Cannes 2009

The Great Cannes Non-Debate

Four Senior Marketers Agree on Importance of Digital, Maintaining Agency Relations

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CANNES (AdAge.com) -- They might call it the Cannes debate, but in a panel discussion involving some of the world's biggest advertisers, there was little contention as a quartet of major marketers agreed on a vision of the road ahead for the ad business.

Martin Sorrell
Martin Sorrell Credit: Tom Stockill
Under WPP Chief Executive Martin Sorrell's typically steely questioning, senior executives from Kraft, Procter & Gamble, Johnson & Johnson and McDonald's agreed on a host of issues: Agencies could do their jobs better, but so could marketers. Digital is important and is getting more ad spending put toward it, but TV isn't going anywhere. Recession-beset consumers are laser-focused on value. Both big and small agencies play important roles to major marketers. And, not least, corporate social responsibility is vital to both companies and their consumers.

It might not have been the ad business' version of the Lincoln-Douglass debates, but the session did provide an overview of where the marketing world is going that's particularly credible, given the size of the budgets controlled by the participants.

Here are a few highlights:

One of the subjects Mr. Sorrell was most persistent on was that of spending on digital media -- where it's going and what kind of efficiencies it provides. Responding to a particularly lengthy question from the holding-company chief, McDonald's exec VP-CMO, Mary Dillon, said, "Is your question about efficiencies? The discussion is too much about the channel and not enough about the ideas that drive our business." The audience, likely filled with creatives under intense pressure to create more digital ideas, roared in applause.

Mary Dillon
Mary Dillon
Mary Beth West, exec VP-CMO at Kraft, evinced a bit of frustration with her agency relationships. One particular problem, she said, is translating data into insights, something agencies used to do in their planning role. Now, she said, "we have to do it in-house." Ms. West also boiled over a bit when talking about communications issues, saying that in a digital age that's bringing new principles, "We're forgetting how to employ our new principles in relationships with one another."

But not all the marketers jabbed at their shops. Said Brian Perkins, VP-corporate affairs at J&J, "Clients get the advertising they deserve." Too often, he said, clients don't give creatives enough genuine feedback. P&G Global Marketing Officer Marc Pritchard struck a similar note when he said it's incumbent on both agencies and marketers to eliminate silos. Ms. Dillon asked that agencies help clients become better at their jobs by being sure to demand better briefs.

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