Cannes Do-Over: Is It Time to Rethink Your Overthinking Strategy?

In Order to Justify Budget, the Most Elegant Idea Simply Must Get Larded With All Manner of Overthinking

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Back in January when the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity announced more ways it could take your money -- er, I'm sorry, more ways it could recognize your brilliance -- I was a little skeptical.

Even more categories? Because, what, the creative industry still suffers from a shortage of opportunities for self-congratulation? Apparently so. A new Product Design category arrived with four subsections: Consumer Goods; Well-Being and Environmental Impact; Interface; and something called Solution (?). And all that came in the wake of a newly revamped Cyber Lions category with new subcategories including Social, Branded Technology and Branded Games. Not to mention Lions Health, a new, separate event-within-the-event aimed at the health-care field.

Credit: Kelsey Dake for Ad Age

At the time, I had my fun with the announcement, suggesting that if Cannes was going to overthink the awards, it might as well go all out. I proposed a whole slew of additional new categories and subcategories, including Best Team-Written Pre-Scripted "Real-Time" Tweet, Most Impactful Interface Solution, Best Implementation of an Activation, Best Execution of an Activation's Implementation, as well as in-depth recognition for that whole industry-within-an-industry, Sofia Vergara implementations (Best Sofia Vergara Ad: Outdoor, Best Sofia Vergara Ad: Indoor, Best Sofia Vergara Ad: Mobile, Best Sofia Vergara Ad: Stationary).

Maybe next year?

I should note here that last Wednesday my colleague Shareen Pathak reported that Cannes has brought in at least $28.2 million in entry fees this year -- $4 million more than last year. And that's a conservative estimate; Shareen based her calculation on the number of entries in various categories (there were 37,427 entries from 97 countries this year, a 4.4% increase over 2013) and base entry fees for those categories, but excluded the (unknown) late-entry-fee windfall.

In other words, the market has spoken: There may still not be enough awards!

Which got me thinking: Maybe the overthinkers at Cannes should just cut to the chase and outright honor, well, overthinking. My Ad Age colleague Nat Ives described Cannes to me last week as "a gathering to celebrate the most ruthlessly calibrated creativity in the world," and that pretty much nails it. After all, the creative industry is all about not only demonstrating your brilliance to the client (and, hopefully, while you're at it, winning over consumers), but proving your worth to the client.

And nobody does that with a single-slide deck, even though everyone hopes that their campaigns come off as so effortlessly clever, so eureka-ish, that they arrive like bolts of lightning.

In order to justify budget, the most elegant idea simply must get larded with all manner of overthinking -- these days, usually social-media-related overthinking -- that impresses and reassures, but doesn't suffocate, the client.

The trick is to bring your overthinking right to the brink without crossing the invisible line that makes it obvious that you've overthought your overthinking.

Case in point: A recent Business Insider piece titled "We Got a Look Inside the 45-Day Planning Process That Goes Into Creating a Single Corporate Tweet," in which reporter Aaron Taube camped out for a morning at Huge, a Manhattan digital design and ad firm that manages social media for brands from Audi to TD Ameritrade.

Did you read it? Oh my God, you really have to read it. In addition to playing up the now-hoary social-media war-room narrative (oh, look, a photo of four wall-mounted flat-screen monitors displaying tweets and stuff!), it highlights a single, committee-written tweet for President brand cheese that "had been in the making for nearly two months." The tweet reads "Sharing a Camembert with friends? (How generous!) Get the best flavor by serving at room temperature. #artofcheese" -- and then there's a photo of some cheese.

Taube reports, without any apparent judgment, that "thus far, the post has yet to be retweeted, but it has generated two favorites."

#Artofcheese? More like #shootmeplease. (In the wake of the Business Insider coverage, the tweet in question was favorited and retweeted in droves by Twitter ironists.)

The BI piece, hilariously, has a note appended to it that reads, "Correction: An earlier version of this story said that 13 people could work on a tweet at Huge. That figure was based on a statement from a Huge community lead, who said that 10-20 strategists attended a meeting to approve President Cheese tweets. After the story was published, a representative from Huge said that the meeting was attended only by four people."

See what I mean about overthinking your overthinking? The point of deploying smoke and mirrors is to not have everybody saying, "Hey, look at all that smoke! And all those mirrors!"

Really, overthinking is an art. It's time Cannes honors that art form.

Which, of course, it already does in general, but if "Well-Being and Environmental Impact" can be a thing, why not, say, "Exactly the Right Amount of Bullshit?"

Simon Dumenco is the "Media Guy" columnist for Advertising Age. You can follow him on Twitter @simondumenco.

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