Commentary by Scott Donaton


But Will Their Increasing Involvement Help or Hurt the International Ad Festival?

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As more clients invade Cannes, creatives are divided over whether it's an indicator of a resurgence of respect for their craft or the worst development since the addition of the direct awards to the festival.
Scott Donaton, editor of 'Advertising Age.'

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At issue: Will marketers capture the spirit of Cannes, or dampen it?

P&G to blame
Procter & Gamble and its ambassadorial marketing chief, Jim Stengel, are to blame, everyone agrees. Stengel last year led a delegation of two dozen P&G marketing executives, each armed with detailed instructions, loaded agendas and clear objectives. Their mission: "To gather meaningful information and insight as we attend Cannes events and interact with other Cannes participants," according to a journal given to each attendee.

Never mind that the most visible initial result of P&G's trip was a dreadful Super Bowl spot for Charmin toilet tissue widely panned by the creative community. P&G is trying. And its trip clearly inspired other marketers to book passage to the south of France. The most notable is McDonald's, expected to troop in its own multinational force. There are quite a few examples of other companies that plan to send one or two marketing hotshots. Now comes word that the jury for the media award will include three marketers, a Cannes first. That raises the question of how creative directors would react if a client with a creative background, say someone such as Esther Lee at Coke, was added to the film jury.

Emotion vs. ROI
Creatives are encouraged that more marketers are taking interest in ads that work on an emotional rather than a purely rational level, particularly in such traditionally creatively constipated categories as food and household products. Of course they're savvy enough to realize that with the intense focus on ROI, such work has to produce measurable business results or it will be yanked off the air, the accounts yanked out of their agencies, their paychecks yanked out of their hands.

Still, creative types can't decide whether to welcome the presence of so many of their clients at the International Advertising Festival, or fear it -- and not simply because they're concerned that they'll have to drag themselves out of the Gutter Bar before sunup in order to have time to shower before meeting perky brand managers for breakfast. Although there's that, too.

Cannes, for as long as anyone can remember, has been -- to borrow the words of one agency creative director -- a haven for copywriters and art directors, the one industry gathering that is all about the work.

Where creatives can vent
It's where creatives go to escape the other pressures of their daily jobs, to vent about clueless clients and uninspired account managers, to celebrate creativity and draw inspiration from ideas from around the globe. (Of course critics would say it's where wannabe filmmakers go to backslap each other and delude themselves into believing that what they do is truly art with as much right to be celebrated as such on the banks of the French Riviera as the Hollywood movies feted there each year.)

The concern those creatives have is that their clipboard-carrying, early-to-bed clients will co-opt Cannes, making it all about work rather than the work, ignoring gut instinct and risk and attempting to extract clear lessons and rules on how to manufacture good advertising.

My advice
Advice to marketers making the trip: leave the briefcase at home, stay out all night at the corner bar debating craft and then slump into a seat in a darkened screening room the next morning, armed with a bottle of water and a handful of Advils. And enjoy the work.

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