Cannes-fusion: Advertising’s identity crisis

YOU'RE IN ADVERTISING - GET OVER IT. The Cannes Lion's is arguably the most celebrated event in the advertising industry.  The brighte...

20 Jun 2008 3692 Views


The Cannes Lion’s is arguably the most celebrated event in the advertising industry.  The brightest minds in the business meet for a week of education, networking and inspiration. But for all its inspiration, the Cannes Festival has always reminded me of just how confused our industry is over its own identity and role in society.

Nothing-in-CommonTake the “festival” itself. Created in the 1950’s it is, in essence, an industry trade show shamelessly fashioned after the world’s premier film festival.  A transparent attempt to elevate advertising into the realm of art by association. And it works. Many advertising professionals insist they are artists.  And every time I meet one of these artists, I’m always reminded of the scene from the movie Nothing In Common when David Basner (Tom Hanks) explains his job as a copywriter to a bunch of creative interns. He asks them to look through his desk and reminds than that no matter how hard they look they won’t find a draft of the novel or screenplay or poetry he’s working on because that’s not what he does for a living. He’s a copywriter and he uses his creative skills and story telling ability to connect products with consumers.

This confusion was evident in a workshop sponsored by Accenture on the first day of the festival. The point was to foster a heated debate over whether creativity, technology or measurement is more important. You might as well debate if your heart, lungs or liver are more important. Its a mute point because without any one of them you’re history.

Martin Sorrell CannesEven Sir Martin Sorrell quipped today  “We’re in show business, not real business” during the Cannes Debate. If anyone in advertising is in real business it is surely Sir Martin.  But his comment reflects a perception that seems to be common place among advertising people.  Historically the most coveted awards in our industry focus almost exclusively on the entertainment value of the communication we create rather than its ability to build brand equity or sell product. This is a trend that I predict will slowly be reversed as the internet continues to make it easier and easier to quantify the impact of communication.

I for one would like to see an end to the perpetual soul-searching that we hear at events like this:  Are advertising people artists or business people?  Is it all about the big idea or is it all about ROI? Should advertising focus on emotions or numbers? Is creativity more important than results. Is it story telling or technology. Are we in the entertainment industry or marketing services? 

Left-brain-right-brainI’ve listened to this tired debate in various incarnations for over two and a half decades now and its always based the absurd assumption that the different left-brain/right-brain elements that make a successful ad campaign are mutually exclusive. I think at our best, we as advertisers and marketing professionals deliver on both ends of these equations. We can create communication that is beautiful, moving, or entertaining  that also achieves a very clear and measurable business purpose. It’s not easy to achieve,  but that is why we are paid so well to do it.

So my six words of advice for the artists in your agency: “You’re in advertising – get over it.” Personally, I can’t think of a better industry to work in. The advertising and marketing services industry provide the unique ability to apply artistic skills such as writing and the visual arts to complex business problems. It allows you to be at the forefront of new developments in society and to play a small part in shaping them. It allows you to work with some of the sharpest and most creative minds of your time. And, as if that wasn’t reward enough, it also allows you the opportunity to travel to the south of France each June to meet up with old friends and celebrate your passion for communication and business.


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Sean Duffy | @brandranter
Speaker, consultant & founder of Duffy Agency, the flipped digital agency that provides accelerated growth to aspiring international brands.