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“Find Your Summer”: Grand Prix Print and Publishing, Lola MullenLowe Madrid, for Magnum

“Ring the bells that still can ring Forget your perfect offering There is a crack, a crack in everything That’s how the light gets in”

Leonard Cohen

 

Cannes has changed

Cannes has changed. The Festival, not the city, which has not changed at all for the last 50 years.

Previously we complained that the Lions organisation, Ascential, had become all-powerful, all controlling. The Million Dollar beaches, the $100K cabanas, the $20K fee to be a fringe sponsor. The infamous year when the Lions announced plans to allow only their official badge-wearing delegates to enter the Carlton Hotel, until some of the regular guests complained.

Suddenly, this year, everything was different.

It felt a little like the collapse of the Soviet Union. Was it ever really there? That marathon nine-day festival, starting on Saturday morning with Healthcare talks and ending in the small hours of the following Sunday, after the Film Lions were distributed and everyone ended up in the Gutter Bar until the refuse collectors arrived at dawn?

Today, Cannes works to an efficient, American schedule. If you plan to go next year, you need to know this.

All the main action now happens between Monday afternoon (when the Europeans arrive) and Wednesday night (when the Americans leave). This allows two days at the start – Saturday and Sunday – to build all the vanity structures on the beaches; and two days at the end to carefully de-rig, without looking like a hurricane had passed through the town (the Mayor didn’t like that).

So, Monday afternoon through Wednesday night is a whirlwind of activity. It’s like fast-forwarding through SXSW or CES, with fleeting impressions of conversations enjoyed, talks heard, media deals struck, and parties visited.

The smart crowd arrives on Saturday when the bars are chilled, and you can still get a table at a pavement café without booking in advance. Monday morning is when the most interesting conversations happen. Tuesday and Wednesday are a blur (so take notes!). Thursday is for catching up with all the people who you have discovered are staying until Thursday. Friday is for diehards, although you can get a seat to listen to Jacques Seguela, Maria Ressa and Gut (not at the same time), without queuing for an hour or paying an extra €1000 for a line-skipping pass.

The Palais des Festivals is still a focal point, but no longer the focal point (except for the awards, if you think your agency might have won a Gold Lion).

There are equally interesting talks on the tech companies’ and media owners’ beaches: Amazon, Microsoft, Meta, the WSJ House. And if talks and seminars aren’t your thing, there’s music at the Spotify beach and sport at the Stagwell beach. And arguably, even more interesting discussions at the fringe venues – LBB Beach, the Inkwell beach, The Empower café… even the Dutch Embassy of Creativity.

This year, there were one thousand, two hundred and thirty-seven “Fringe Events and Parties” listed on the infamous Ben’s party list. The eponymous Ben estimates only around 10% of people participating in “Cannes” are official paying delegates – and the few that are, are often subsidised attendees, or groups with free passes.

The change has happened.

 

breakfast with a Prince

It’s not every day, you can have breakfast with a real live member of a royal family. But I did.

One evening around six o’clock, my colleagues Helen, Alfie and I had half an hour to kill before the GREAT British dinner with GREAT British people (and some foreigners). We chanced upon a simple, non-touristy looking bar in the Rue de la Fontaine, where we met the wonderful and indefatigable Kyra Roest, who had taken it over for the week as the unofficial Dutch Embassy of Creativity.

They were about to start a ticketed event, but she invited us back the next morning to meet Prince Constantijn van Oranje. Prince Constantijn is a “working royal”, whose role focusses on Techleap, the Dutch government’s organisation to help Startups and scaleups find investors. The kind of thing Prince Andrew was hired to do, before he got distracted.

Kyra and the Prince, at the Dutch Embassy of Creativity

I asked Prince Constantijn if he agreed that Cannes today was more about technology than creativity, with the big US tech companies dominating the Croisette.

“Well,” he said, “how many of them have you actually talked to?” Not many, I had to admit. But he had talked to a lot. The real movers and shakers, he told me, mostly don’t come to Cannes any more.

The people who are here, are essentially their advertising salespeople, schmoozing the media agencies and their clients.

 

the awards: who won? and why?

The prizes that really matter – that set the standards and reflect the zeitgeist of the year – are the Grand Prix.

This year, the Cannes Lions awarded 34 Grand Prix (you can download the list, with links to the work, here).

Categories ranged from traditional advertising formats like Film, Print and Outdoor, to modish newcomers like ‘Digital Craft” and “Entertainment Lions for Gaming.”

In 2022, at the first Cannes Lions after Covid, almost all the Grand Prix were awarded for case films celebrating the advertiser’s “purpose:” their long-term ethical values, social goals, and activities which benefit society.

In 2023, the split between long term social goals and short-term commercial goals was about 50/50.

In 2024, if we exclude the categories which were explicitly created for CSR communications (“Good”, “Glass…for Change” and “Sustainable Development Goals”), the balance remained similar to 2023. If you read the official “Cannes Wrap” Report, you’d think it was 90% about social purpose, but that’s understandable: it’s hard to be objective when you are marking your own homework.

Let’s look at Purpose Advertising in more depth. There’s a distinction between “purpose” that doesn’t directly involve the intended audience, and “purpose” that does.

The first is about attitudes. Some aims at soft targets: Innocean’s “Reporters without Borders” asked us to resist leaders like Vladimir Putin. Scholz and Friends’ “The 100th Edition” provided an image of a Holocaust survivor. Creative X’s “We are Ayenda”, asks our sympathy for the Afghan women’s football team. Publicis’ “Cars to Work” asks us to like Renault, for lending cars to people to attend job interviews and try-outs (they have to pay for the cars if they get the job and keep it for three months). Others write about scientific discoveries: a device for early detection of diabetes, for example.

What are these ads trying to do? At best, they want us to admire companies and organisations that care about disadvantaged people. At worst, they are there to give the advertiser a comfortable feeling about themselves.

Only two were aimed at creating behaviour change: an ad for Philips, encouraging people to recycle appliances rather than send them to landfill; and a film from KPN (Dutch Telecom), discouraging internet trolling among teenagers. Nice ideas – but brilliant new insights or creative expressions? Hmm.

Personally, I’d have given the top Grand Prix for Purpose to Marcel’s film for Orange Telecom, showing images of women’s football re-mastered to make the women appear as men. The ‘reveal’ shows simply and brilliantly that women’s football is just as fast, skilful and exciting as the men’s game. This film affects behaviour as well as attitudes – as the rise in popularity (and funding) for women’s sport clearly demonstrates.

But what about the rest of the cases? The half which had commercial objectives, rather than “purpose” objectives? There’s another issue at play here, and rather than go through a lot of examples, let’s look in depth at just one. 

 

the titanium winner: Doordash.

At its heart, the Cannes Lions is an awards show. Today, the Lions itself is only a part of what happens in Cannes – but it’s still a major component. The big “winners” are the agencies (or clients) who win the top prizes: the Grand Prix.

And arguably, the most prestigious Grand Prix is the ‘Titanium’ – which looks at all the elements of a campaign, not just advertising, or promotion, or social. A little like the Decathlon in the Olympics. So, let’s start there, because it tells us something very interesting.

This year, the Titanium Grand Prix was won by a campaign for Doordash, the US online / e-commerce retailer, entered by a leading independent agency, Wieden + Kennedy.  Check it out here.

It’s based around a promotional marketing idea, where viewers of the US Superbowl TV broadcast who successfully submit the text for an extraordinarily long promotional code, enter a prize draw to receive every single product advertised during the Superbowl broadcast: from household detergent to a Kia car.

It’s high energy, fast-paced, instant-effect advertising – not the kind which W+K are known for. As their Global CEO, Neal Arthur, explained to Advertising Age:

“It’s a working thesis for us, but the emotional brand campaign just doesn’t seem like it has as much value. We’ve spent a lot of time going, ‘How can the work we do feel more directly impactful for the business?’”

The debate on the right balance between long term brand building and short-term sales generation is as old as advertising, but this campaign marks a significant alteration in the zeitgeist. Purpose (building long term value) is out. Sales impact (building short term revenue) is in.

Mariota Essery, ECD and Kofi Amoo-Gottfried, CMO

I went along to the seminar in a less-frequented part of the Palais des Festivals, hosted by two leading players from Doordash’s in-house marketing and comms agency: Chief Marketing Officer Kofi Amoo-Gottfried and Executive Creative Director Mariota Essery.

They talked about another high-impact promotional campaign, developed for them by another leading independent agency, Gut. This was the “Valentines self-love campaign” promotion, offering a free vibrator among a bouquet of roses. Yes, that had quite an impact too.

But their talk was about more. It was about their values. They cited three:

1. Utility. If they identify a consumer need, they move to satisfy it. Fast. They can turn round campaigns, from brief to broadcast, in six days. As another seminar (on in-house agencies, part of the brilliant ‘alternative’ program at the LBB Beach and also featuring an executive from Doordash) explained, they have eliminated barriers between internal and external creative agencies: “we are all on the same Slack now”. And of course, as an e-commerce company, they can read the results fast: their 200 top executives meet once a week, to review sales performance and marketing effectiveness, and take critical decisions.

2. Collaboration, not individualism. Kofi and Mariota are both South Africans, and they ascribe this value to adopting an African mentality. They explained the Zulu concept of Ubuntu: “a person is a person through other people.” If you want to go fast, go alone – if you want to go far, go together. On the global cultural spectrum, the US is at the ‘individualistic’ end, compared to Latin America for example. There weren’t many Africans to be seen in Cannes (it’s become too expensive to travel, let alone pay the $4K delegate fee) but ideas and values don’t need air tickets.

3. “Short term is the new long term”. Doordash’s marketing objective is super-simple: “Change behaviour and create transactions that drive sales in the short term.” Because many short terms make up your long term.

Doordash did not invent the idea of focussing on the short term. Two interesting seminars about Asia and including real live Asians (thanks to the Marketing Society and the UK Advertising Export Group), ascribed significant influence to the Asian half of our planet: especially their adoption of live-streaming and the integration of e-commerce into all aspects of social media and online entertainment. The West is still catching up. And the trend is real. The hyper-efficient acceleration of data gathering and analytics now offered through AI, means this macro-trend is going to drive Marketing in the short term. And many short terms… you get the picture.

 

the Asian question

Several commentators have already noted the lack of a meaningful Asian presence at Cannes. And the African presence was almost non-existent. This means that two thirds of the world’s population (and all the world’s main growth markets) were barely represented at all.

The seafront looked like an American strip-mall, with giant exhibition stands obscuring the beautiful blue sea: Spotify, Meta, Microsoft, Stagwell, Amazon and the rest, with one public beach and a couple of mom-and-pop (indie) interlopers like LBB and Inkwell, just about clinging on for another year.

Of course, strip malls are convenient and serve a purpose. But they don’t offer a great experience, which is why (like the agency business?) they are being replaced by AI and e-commerce.

We loved the talk from new Unilever CMO Esi Eggleston Bracey, and totally support her right to wear her hair the way she wants to, not the way her white schoolteachers thought she should.

But the 30 million black Americans (her words) she talked about equals just one percent of the Asians and Africans not represented at Cannes – on the Croisette, or at the parties, or among the Awards.

The Lions needs to address this issue. Of the 34 Grand Prix winning entries, only three were produced in Asia and of these, two were from Caucasian-Anglophone Australia and New Zealand; and the other, from Singapore, was produced for a European client by an American agency. None was produced in Africa.

One well known Cannes figure, who spoke on condition of anonymity, believes that the root of the one problem lies in the judging: inexperienced “shortlisting” judges, working online, simply didn’t understand the cultural nuances of work produced outside the Euro-American mainstream. (Note to entrants: don’t assume this knowledge. This is not just about Cannes. The foreign prize-winners at last year’s Shanghai International Advertising Festival, were the agencies who took the trouble to explain the cultural references in their case films, to the Chinese judges.)

Asians I spoke to were more inclined to blame the cost of participation – the entry fees and the cost of delegate passes (more than US$5,000 including tax unless you get a freebie or a discount), but most of all the costs of travel: airfares, visas and accommodation. One leading agency from India told me that aside from the agency owners, all their participants were only in Cannes, thanks to grants from commercial or non-profit sponsors.

 

so what about the Asians who did come? 

I joined two excellent seminars about Asia: one hosted by The United Kingdom Advertising Export Group (UKAEG) and the other by the Marketing Society and Meta. Around 15 people attended the first, and perhaps 30 attended the second, but at least a few people cared enough to come.

Participants were critical of western attitudes – many Euro-Americans think of Asia as a single place, requiring a single strategy (and perhaps a single Regional Director), side-lining the huge cultural, religious and ethnic differences between India and Japan for example, or Indonesia and Australia.

The consequence is easy to see. Western brands are fast losing share in countries like China and India. This is a huge strategic challenge for multinational companies looking for global growth, as China and India alone account for a third of the world’s population.

Historic brand equity counts for less these days. Technology is shared ever faster and performance advantage is hard to sustain. This affects both the export of physical merchandise (static since 2010, at 25% of global GDP) and also the export of services, already 7.5% of global GDP, up 60% in the last 10 years. And even for physical goods, as Acer’s CEO realised as far back as 1992, profit lies at the edges of the ‘smile curve’: Design at one edge and distribution at the other, with manufacturing in the sagging middle (this is why Apple keeps control of design and distribution while outsourcing manufacture to companies like Foxconn).

Today, ‘western’ countries still lead in export of services. China overtook the US in the export of physical goods in 2009, but the US still exports services worth 2.5 times more than China.

But even there, the balance is shifting. In an example which went viral in the US, the cashier at a fried chicken shop in New York was found to be running the till, while working remotely from the Philippines. Unless Cannes rediscovers Asia (and Africa), it will be operating in an ever-diminishing filter bubble.

 

time to leave the real world?

Perhaps that’s enough about people. Let’s jump to everyone’s favourite Cannes topic, AI. We can deal with this relatively quickly, because it’s obvious what’s happening now.

AI has not (yet) cracked creativity.

It will, because as Yonathan Dominitz taught generations of Cannes-goers, most creative innovation comes from an original combination of two pre-existing, but apparently dis-connected ideas.

It seems likely AI will master that skill, quite soon. The Cannes award entry rules already require entrants to declare if AI was involved in their work, so the Lions organisers are expecting this. Before long, the human contribution may be, basically, marking AI’s homework. This is a skill which our people already possess.

Stagwell’s Mark Penn: Style Icon?

In the original creativity stakes, we’d probably give a miss to Stagwell boss Mark Penn’s original attempt at a fashionable combination of office wear and beach wear (and his POV that aside from social media, all technological innovation can be traced back to Star Wars or The Jetsons).

But Nobel Prize winner Maria Ressa’s brilliant talk at Cannes struck home. If you don’t watch any of the others, watch this one… then read her book about Standing up to a Dictator.

Maria called out Google, Meta and the other giants of today’s advertising industry for basically, designing metrics and rules which enable them to mark their own homework. It’s a lucrative business, while the customers still buy from you. So, let’s not be too scared about AI learning creativity.

More to the point today, though: AI is already transforming the efficiency of our business. 

Planners used to read research reports and pull out the salient findings. AI now does this.

New Business people used to analyse prospective clients: their views, their interests, their personalities, their personal career journeys and ambitions, exactly which kind of questions each member of a client team would ask (or think about, but not ask) to an agency pitch team. AI now does this (all it needs is the video recording of that chemistry meeting).

Traffic managers measured and calculated the time each agency person would take to complete an assignment, to avoid idle time and find the right mix between in-house and outsourcing. AI now does this.

Agencies agreed to unprofitable assignments because they were incapable of asking the right questions to scope and price their services accurately. Accenture and EY trained their people to do this, which is why they work on 40% margins while agencies till struggle to reach 20%, but even they will not be immune: because AI can now do this too.

Agency chiefs, if you are not using basic AI tools to improve your efficiency, you are dead in the water.

The reason that of the four major agency holding companies (Publicis, WPP, IPG and Omnicom), Publicis is the only one showing a decent growth in the market value of their company since 2001, is probably that Publicis invested in AI and used the results to improve their internal HR processes – the objective of their Marcel system. All the others are floundering.

 

If Mark Read is still CEO of WPP this time next year, I will eat my hat on the Croisette, and not just because he clearly skipped the Brand Management module at Business School.

 

the future of holdco agencies

Let’s say it out loud: the famous agency brands of the traditional Agency Holding Companies are (to put it kindly) sliding quickly into history. Except for Publicis, there is no growth in their market value since Covid.

Their set-piece presentations in the Palais were for the most part, charmingly nostalgic.

Jacques Seguela, founder of Euro RSCG which became Havas, reminisced about the good old days when Ideas were what made money for agencies – and customer research could be safely ignored by any creative director with sufficient cojones to be awarded the Lion of St Mark accolade (which he was, the same day).

“Less test, more testicles!” he repeated, several times, in an impeccable French accent, honed by a hundred thousand Gauloises. Our mission, he told us, was to make brands eternal. Bravo, M. Seguela.

Jacques was followed (I think) by Debbie van de Ven.

Debbie runs the great recycling bin at WPP called VML, which contains the remains of brands like

J Walter Thompson, Young & Rubicam, Sudler and Hennessy and others, who have not proved quite as eternal as M. Seguela might have hoped.

Debbie, who was Chair of the Titanium award judges, told us she came from Kansas and modelled her business strategy on fellow Kansanians like the Tin Man (no heart), the Scarecrow (no brain), the Cowardly Lion and someone called Dorothy who apparently recued the situation. Also charming, Debbie, but someone needs to tell your chief, he’s not in Kansas any more.

And the traditional Holdcos are not the only ones finding the waters choppy. The founders of all the once-good independents bought up by Accenture Song have completed their earnouts and left the buildings, one after another: Jon Wilkins, Ben Bilboul and Liz Wilson at Karmarama, Part of Accenture Song; Andreas Winter-Buerke at Kolle Rebbe, Part of Accenture Song; we could go on. Alzugaray, founder of Shackleton, Part of Accenture Song, has left the agency and started a new indie shop called Ernest!

Smoke and mirrors abound, in media stories about agency revenue and profit growth. Of course, all the holding companies trumpeted their YoY revenue growth in 2023 – but the reality was, they were simply getting back some of the dramatic declines from 2021 and 2022. A little like certain politicians stoked inflation in their pre-election year, so they could say it had come down in their actual election year. This did not help Rishi Sunak.

 

the new economics of the agency world

Sir Martin Sorrell, speaking on the Little Black Book Beach, revealed analysis showing that for major agency groups he studies, most of whom are fleeing their expensive office space as quickly as they can, the percentage of revenue eaten up by office costs has declined from 8%, to between 2 and 3%.

This is understandable, when a typical US agency now has people in the office no more than one or two days a week.

But think about the implication here. Agency revenue in a decent year divides approximately as follows:

  • 60% people costs
  • 20% overheads, including office costs
  • 20% profit (less than half what Accenture or EY makes, but still a decent return.)

Now, if your office costs fall from 8% to 3%, this means 5% goes to your bottom line, so your 20% profit becomes 25% – and 5% of 25% equals 25% of 100% – so you achieve a 25% increase in EBITDA.

This implies that if you are declaring profit growth of less than 25% on a like for like basis, excluding savings on office costs, you actually have NEGATIVE profit growth.

This did not surprise us: Craig Rodney mentioned a similar figure at our Indie Summit in June.

It really doesn’t take a total cynic to understand that the working-from-home bubble  – and also the working-from-the-Philippines bubble we found at the Chinese restaurant in New York – or the work-from-Egypt bubble we find in Saudi Arabia – or the work-from-Romania bubble, the work-from South Africa bubble, or the work from Des Moines Iowa bubble… they are all disguising the fact that agency profitability is collapsing, while the collaborative upside of working together in the same space, which all creative teams understand, is disappearing. And it is being replaced, by AI.

And because the Holdco agencies continue to accept the demeaning pricing strategy of selling human beings by the hour (essentially prostitution), rather than creating a fun environment for them to work in… the downward slide is becoming an accelerating downward spiral.

So where next? Well, we all know the answer to that one. AI will create efficiencies which mean that headcount can be reduced without clients noticing – and as people costs are 60% of agency revenue, this may keep agency holding companies in business for another three to five years. But more than that? Let’s see.

 

two non-doomsday scenarios

Are there any? We think there are two. First, the rise of ‘in-house agencies’ and second, the rise of independent agencies.

in-house agencies

The very first interesting panel discussion at Cannes this year (on the LBB beach, not in the Palais!) was about in-house agencies.

This featured leaders of five in-house agencies operated by five major advertisers:

  • Amazon
  • Kraft Heinz
  • Pepsi Europe
  • Lego
  • Doordash

In the words of one: in-house agencies used to be where talented people ended up in the twilight of their career, eking out a few less-demanding years before retirement. If you are older than 30, you will know this was true.

But today, they are where people go to learn their trade. 60% of hires are Gen Z. This is where the future leaders are going. This is less than surprising, when graduate or non-graduate jobs in marketing have for several years paid 50% more than traineeships in advertising agencies… if indeed those traineeships or “internships” paid anything at all. Which might have been OK, when large agencies were fun places to work, and your friendly bank manager (from the bank-of-Mum-and-Dad) didn’t call in your loans. For most people, those days are gone – and frankly, Daddy would prefer you take that job in investment banking or Fintech.

But… are in-house agencies any good? Well, some people think so. The IHAA (In-House Agencies Association) conference is the hottest ticket in America. And there are good reasons to believe them. Because in-house has the key attributes which the ad business needs, and agencies don’t have:

1. First party, opted in customer data. This is the holy grail of modern, data-driven, behavioural science-based marketing and media planning. Which company would be so dumb as to hand this over to an agency who’s going to have to re-pitch their business next year?
2. Agility. If you have an interesting new idea, you walk across the floor to bounce it off a colleague, rather than wait two weeks to fix a meeting with your agency (who won’t like it because they didn’t think of it.)
3. Access to legal. Many companies (most companies) now spend over half their advertising budget on social media channels and social moves at lightning speed – positively, and negatively. Speed of response rescues you from disaster and makes a small opportunity into a huge one. But when a thousand protest groups are watching your every move, you need to cover your back. Three out of five people in this panel had their Legal Counsel on speed dial and the other two made notes to get this arranged as soon as the panel finished.
4. Scoping and pricing discipline. Marketers aren’t always the best at this. Marketing procurement people aren’t often good either. But at least they come from a business environment where they get to talk to the CFO and vice versa. How many external agency people have even met their Client’s CFO? Sending a small gift at holiday time to the admin who processes their invoices, is about as far as most of them get. That individual doesn’t measure ROI.
5. Ability to interface with other people in the organisation. All the panellists stressed the importance of “super-connectors” in their in-house teams. Even within a company, it’s challenging to corral the abilities and activities of groups of people with different skills and knowledge bases. So they recognise the need, and train this into their people.

Before Covid, agency people would always “walk the corridor” when visiting a client. They would get to know the rising-star brand manager who’s going to have a budget next year.

Agency folk who now meet their clients virtually, just don’t have this ability any more.

independent agencies

So, if bright grads or self-taught entrepreneurs don’t go into big holding company agencies any more… where do they go? Or more importantly, where will they go?

Ask any young person whether they’d rather be on a two-year graduate training programme or running a start-up, and you know what the answer would be.

But seriously, let’s look at this from a more mature business perspective.

Most large corporates, and all smaller businesses, will have a need for creative communications skills that they will not need every day – and for people whose time they don’t need at a 100% FTE. So external expertise, available on demand, will always be a business need, where people are concerned. It’s the same in any professional services business: auditors, lawyers, creators.

No brand needs a new visual identity every year, and no corporate needs a new marketing campaign every month (except possibly Doordash). That’s why design agencies and advertising agencies exist, and always will. They are the special people who you don’t need every day.

Four out of five people on the in-house agencies panel discussed how they managed the interface between external and internal resources. Broadly – don’t make them into rivals and enemies one day by holding a competitive pitch, and then expect them to work collaboratively the next day. Help the external agencies to marshal their case for the C-Suite, don’t use them as scapegoats if sales get soft. Make sure your super-connectors include the agency teams.

The problem comes with holding companies like WPP, who openly admit they would like to take the in-house agency clients’ jobs. Who wants to work with someone who is after your job? No-one. Enough said.

So, can indie agencies thrive? Yes they can. Because they are useful – see above. And because they are brave, agile, light on their feet, and do not see AI as a threat.

 

no Gut, no glory?

The most visible and inspirational example at this year’s Cannes, was the Latin American agency, Gut. Despite having probably the worst slot of the week (Friday lunchtime) on the main Debussy stage in the Palais, their talk was packed out and the atmosphere was more rock concert than holding company.

The two Founders, Amselmo Ramos and Gaston Bigio – enthusiastically accompanied by family members and co-workers – showed the world that a willingness to say no to bad briefs, to present new and challenging ideas and keep focussed on their ambition to build a brand, not just an agency – can still be a winning formula.

Gaston Bigio and Amselmo Rios, GUT

Is advertising dead? Are real people unnecessary? Can we all retire? Not at all. Left to organise themselves, people always find something useful to do. Everyone in our industry needs to be curious, and optimistic.

thenetworkone’s Helen Anderson interviews strategists from Gut, Serviceplan, Kurio and Bright Mind

An “Independents Day,” with no independent agencies in sight!

Dear Cannes Lions, please can thenetworkone help you to do better next year? The Gut session showed that a good indie agency can attract a lot of interest. And we know plenty of good agencies: as our own Indie Forum on the LBB beach showed, with 200 people signed up to attend and the session at maximum capacity.

We (thenetworkone) were more than happy to host two panels of independent agency leaders from Europe, Asia and the Americas on the LBB beach. Some were large, high-profile, multi-award winners, like Gut and Serviceplan and Barkley OKRP. Others were rising stars, like Bright Mind, too Gallus, Talented and Mark Allen. It’s hard to critique your own shows so we are very grateful to independent journalist Doug Zanger of Indie Agency News for a comprehensive summary. If you’d like to know what Indie Agencies at Cannes were really thinking – it’s a great read, so here’s a link.

We especially liked the comment from Pooja Manek, Strategy Partner at Talented in Bangalore. She said:

“First, we must train ourselves to understand that our self-esteem makes us price ourselves higher. We need to shed our collective imposter syndrome as agencies and prize ourselves for the output we give, not the people who made it happen. And every time that Procurement comes back with, ‘Hey, tell us how many people are in your team,’ you can just reply to them, saying, ‘That’s none of your f***ing business.’

 

a light-hearted “foot-note” on marketing and branding.

It was day five of five, there were no parties at 11am, so I trooped over to the Rotonde stage in the Palais, for another panel in the “CMO’s in the spotlight” series.

There was a journalist from The Drum, interviewing three outstanding CMO’s. We’ll call them Mr Cool, Ms Empathy and Captain Sensible.

They said all the usual sensible things, but my mind wandered to the topic of personal branding. Because as every CMO knows, people are brands themselves – they have values, they have images, they build loyalty across time, they have cycles of activity and inactivity, they come into fashion and go out of fashion.

I started with packaging (often the first thing the customer sees, after all). And you can tell a lot about people, from their shoes.

Mr Cool works for a high end, high quality, design conscious audio brand. He lives in Los Angeles and his agency is 72 and Sunny. He sat tall and upright. Shaven cranium with beard for balance, impeccably tailored lightweight dark suit, and joy, oh joy, exactly the same trainers that my own personal fashion consultant had told me I ought to buy to wear at Cannes. I liked him immediately. Maybe he’d do a selfie with me? (With me standing on an orange box?)

Ms Empathy works for a successful laundry care brand, known for effectiveness and value for money. She talked about the importance of working as a team and how much she appreciated and encouraged her colleagues. Simple black top, perfectly clean white slacks and comfortable-looking well-worn wedge sandals. Lives in Barcelona, fashionable but not trendy. She “leaned in” so far when she spoke, that she had to rest her elbows on her knees – engaging positively with the interviewer, the other panellists and the audience. I’d be on her team, any day.

With Captain Sensible, I wasn’t so sure. He’d worked for General Mills for more than two decades, inching his way up the corporate ladder. He lives in Minneapolis (aka Mini-hopeless according to my friends in the travel business). His fashion sense is non-existent. Hawaiian style short sleeved shirt with two buttons undone, stretchy chinos, socks, last year’s trainers. Posture a little less upright than Mr Cool. Still wearing his official delegate badge on stage, which is a real no-no at Cannes. He picked up his water-bottle – one of those new ones that looks like oat milk packaging.

He tried to remove the cap to take a drink and stabbed his upper lip with the little piece of plastic which keeps the cap attached, to encourage passive recycling.

But then came the surprise.

Instead of looking embarrassed, Captain Sensible called out the politically correct packaging designers – “don’t they realise that people have two lips???”

And yes, it turned out we’d all been stabbed in the lips by non-removeable spikes of plastic. He got the biggest laugh, the biggest cheer, and the biggest applause of the whole session.

Appearances can be helpful, but customer insight is what really drives marketing.

Julian Boulding, Founder and President, thenetworkone

julian.boulding@thenetworkone.com

July 2024

With special thanks to my colleagues at thenetworkone: Helen Anderson, Alfie Buisson and Anna Poloczek; to our amazing speaker-panellists, Pooja Manek, Barrington Reeves, Mark Pasetsky, Nick Paul, Emma Harris, Alexander Morad, Elli Tuominen, Eva Simone Lizhotsky and Christian Pierre; to the incredible Matt and Sarah Cooper and their endlessly helpful team at the LBB Beach; to Sophie Devonshire, Rachel Letham, Brynie McBurney, Gemma Greaves, Dan Cresta, Aisling Conlon, Quianna Maw, Rob Morbin, Kyra Roest, Stephanie Brimacombe, Josh Rosenberg, Brian Collins, Michael Lynch and others too numerous to mention who gave us hospitality; to all the exciting new people and valued friends we met; and last but not least, to Phil Thomas and Simon Cook for somehow keeping the show on the road – and allowing one or two little cracks, to let the light in on our industry.

 

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  • Uncover Product Choices: Explore the key product options for building headless websites with a focus on enhancing speed, performance, and security.
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  • Date: Wednesday 24th July 2024
  • Time: 16:00 (BST)
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thenetworkone – The Indie Forum and Agencies and Friends drinks 2024

On Tuesday 18th June we hosted The Indie Forum in Cannes. Bringing together some of the best and most outspoken Indie Agency leaders you could find in Cannes over the week through two panel discussions and our agencies and friends drinks.

Our first panel delved into whether agencies are still people businesses, igniting an engaging discussion on the role of human connections in today’s industry. The second panel examined the interplay between creativity and technology, posing the intriguing question: are we still friends?

We thank all those that took the time to join us and in the coming weeks our founder Julian Boulding will release his Cannes Review 2024 to all signed up. Click the button below to register.

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Look back on The Indie Summit, London, 2024

We are thrilled to share that over 120 agency owners from across the globe joined us in London for two days of incredible talks, discussions, networking, round tables, dinners, and, most importantly, learning.

We explored the realm of AI multiple times and even had our very own Indie Summit rock song created by Alexander Morad, CEO of Bright Mind Agency. We also gained insights into what it takes to win a Nobel Prize from Tobias Degsell, CEO and founder of Combiner AB. Additionally, we unveiled the new Saudi narrative and much more.

Dan Egerton Co-Chair of the group welcomed those who are or striving to be B-Corps. Next meeting in September 2024 – contact us for details.

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Chaired by Riku Eteläkoski of Nitro, Finland, we’re putting Global Creative Chiefs from all over the world in the same virtual space to discuss, learn and share confidentially and proudly. Launched on Wednesday 26th June we discussed and highlighted the Indie Agency successes from Cannes Lions 2024.

For those Creative Chiefs wishing to join a confidential space to share insights and gain inspiration click the button below.

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