As I sat around the table at beloved restaurant La Mirabelle in the old town of Cannes, one of my dinner mates said, “Let’s go around and tell each other our b-sides.” One by one we revealed the lesser-known sides of ourselves.
“For one year I made a friend-a-day and documented the experience, which later became my Ted talk.”
“I learned to train elephants in Indonesia.”
The ‘90s analog brick phone (a brilliant agency social experiment) starts ringing on the table. Everyone cheers. Our circle widens.
There will always be two camps at festivals of this size: one that talks about “what a boondoggle this has become,” and one that gets excited about being in a place where the changing landscape is revealed before their eyes in sessions during the day and in the bars all night. This is the new era of marketing, where hybrid talent is hired because of their b-sides, ready to release the death grip on traditional ad plays and instead revel in inciting a cultural sea change. This year’s Cannes festival marked a positive sense of community, a broadening community, which includes media companies, reality TV stars, VR developers, oligarchs, ad tech mavens and Japanese android clones.
The changing face of Cannes, and our industry at large, centers on a willingness to show up and play in new ways and use technology not as “the thing,” but as the thing that enables greater creativity. Conversations on La Croisette swirled around content creation and the breakneck growth of virtual reality offerings. From headsets on the beach to the Google Cardboard mobile Grand Prix win, production companies and media arms clamor to set up their own VR experiences. But longevity and purpose will certainly be found for those who move away from gimmicky use of technology at events and instead use it to add depth of experience to the stories they are telling.
Other welcomed announcements came in the form of unexpected brand partnerships. This hackneyed term is starting to take shape with brands partnering with media forces like Vice and platforms like Pinterest or Snapchat to create bespoke cultural moments. The fearful mention by some that these kinds of partnerships will poke away at “agency models” feels myopic…and also energizing to those whose agency’s DNA is already built on this kind of thinking. An openness to assemble partners to create content and non-traditional marketing moments should poke away at the “agency model,” because that marks a collective change in how agencies are currently set up. In the best cases it’s shown us much more poignant ways to get people to invite us into their lives and listen to what we have to say.
Yes, Cannes is a place where we start the week with our concise elevator pitches in tow and then slowly (often at 2am) get to the b-sides, the Suffragette City so to speak. Your colleagues pick up new faces on the walk to the bar, we reveal a little more about our personal point of view and then the really interesting stuff starts to happen.
Hilary Craven is Chief Marketing Officer at Red Tettemer O’Connell + Partners