Scott Donaton Cannes Commentary


And Welcoming the Surge of Suits to the Stage

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On Friday of this week, if all goes as planned, I’ll be moderating a panel at the International Advertising Festival, the makeup of which tells you everything you need to know about the transformation of the awards show known as Cannes.
Scott Donaton, editor of 'Advertising Age.'

An undeniable reality
Whether it’s a good thing or not is for you to make your own mind up on, but like many of the changes muscling their way into the business, it’s an undeniable reality.

So deal with it.

On my panel -- it’s actually not mine, but organized by the festival, whose CEO, Terry Savage, kindly asked me to helm the proceedings -- are: WPP boss Martin Sorrell (along with John Wren, one of the two most powerful people in the agency business); News Corp. comer Lachlan Murdoch (who’s being honored at the show as media man of the year); Draft’s Howard Draft and Crispin, Porter & Bogusky’s Chuck Porter.

So let’s see, a panel at Cannes -- once revered by those who dress in black for its creative purity -- stocked with a heavyweight business executive, a media mogul (the man who runs the New York Post!), a direct-marketing expert and an agency boss. (Porter, at least, is a creative by training.) It should draw a big crowd, and I won’t be surprised if some of the musings of the straight-speaking Sorrell are met with whistles. Cannes attendees love to express their views.

It won’t change anything, though.

The new definition of creativity
This is the new definition of creativity and the new face of Cannes. Under Emap for the first year, the festival is embracing a strategy initiated by

Cannes is now as much about suits as it is about black shirts.
former owner Roger Hatchuel -- to grow revenue by defining the business more broadly, inviting effectively everyone in the global ad game to compete for Lion-head sculptures and hotel rooms in the south of France. The week now includes awards shows for media, direct marketing and interactive, as well as print, outdoor and TV, and seminars on Chinese consumers and digital technology.

Creatives, of course, still dominate Cannes, although many of them grumble fairly openly about the heavy presence of agency suits, media sellers and clients, and the disrespect for the spirit and flow of the week (that is, clients often schedule meetings at times when longtime festival-goers would be sunbathing on the beach or tossing back drinks on the Carlton terrace).

As with procurement, the question isn’t whether the trend will continue -- marketers are going to keep making the trek to Cannes -- but rather how best to accept and deal with their presence.

Promising signs
There are promising signs that clients are getting the hang of things, which could make their presence easier for creatives to swallow. Instead of trying to organize agendas and group meetings (P&G excepted), some now show up alone and follow their agencies around. Agency suits, too, are there to stay, as are direct-marketing folks, media services wonks and Internet geeks.

If the new Cannes has a fault, it’s actually that TV (or film) advertising is still the centerpiece of the show, the focus of the big final-night awards ceremony and the most celebrated of the Lions.

The evolution of the festival to include clients and celebrate various marketing disciplines mirrors the evolution of the business itself. The next step will be to take TV off of its pedestal in recognition that it is no longer the undisputed primary marketing tool. The final night’s awards ceremony should be where all winners in all disciplines are announced and celebrated.

Equal treatment for creative
Equal treatment is also needed for creative expressions that can’t be easily categorized, such as Internet films and video-game ads. The Titanium Lion, a recent invention designed to pat experiments on the back while keeping them segregated from more-established advertising forms, has got to go. It’s time to call a creative solution a creative solution.

And to welcome the suits to the stage.

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