The Cannes Festival of Advertising, where Lions come from, may not have jumped the shark yet, but it’s headed that way. That’s important not just because the Lions are the Oscars of advertising, but because the festival itself is a mirror of our industry. This year’s look in the mirror gave a rather unflattering reflection. What happened?
1) It shrank — this year, by 25%. That’s a big deal.
2) The mood was described as “pensive.” The explanation given was that the digital advertising is doing a “reset,” which is a euphemism for “give us another chance, please.”
3) Companies in questionable financial health rented absurdly expensive party yachts. (guessing about this, but it’s a safe bet).
The industry context is well-known. Google and Facebook have taken a massive portion of digital ad spend. TV is sliding toward being digital at a rapid rate, throwing advertising overboard in favor of subscriptions. Amazon promises to be a huge disruptive force.
Even the buyers have changed. The duopoly is made up of media companies that cater to the long tail of advertisers, featuring low-budget creative, biddable media, hyper-targeting, self-serve, and DIY sensibilities. All of which, of course, are anathema to the legacy players.
The situation begs a question: Who needs a conference when a duopoly calls the shots?
One use for a conference is to collaborate, but the ad-tech masses are apparently too afraid to create collective scale, preferring, tragically, to compete with one another instead.
What do Facebook and Google have to talk about, anyway? As Silicon Valley scions, they are wolves. Why do wolves attend the sheep’s conference?
Thickening the plot of this well-moisturized melodrama is the possibility that the Cannes Lion, the fiercest prize in the land, is diminished by lack of scarcity.
An Adweek analysis of the decline reports that “400 Publicis campaigns have been nominated for awards despite the network only paying related fees for one of them.”
That would be a 99.75% discount. And Publicis, a French company, nominated for 400 awards? Really? The Titanium Lion, that most-coveted award, has turned paper tiger. It might be hard to feel special if you win one.
Enter, beleaguered, stage left, the people paying for all of it: the advertisers. They love the conference because it’s validating and fun, but the opportunities are now multidimensional and unfathomable. Too complicated.
Data is the new oil. Consultancies are attacking agencies. Brand-direct threatens traditional brand advertising. Oh, and don’t forget the impending death of truth. And fraud. And Federal prosecutors snooping around the ad business. And the abrupt and mysterious exit of Sir Martin, perhaps our industry’s most-prescient leader.
How does an advertiser detangle this mess? Let your agency figure it out? Meanwhile, think big thoughts, and stand firmly behind the consumer? I guess.
One telling quote in The Guardian: "[Cannes is] the only place where you can have Philip Morris preaching about a smoke-free future and a deodorant brand talking about purpose and authenticity.” Ouch.
Facebook, by contrast, was reportedly humble. I’d say it’s important to be humble when you are printing money. According to one report, Facebook stressed it only has 6% of the global advertising market. The only people who brag about how small they are fear either a) the government, or b) their customers. Facebook, reasonably, fears both.
This may all seem like a crazy dream sequence, but the parts add up to a cogent whole.
These are the machinations of an industry starting to face the inevitable. It’s a shift in power toward the consumer and the small advertiser, away from giant advertisers and giant agencies. It’s democratization, enabled (surprise!) by the internet.
Democratization does not sit well with the aristocracy. Likewise, a (Cannes) Lion is not a populist figure. Perhaps it should be replaced by a more appropriate symbol of democratic access and choice. Maybe a Hamburger? Cannes Hamburger. I want one.
The Cannes Ad Festival, attempting to bestow the attributes of Lions onto big advertisers and agencies, seems increasingly to be pandering. Yes, we have every right to celebrate our achievements. But when we lionize the Cannes Lion, we should pause. The days of predation are coming to an end — or at least, the current roster of predators should be worried about being eaten themselves.