Au revoir Cannes Lions (again)

This was my third year at Cannes Lions but the first whole week – I’m totally Cannes’d out.

In many ways the first year was the best: everything new and exciting and, of course, a great speaker to introduce on the big stage in 2009 to a packed auditorium: Biz Stone of Twitter with his wake up call.

Last year’s ImprovEverywhere show with Charlie Todd was a gentler, warmer affair with his humour in the Debussy theatre – and the attempt to roast the VIP party culture here with a crowd-sourced event, an ‘exclusive’ party in a roped off 4 metre square.

This year, I have been in awe of the stamina of the full week delegates. So much to take in… seminars, workshops, media.

But, in truth not that much to surprise.

Yes, some of the work is brilliant and genuinely inspiring… and increasingly international – e.g. a first gold award for a Chinese agency. But the big agency groups still dominate proceedings. So much so that, for the first time, the holding companies get their own award… not for the quality of their subsidiary companies’ work but its quantity. Based on a simple mathematical formula, the group with the most awards wins. Great commercial decision by the organisers but not sure it’s going to encourage new blood.

As for the themes emerging, it’s been more of the same really. This is not meant to be the Davos of marketing communications – but still. The digerati continued to talk and be talked about. Dinosaur media companies continued to expound about the ‘opportunity’ of social. And a stream of barely known and already famous companies took the stage to plug their companies more than their ideas.

But as Twitter and Facebook, who were newbies at Cannes Lions in 2009 and 2010 respectively, become ever more mainstream, the real action is elsewhere as their business models meet real challenges. In Cannes, with some honourable exceptions, there seemed to be more talk about iPads than anything else.

One strong theme did emerge from many sessions and it took the CEO of a very traditional brand company, Unilever, to say it best. The marketing world, he said, is run by traditional marketers who seek to lead consumers where they want them to go. Years of training and practice support this thinking. Yet, as Paul Polman pointed out, if social marketing means anything, it is that it is now consumers who lead and brands and companies who must follow.

So the message for organisations of all shapes and sizes is simple: get social or get left behind.

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