THE BLOG

The Weird, Wonderful and Inspiring World of the Cannes Advertising Festival

25/06/2014 11:56 BST | Updated 24/08/2014 10:59 BST

I'm just back from the annual weird, wonderful and inspiring world of the Cannes Advertising Festival. Held two weeks after the infinitely more star-studded (but arguably just as ego-fuelled) Film Festival, the, this is the main event for global creativity in advertising and communications.

There are even a few celebs there - Kanye West and Rob Lowe appeared this year to provide their own perspective on creativity. But the main meat of Cannes is what, in my view, is a much more interesting subject: how world-class creativity can have an impact on business performance.

Unfortunately, this was by no means a classic year, creatively. The technology companies and the "traditional" agencies shared a common characteristic - they both had the mild whiff of protesting too much.

The technology-based players over-egged the message that "we deserve a seat at the marketing top table". Meanwhile, the advertising networks talked at great length about the algorithm behind the idea. The unspoken yet deafening insistence: "We're keeping up, honest".

Either way, the net result was the overwhelmingly underwhelming quality of work. The winners were largely deserved and largely commendable - but there was nothing that will stand the test of time.

Cannes at its best is when an industry delivers work with inner confidence, rather than some of the faux confidence and posturing on display last week. This is important, because inner confidence comes from agencies and brands with the ambition to outperform their peers by taking the risk of trying something genuinely new. We thrive on ambition and on confidence. A bit like the England football team, we'll get there next time (we hope).

That should not, however, obscure the fact that on stage at the Palais des Festivals, there was the opportunity to see and hear some of the world's best in action. Learning and development is a key opportunity at Cannes. But in truth, I sometimes feel that the purpose of the Festival is becoming increasingly obscured.

For some, it's always been an excuse to down tools for a week and party in the sun. And partying is fine - especially if you are celebrating some fantastic work well done - and as long as that's not all you do.

Nowadays, though, things have changed. Cannes seems to be all about clients. This should of course, be cause for celebration. Could it be that all these clients have realized what we've all known for so long - that your best unfair advantage in business is the unreasonable power of creativity?

I'm sure most of these senior marketers at Cannes believe that they're there to soak up the wisdom, to be inspired and to go back revived and refocused on doing the best work they can.

But somehow, these best of intentions have got lost somewhere in the system. Yes, clients are attending, but they are using Cannes to organize global get-togethers, choosing to spend days locked in darkened meeting rooms, discussing what I'm sure are important issues, but which could equally be discussed back at head office in November.

This has a knock on effect on their advertising agencies - who, rather than being able to learn from the best people in the business, are forced to spend all day with their clients, in darkened meeting rooms... you get the picture.

Of course there are exceptions - clients who are getting the absolute maximum benefit. For the vast majority though, the pressure to be "busy", to have a diary packed full of meetings, means they are losing out.

There's nothing to be ashamed of in taking some time out of the daily grind to be inspired, enthused and really focus on what's important. Going to Cannes for a load of meetings (and some expensive dinners), does not make you a marketer who values the power of creativity. If that was your experience of Cannes, you really missed out. Which is a shame for you. But also a shame for your business.

Robert Senior is EMEA CEO, Saatchi & Saatchi