The Cannes Creativity Trap

In the aftermath of the Cannes Lions Festival, it’s worth kicking the tires about whether this sun, sand, and Rosé fueled marketing extravaganza needs to be refocused.  Our industry needs more creativity – it’s no doubt important – but we need to much more critically treat the concept of creativity as a means to an end, rather than as an end in itself.

With Cannes’ place as the industry’s sole annual global event, does creativity alone deserve to dominate this gathering?  Shouldn’t we be celebrating other far more important accomplishments of our collective agencies and the successes of our clients?

Today’s consumer and business to business marketing and communications challenges are no doubt complicated.  In addition, in almost every sector, our clients are under extreme financial pressure.  These realities call for redoubling our efforts in generating meaningful business results and improved financial outcomes for our clients.  Straying from this goal is increasingly looked upon as committing some degree of malpractice.  So in no uncertain terms, helping to drive our clients business – helping them grow and innovate – must be a far stronger priority than a quest to win industry creative awards.  And more importantly is creativity really the North Star that we all are supposed to navigate towards?  I don’t think so.

And don’t take my word for it, consider two terrific quotes from one of the industry’s true creative geniuses, David Ogilivy, as written in Ogilvy on Advertising:

“When I write an advertisement, I don’t want you to tell me that you find it ‘creative.’ I want you to find it so interesting that you buy the product.”

Here is another:

“Your role is to sell, don’t let anything distract you from the sole purpose of advertising.”

If Ogilvy was alive today, no doubt he would be challenging marketers to focus far more on reaching, persuading, and engaging middle American consumers, than the industry’s seeming infatuation with impressing New York, Chicago, and London marketing executives.  Ogilvy might even be asking whether we are so focused on winning awards that our work is created for the Cannes judges as much as for our clients and the customers and prospects they are trying to reach and engage!

So what should be our awards focus instead?  Here are some ideas to consider shifting the focus of Cannes to:

  1. Financial Impact – Whose campaigns generated the greatest growth for our clients?
  2. Strategy – Which consumer or B2B insights are most strategically actionable and meaningful?
  3. Trust – As Richard Edelman rightly pointed out, there is a significant trust issue with new and emerging platforms and our industry must help police and help clients navigate around – who is helping bring that about?
  4. Innovation – Who is best harnessing the awesome power of technology to transform the ways in which brands and companies interact with their customers and prospects?

So this summer, let’s resolve to stop trying to impress each other with our wit, sarcasm and cheekiness.  Instead, let’s see who can help steal more market share than anyone else with the least amount of money – how about that for a change!

Bradley Honan is CEO and President of Honan Strategy Group, a strategic market research and digital analytics firm.