I Cannes

Some notes from the festival run by nice people who, despite better judgment, keep inviting me back. Let’s see if we can fix that — bite the hand that feeds me (rosé).

Branding
My thoughts on what “Cannes Lions Festival of Creativity” should be called:

VR RIP
Last summer Samsung and others had installations littering the Palais, the main festival venue, where you could don a headset and see for yourself how easy it is to get nauseous, and reacquaint yourself with the rosé and fromage you downed the night before. Not a single headset anywhere this year. There were some Snap Spectacles passed around at dinner — people were generally positive about them, and you look a lot less awkward. We’ll see.

You’re not on the list… Snap!
Snapchat had a big branded ferris wheel for anybody who wanted to get nauseous before heading to dinner. It was open to the public, glowing at night, complete with yellow lemon lollipops and a Spectacles vending machine. To be fair, a genius idea… Everyone used it as a landmark: “Can you get me an interview at Google — meet at the Snap ferris wheel to discuss?”

There was an elegant villa next to my Airbnb (so disruptive) with hot young men and women guarding an iron gate — rose gold sunglasses, metallic temp tats, etc. I am, as we all are, attracted to any venue I can’t get into (most places). At Cannes, people are generous with me as my badge says “Professor.” Being an academic in Europe is like showing up in military uniform in the US — people feel goodwill toward you and are nice to you. Anyway, the villa with the hot euro-youth ended up being the Snap villa. A ferris wheel and a club masquerading as an office… It’s as if that firm is being run by a 27-year-old. Only no grownup would let a twenty-something oversee a firm worth as much as Viacom and The New York Times Co., combined. But the grownups don’t matter, as the 27-year-old convinced the board to have three classes of stock, and he, along with his CTO, controls the company. People who invest in Snap hand their money to a guy in his 20s and have no recourse, input, or influence on his actions.

What. Could. Go. Wrong?

Don’t… immediately see the connection
Publicis announced they were pulling out of Cannes next year and re-allocating the funds to their AI platform, Marcel. If you don’t immediately make the connection between reducing your events budget and AI, put that confusion to bed. It makes sense. Yes, yes, definitely can connect the dots here. Just let yourself fall deep into your lizard brain and probe how you really feel about AI. I bet you think of a Spielberg / Kubrick film exploring the line between machine and sentient, intelligence exhibited by machines — and French communications conglomerates. Right?

Dramatic
Digital pundits like myself put themselves in a bubble and believe that creative / broadcast / advertising is over. It clearly isn’t. The hotels and restaurants were packed with people doing deals and spending their clients’ money. WPP has doubled in value over the last five years and is up 8x over the last two decades. Dentsu Aegis has tripled in value over the last five years. However, there are signs the ecosystem is beginning to mimic broader society with an increasing gap between the haves and have-nots. Facebook and Google lower their gates and let people party in the beach castles they’ve built for the week, and then the masses (people who don’t work for Google, Facebook, or Snap) commiserate at the terrace of the Carlton. Despite those companies having the largest beaches at Cannes, there didn’t seem to be a lot of Google or Facebook execs. Maybe they take respite in palace towers, try on wigs, and pelt their faces with powder. But I digress.

Coming out of Cannes, both the old guard and aspirants will boast of their meetings at Google or Facebook Beach with press releases announcing new partnerships, as their offerings are clearly “complementary.” This is the right thing to do, as traditional players need to do a better job grabbing the mic back from The Four (Google, Facebook, Apple, Amazon), who dominate the media narrative with a never-ending stream of press releases about their new (fill in the blank). Walmart is doing a good job here, announcing what’s working (acquisitions) and even what isn’t working (things they’re shutting down). However, what we won’t get from these firms is future releases announcing earnings have exceeded expectations due to their partnerships with Google or Facebook.

Did you see something … in the water?
Like a Peter Benchley novel, there was something ominous lurking offshore at this year’s Cannes. That something is the Great White Shark of business, Amazon. The Seattle firm, with voice technology, will be Cannes 2018’s big story, bringing more havoc to the ecosystem as brand equity loses currency among the two-thirds of US households who will soon have Prime, and soon after, Alexa. In addition, Amazon Media Group is about to become the third antichrist of traditional broadcast and will begin to eat into Google and Facebook’s growth. Finally, unlike Facebook and Google, Amazon won’t even pretend to like agencies or buy them wine.

Lean in, fall over
Sheryl Sandberg was at Cannes speaking to women about leaning in. The audience was inspired, as she is … inspiring. Her rap is also a convenient illusionists’ trick for Facebook: “Look over here, at how progressive we are, as we replace or destroy ten of your jobs for every one we add at Facebook.” If Facebook and Google meet their combined projected 2017 revenue, the advertising industrial complex will lose 137,531 jobs in 2017, as the folks on the beach are just better, and much more efficient, than we are. We’ll always have the Carlton.

Snark aside, the advertising business hasn’t gotten the memo they are Google’s next meal and are investing in the Future. I led sessions curated by The Berlin School and Cannes Lions’ own Masters of Creativity, which bring together budding creatives from around the world to hear and learn from industry veterans. The kids in this industry are a breath of fresh air. Not interested in coding, raising money, or AI, but looking for a career where they can turn their bugs (creative introversion, predisposition to black clothes, a sense of the world as an adventure vs. algorithm) into features. The creatives used to be the cool kids and the tech guys the dorks. Things have reversed, and similar to high school, I’m much more comfortable around the dorks. They’re nicer, funnier, and much better drinkers.

Life is so rich,
Scott

No Mercy / No Malice in Your Inbox.

  • Your friday emails are always full of insight, snark, and wisdom. I love them .

  • Andreina Rojas

    The best Cannes recap I have read. Brilliant, funny and smart… Love it

  • Man, I wish I could argue and disagree with you, Professor, but I just can’t. Right on target as always! And so the disruption continues at a rapid pace.

  • Tobias Schill

    Scott, welcome to the festival of the irrational. Next time take Frédéric Beigbeder´s book “99 francs” with you on the plane to dive in even better ;-). I am sure the players in the industry will survive and if it is just because a lot is still driven not by rational decision making but by long lasting and strong relationships – which is good.
    Be reminded of what you said about the tech companies now entering the film industry. It is all about “see and be seen” – it is not rational.

  • Jake Peterson

    Could you please clarify, “the advertising business hasn’t gotten the memo they are Google’s next meal and are investing in the Future.” Who is investing in the future? And why is the advertising business Google’s next meal?