Cannes Lions

By Tom Goodwin

June 15, 2023 | 7 min read

Tom Goodwin doesn’t hold back. He argues that the discussions at Cannes Lions 2022 were so hooked on speculative tech that it was “embarrasing“, going on “professionally negligent”. Will realism make a return to the Croisette in 2023?

Cannes Lions

Much of the discussion in Cannes in 2022 was embarrassing, really. The stages were abuzz with people banging on about NFTs, the metaverse and web3. The talk of the town seemed disconnected from reality at the time. Now it seems woefully misguided, bordering on professional negligence more than awkward.

The truth is that adland was slow to embrace technology and now we’re making amends. For years we turned our back on rudimentary things like the internet or the mobile phone, and in our rush to course correct we massively overcorrected.

Now, being conversant in quantum computing or overestimating the impact of VR or AR, or being the first to talk about digital twins or clean data rooms is actively helping our reputation. It’s been far worse reputationally and economically to say “maybe the Apple Watch won’t change advertising much” because being right is worse than fitting in by being wrong.

Cannes Lions is now an industry bingo hall, where you need to say IOT, machine learning or metaverse. If you don’t, people will just assume you don’t know enough, not that you’re being discerning and thoughtful.

If we had confidence in our ability to navigate the intersection between brands and people, we’d really be talking about the following.

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Advertising was about making someone know enough about something to want to buy it. Our end goal was the handing off the baton to retail channels where people could buy the stuff we’d talked about.

The internet changed all that because the store and the advertising became one and the same. About 90% of advertising folk have ignored this because Advertising was an art, and the hustle of selling stuff felt a bit beneath us, it all seemed a bit dirty to take people's money when we were making dreams.

So we did what we always did and made a line, we decided ads online could be performance or brand, and we ignored the fact that this made absolutely no sense whatsoever. Like zero. At some point, I’m hoping we wake up to the fact that the purchase funnel may still be the best way to conceptualize something as complex as human behavior but it leads us astray

The internet is a shelf, the smart TV is a store, the phone is a checkout, we can now reconsider everything in advertising and make ads that allow people to buy anything from anywhere with one press. We can wake up to the idea that trade marketing, retail media, and every form of shopper marketing is now something the fine minds of advertising can get excited about and impact brilliantly. Let’s hope we talk about this.

Purpose 2.0

To avoid the nasty, practical and highly profitable conversations about commerce much of the industry seems to have gone the other way, and assumed we were more about religion building.

We worship the brands of Patagonia and, well that’s about it, in the hopes that people buy the lofty ideals that brands represent. The truth is while people are obligated to say the right thing in badly phrased surveys, most people don’t care much, they don’t procure items from 100 brands a week. They don’t conduct lengthy research about their toothpaste stance on gun control, they buy fried chicken from companies they don’t align with and wash it down with water in plastic bottles when they have a perfectly fine tap just yards away.

Purpose 2.0 should be the start of more thorough conversations about how brands can be less disingenuous, focus more on doing the simple things that improve the planet and lives, and more honest conversations about how our role is less about advertising and more about impacting how companies operate.

Modern living

People are not busy, they are overwhelmed. They consume countless hours a day of social media because they are stressed, lost, confused and thinking about other things.

We’ve spiraling food prices, lonely kids, massive energy hikes and angry conversations about seemingly every wedge issue. The economy is messy, with ample reasons to see hope, mixed economic data, and incredible pressure on domestic finances.

Brand loyalty becomes highly complex with pressured finances, for those that can indulge, luxury goods deliver little moments of joy, travel becomes sanctuary for recovery, it’s all incredibly complex but deeply fascinating. It varies insanely by category, geography and demographic, and it’s both the most vital topic and most interesting.

So at some point, we should probably talk about this. The real elements impacting and influencing people. But will anyone? Not when the metaverse is still on the table.

AI will do better work.

There is some tech on my list. It’d be impossible to argue against the latest improvements we are seeing in the AI space. It is impressive but most vital is the rapid boom in accessibility to these tools.

It has had profound impacts on many elements of our work in a short time. It alters our ability to produce amazing ads, changes how we derive understanding from data and it allows us to automate basic tasks.

In short, it’s like having an account on Upwork and a stolen credit card. What can we do with this? While many salivate about cost reductions or faster working, we could be more ambitious. What does it mean when tiny clients can produce incredible production values, what does it mean when we can reply to every customer’s email, what becomes of advertising when it can be rendered out in real-time based on feeds of powerful accurate data, rather than being fixed “creative” that gets supplied.

We can have brilliant conversations about how we can make advertising more ambitious, more seductive, more impactful, more premium and more worthy of people's time, let’s use it for better, not easier.

Keep attuned with The Drum’s Cannes Lions coverage here. Tom Goodwin is a consultant, speaker and writer. Follow him on Twitter @tomfgoodwin.

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