My Inevitable Defensive Cannes Lions Post

I really don’t want to have to write this post. But when even the Cyber Lions Jury Chairman is posting things like this, what’s a guy to do ;-)

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There are traditional agencies (although they’re the least traditional of the traditional agencies obviously) who are doing incredibly well in awards like Cannes. But let’s not forget one simple thing. THESE ARE ADVERTISING AWARDS!!! Therefore it would seem totally outrageous to suggest that companies whose business is advertising won’t be able to do incredible work in that space. Of course they will. They can apply a bunch of the same principles you’ve always used. Add some executional smarts hired in from a production company and whomp, there it is. Awesome online advertising!

And that’s not to suggest that agencies like CP+B don’t have the capacity to do interesting things beyond traditional online advertising. Things like Whopper Sacrifice prove that they do with bloody bells on.

It’s obvious that the language of the past isn’t going to be the language of the future. And as everything becomes more digital these stupid old distinctions become pointless. And hey, perhaps pure-play digital agencies will become a thing of the past?

But I thought it was advertising that was meant to be fucked? So doesn’t that mean winning lots of advertising awards mean that you’re the most fucked of the fucked?

Sorry that’s my best playground insult battle-weapon launched ;-)

I wouldn’t write off the digital specialists just yet. There’s a bunch of things that we can make and do that are pretty damn exciting. And the fact that they’re increasingly not ‘advertising’ has to be interesting to some folks. Surely?

[Edit: just to clarify – I called Cannes an ‘advertising’ award because that’s how it’s perceived by most people – it’s entered by companies that do advertising for clients. Many of them are advertising agencies, no? It just so happens that a lot of stuff that’s getting awarded is progressive advertising.]

[Edit2: was also interesting to see how different juries would perceive work differently – because everyone has their own agenda. The same work would fare quite differently if it was entered in Design / Titanium / Cyber, for example Fiat Ecodrive appeals to some people in the Cyber Jury because they like to think they can design automobile functionality.]

24 thoughts on “My Inevitable Defensive Cannes Lions Post”

  1. I agree in principle, Iain. But when things like Whopper Sacrifice wins a Gold Lion and Fiat Eco:Drive wins a Grand Prix, I don’t think it’s fair to call Cannes Lions an “advertising” award. I think many digital specialists are WAY ahead of most traditional agencies, but it is startling how much ground they are gaining as a new generation of creatives that don’t distinguish btw online and offline start running creative departments in trad agencies.

  2. Nice post Ian. This is something I’ve been thinking about a bit recently too – Big advertising agencies have really woken up to digital in recent years and pure play digital agencies love to do exciting campaign work – therefore, there is a huge cross over in their offerings.

    I think some smaller (but really good) digital agencies will get swallowed up by big ad agencies eventually and I don’t think that’ll be a bad thing. Traditional advertising still has it’s place, but as digital continues to grow – they’ll be looking to hire more digital specialists.

  3. Cannes Lions is awarding “old-style creativity” like storytelling and design, therefore it’s only natural that ad agencies win these awards.

    Personally, I missed really great brand-building sites like My Starbucks Idea in Cannes. I don’t know, digital marketing without bells and whistles that gives power to the customers might be too scary for ad agencies to reward…

  4. I’ve got to go with Lars on this one; advertising is just what we happen to call it. Whether you’re a ‘digital agency’ or a ‘traditional agency’ or a ‘film production company’, we all go to Cannes to celebrate the art of selling stuff – that part isn’t shafted just yet.

    So I’m not at all surprised or disturbed by the idea that most of the cyber winners were agencies with broader offerings who are arguably better positioned to deliver big multi-platform ideas, and often with the help of smaller specialists.

  5. In many ways Cannes is in crisis. I was not there this year but even the year before it seemed that every agency was trying to give their own spin to digital as if they had just woken up and smelled the coffee. The traditional vs digital debate still continues to stir emotions and you can understand the guys who grew up making films for TV feeling disturbed. But it won’t be too long before all TVs are connected to the web so you won’t even realise what you’re watching or interacting with. I don’t believe there are any traditional agencies any more. In a few years there won’t be any advertising people left who don’t do digital. Whatever the scenario there is a place in the business for people with ideas, passion and craftsmanship. The medium may change, customer behaviour may change… but human nature doesn’t really change. Understanding how to talk to people and make them love your product is the key. Online, offline… it doesn’t matter.

  6. Well put. Things like customer service and product development are exactly my point. Aside from ecodrive we saw very little of it.

  7. Digital Specialists vs. Advertising Agencies, doesn’t matter in my opinion. Neither would be effective without ideas. All you need are ideas, and someone to speak the language of the medium.

  8. I work at a ‘traditional’ shop, have won at Cannes in digital and ‘traditional’ categories over the years and believe in awards shows. But this year Cannes really highlighted something you almost touch on in the different juries comment. It was interesting to see how each jury defined their categories and ultimately stuff started bleeding over category lines. These lines exist only in the heads of people working in agencies, regardless if they are so called traditional or digital specialists.

    It really highlighted the absurdity of creative categories. If award shows weren’t such money making machines there really is only one category needed – Best Idea.

  9. Hi Ian, I really like your post. I worked six years as a manager of an ad agency and Cannes is an amazing ad competition. Maybe the most important in the world. Now I have co-founded an internet company called “pearltrees” because I thought the media revolution was dangerous for ad companies and wonderfull for the internet.
    Two comments about your post:
    – First: ad creative director are amazing people that have been selected and trained to develop ideas for selling. They can do so whereever on print, TV and … the internet.
    – Second: awards are always subjective since a human jury is making the selection. That is life… That doesnot mean that much.

  10. Just one afterthought in this debate about traditional vs digital. Cars did not replace horses – the horses went off and did show jumping or competed in races. Coach builders switched to making automobile bodywork. When technology changes the landscape the world eventually adapts. Even if it is a bit painful at the time.

  11. The classic trad agency vs digital agency debate rumbles on, and will continue to do so but surely this is simply a question of execution. At the start of any campaign there needs to be a compelling communications idea. This idea should then be taken and executed in the appropriate channel. It’s no surprise that ‘traditional’ agenices are winning at Cannes, because they have years more experience at coming up with communications ideas. What digital agencies are really good at though, is making the most of the medium – doing stuff that really unleashes the internet and the people on it. The best communications ideas are the ones that are able to take this into account, but the truth of the matter is, very few digital agencies have the chance to define the original communications idea. This is not necessarily because they don’t have the ability, but more often than not, because they don’t have the right client relationship. Digital agencies are still perceived by many as the younger brother – quite exciting, a bit daring and risky, but not someone I would trust my entire months pocket money with.

    So what does the future hold for the digital pureplayers? Some of the bigger digital agencies are trying to ‘own’ the relationship with the client but this is a long and often thankless task (as I am being led to believe) and at the root of it lies the fact that everybody is learning ‘the internet’ now. Let’s be honest, it’s not rocket science. Why shouldn’t W+K (for example) be able to devlier great ideas that also work online?! So the future for pureplay digital agencies I believe is in producng fantastic digital creative work – stuff that only specialists can do. Does this mean they will win at Cannes? No probably not, but who cares? When was the last time you’re next door neighbour leant over the garden fence to find out who won the grand prix?!

  12. @Desmond Lavelle: But surely the ideas are useless unless you have the skill, expertise and technology to make them reality. People come up with the ideas, but the real skill is in delivering the idea into a final product…

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