Commentary

When Worlds Collide, Or Singing 'Kumbaya' About Cannes

Here's the funny thing about watching Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg's interview at this year's Cannes International Advertising Festival: If there hadn't been a backdrop touting the festival right behind him, you might not have picked up on the fact that he was addressing a bunch of ad execs.

That's really heartening, if you fret -- as I long have -- about whether the two sides of advertising can ever get along. It seems as if for the last 15 years, it's been populated by old-line Madison Avenue on the one hand, and Silicon Valley on the other. The Madison Avenue gang has sometimes seemed willful in its desire not to "get it" and the Silicon Valley crowd has often played hard-to-get with its East Coast counterparts.

There are still great divides, to be sure. But to imagine Zuckerberg among the drunk crowds along La Croisette -- maybe icing a bro' in the wee hours? -- or actually breathing the same air as Leo Burnett global chief creative officer Mark Tuttsel or Laura Desmond, CEO of Starcom Mediavest Group (not to pick on Publicis agencies), is enough to make me wonder if one day we'll find all of advertising, technologists and old-liners, singing (a drunken) round or two of "Kumbaya" as the sun rises over the Riviera. It's an encouraging sign of the times to hear Zuckerberg talk to a packed house of ad execs about platforms and applications and developers and have a sense that many of the ad execs actually get it.

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I know that sounds awfully disparaging to ad execs, but, hey, for too long too many of them have held onto advertising and media as they knew it. And vice versa. But now that's beginning to change.

Why now? Here's what I think has happened -- and needed to happen -- for the two worlds to start to come together. Average people -- and yes, I mean you, traditional ad execs -- had to come to services and platforms like Facebook and iPhone en masse. With Facebook at close to 500 million users, and the iPhone at well in excess of 30 million users (not to mention the iPad), it's obvious that a lot of ad execs have incorporated the best and brightest services coming out of Silicon Valley into their own lives.

My perspective on this is partly taken from the last -- and only -- time I went to the festival 10 years ago, when I was head of communications for Organic. The truth is, I wanted to go because my husband, then at USA Today, was presiding over a session about dot-com companies advertising on TV. Paradox! Though my company was good to send me, I think I had to pay the admissions fee. On the flight over, I played solitaire on my Palm III.

At the time, most ad execs had some access to the Internet, but the top ones, if they had email, probably had it printed out by their secretaries. They may have started to use Google or Yahoo or AOL, but even if they did, there's a huge difference between that earliest part of the digital age and now.

It's not just about the transition to broadband in the first years of the millennium; the newer class of digital services is much more personal, and social, taking the social experiences of the time -- email and IMing -- to entirely new, compelling levels. In addition, interface design, which any good art director can appreciate, improved a lot, too.

Facebook has its quirks, but it is light years better than the AOL chat rooms that dominated in the 1990s. And, Apple, of course -- during the second reign of King Jobs -- took technology to an aesthetic level that the ad world could appreciate. And, that was even before the iPhone.

I can remember going to many, many conferences in the 1990s where the touchstone for most execs to the digital world seemed to be their teenagers. They'd marvel out loud about how their children could segue effortlessly from Yahoo to AIM to the telephone to the TV, but their experience wasn't hands-on. Now their touchstone is their own experience. They post status updates to Facebook, download apps on to their iPhone, have a YouTube channel.

The next step, and one that the more traditional types in the industry haven't entirely made, is to get better at creating really compelling experiences within the digital services in which they now play. But just as it is with kids and play -- as any parent knows, play is a child's work -- this, too, will develop into a stronger understanding about how to make digital, social services work as marketing applications. When that happens, I'll be singing "Kumbaya" right along side all of you.

Editors's note: We've posted the agenda for the first-ever Social Media Insider Summit, to be held in August in Lake Tahoe. Check it out here.)

2 comments about "When Worlds Collide, Or Singing 'Kumbaya' About Cannes ".
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  1. Tom Troja from Social Sympony, June 25, 2010 at 2:29 p.m.

    Nothing like a good sing along to get the blood going. Lets hope we all sing in tune with this cacaphony of unique voices. Heard someone call this the wasted decade... too many been playing solitare with themselves. Leave it to France to help us all just get along... we've got a lot of work to do.

  2. Frederick Zimmerman iv from "WHOSE HIGHWAY IS IT ANYWAY?" inc 501c3, June 25, 2010 at 2:34 p.m.

    Your commentary was very insightful. As a lecturer of communications, I fear that with the need for Social Merdia will we forget how to speak with one another face to face. Or just a good hand shake after a conversation. I must admit the tools of the Social Media are very important in today's marketing, but will we really have a better feeling about who we deal with. I would rather look a person in the face, Read the body movements and the way they sit and move in a chair.
    Of course I'm from the old school I want to look the person in the eye and feel secure before I make a deal,or call someone a friend. HONOR, INTEGRITY and ETHICS is everything and the only thing.
    Frederick Louis Zimmerman IV
    President / Director of Operations
    www.whosehighway.org

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