Going to Cannes? Look, don't touch

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More than 100 marketers are in Cannes this week to attend advertising's premier creative competition. It's great that so many clients will be exposed to a world of creativity. Now a note to those marketers: Take in advertising's best show, but don't mess it up.

Cannes works because it's the creatives' show. Creatives bring their most interesting, provocative work, and peers pick the best. Creatives debate the work, gossip about peers, criticize the judges and drink it all in.

It's one big party, and that's the big idea: Creatives spend a week immersed in the work, with talented people coming together to review advertising from across countries, product categories and media.

The Cannes Lions International Advertising Festival attracts the best and brightest creative talent (or at least bosses of said younger talent). It makes sense for marketers to go to the show to see ideas drawn from other industries and regions.

Procter & Gamble Co. drew attention last year when Global Marketing Officer Jim Stengel brought a P&G mission to Cannes, and CEO A.G. Lafley will lead a bigger contingent this year. P&G is working hard to rethink the way it communicates; the company will put to good use what executives learn in Cannes. Major advertisers are following P&G's lead, and a record 100-plus will invade the south of France this week. McDonald's Corp.'s global chief marketing officer, Larry Light, is leading a delegation of up to 45 people from McDonald's, which has shown a willingness to go anywhere for the right ideas.

But marketers must tread carefully, for they will damage the show if they move from spectators to center-stage participants. Let's set a few ground rules. At Cannes, marketers are there to listen and learn, to discuss ideas, to banish for one week any mention of "return on investment." Advertising, of course, is a business, and the work must work. But give creativity a week in the sun, and good ideas will emerge for both creatives and their clients.

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