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SXSW Reminds Why Cannes Is Still King

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A rather rainy SXSW Interactive in Austin just wrapped up, but a long season of industry events and conferences is still ahead of us.

Well, it's really a season that never ends. Starting with CES in January, SXSW in March, Cannes in June and Advertising Week in October, just to name a few, the range of events available to the advertising industry keeps getting more and more diverse.

As Madison Avenue continues to search for ways to evolve in the 21st century, marketing and advertising types flock to these events to find possible answers on how to do just that.

Or not.

There might be a lot of events "available" to the advertising and marketing industry. But that doesn't mean that they are relevant. Here's how I summed it up on Twitter:

#SXSW is like the live version of the Internet: a whole lot of noise & short attention span.

Just like the Internet itself, you unfortunately end up with a lot of content that is mediocre at best. SXSW has a very egalitarian approach to their programming. And when you have close to 2500 panelists in less than five days, 60 panels happening simultaneously at ANY given time, chances are you'll have more misses than hits - even if you know what you are doing.

Given this reality, though, one of the reasons why startups and agencies flock to SXSW is to find the Next Big Thing. Twitter's launch in 2007 is now a legend. Then came Foursquare in 2009 - they entered SXSW with 50 users and left with 5,000, apparently. Since then, though, people have been waiting.

Again, this year no startup managed to break through (some might argue for Highlight, but I doubt people will be talking about it next year).

But if your goal is marketing and branding, SXSW can be a good place to do so, especially if you are interested in reaching tech influencers - as AKQA client Nike attempted to do in its first foray into SXSW. Even though it's become huge, SXSW is not right or relevant for every marketer. If you don't have a killer product, whether you are a startup or brand, you shouldn't try to make a splash.

For marketers attending for their own education, it's best that you have a well-versed guide who can show you around. SXSW programming is spotty, and as any witness can attest, bringing in celebrities doesn't necessarily guarantee quality.

Where SXSW falls down in programing quality is where Cannes excels. Cannes may not have the cauldron of innovation, but it manages to continue its importance by consistently maintaining the quality of content they pull together.

There are nowhere near as many panels or seminars at Cannes. The standard of presentations is much more dependable. People seem more prepared in general.

And the theme always has a clear focus: the festival is about creativity and inspiration. Whether it's the work that gets recognized or seminars that are shared on stage, the purpose of the festival is to make the audience feel inspired with creativity. In recent years more clients have started attending Cannes; the more inspired our clients are, the more creativity they would want from agencies. And that's a good thing for the industry.

At events like SXSW, there is a lot of information. And information can become useful knowledge for marketers. However, what really moves people is inspiration. And that's where Cannes keeps its edge for marketers. While SXSW may be about informing and finding that Next Big Thing, Cannes' focus has been about pushing this industry of ours forward.

Attending SXSW cemented why Cannes really matters: celebrating creativity and inspiration on a global stage and elevate what we do. At the end of the day, what separates a good idea from a great idea is just that: Does it inspire?

ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Rei Inamoto is chief creative officer at AKQA. You can follow him on Twitter at @reiinamoto.
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