Simply Speaking: All about the Olympics of creativity

Attending Cannes Lions makes you think like a marketer, create like an entertainer, deploy like a tech platform, writes Shubhranshu Singh.

By  Shubhranshu SinghJul 10, 2023 9:48 AM
Simply Speaking: All about the Olympics of creativity
Tech, diversity and inclusion was pretty much at the heart of the agenda and not something auxiliary, novel or exotic. The biggest headline from Cannes was ‘The arrival of AI’. The mainstage takeaways were broadly positive qualifying it as a developing but vast area which will be a means and an end at the same time. (Image sourced from Cannes Lions website)

Firstly, I sensed like there were two parts to the entire Olympics of creativity - One that spoke of the message and the other that was all about the means. The bigness and the buzz aside, I wish for Cannes to get even more revitalized as the apex festival of creativity rather than an expo of digital plumbing and ad tech.

Kraft Heinz would be a perfect Ad for Cannes itself, swinging back like a pendulum from 3G Capital’s mandated zero-based budgeting to being a big winner for creativity. Its partnership with with Gut, the agency made headlines this year. That’s acute business sense feeding into a renewed culture of creativity. Anheuser-Busch InBev (AB InBev) as Creative Marketer of the Year for a second year in a row arrived with all the effervescence and the froth it deserved.

I sensed that creativity is being seen through the lens of effectiveness and results. Brands have over purposed themselves to excuse creative license. Business needs payback.

I was head of Jury for the APAC Effies this year, and every time I had to remind myself and the jury that results and effectiveness was above all other criteria. That great results were garnered using creatively enriching ways was a clincher or a bonus. The Cannes weightage is the other way around. The end list is equally credible.

Tech, diversity and inclusion was pretty much at the heart of the agenda and not something auxiliary, novel or exotic. The biggest headline from Cannes was ‘The arrival of AI’. The mainstage takeaways were broadly positive qualifying it as a developing but vast area which will be a means and an end at the same time.

There were no awards for AI-generated campaigns, yet but I saw AI and machine inspired creative expressions being generated and shared.

It was good to see the absence of doom and gloom but no votes were cast for whether generative AI is a force for good or evil. I imagine in its day, a Xerox machine, a graphics software package and the internet itself could have been qualified as bigger and more imminent disruptions or tools. And I am serious. The marketing fraternity’s self-convened leadership has an adoration of the icing more than the cake. The younger talent may have a more balanced response, I suppose.

I heard Sir Martin Sorrell say he feels there is no case for 10,000 media planners in the world and that an algorithm will always do a better job than a 25 year old media planner. I agree and I sense he knows this is already a ‘pending past due date’ reality.

Clay Shirky said something along the lines that society changes when it adopts new tools, not when it invents them. I think we must keep our focus on the technology adoption cycle. Hype hurts developments more than it hurts corporations. Look at Meta and look at Metaverse. Nobody talks about trains that arrive on time, so therefore they’re all late! If our ancestors had assumed the pose of Rodin’s The Thinker every time they had to decide whether to flee a predator or an enemy, humanity would have become extinct a long time ago. Urgency of assimilation is more important than urgency of innovation.

So, can any man who buys a salon kit be a stylist? There is no entry barrier to harnessing generative AI to build creative assets, iterate and ideate, refine audiences, measure outcomes and engineer relevance into every prospect and customer interaction.

That YouTube, Google, Amazon and TikTok were the biggest destination pavilions acknowledged that we are living in a digital advertising world but programmatic spending was under discussion. Wasted ad spends, programmatic transparency, inclusion lists and bright-listing of publications were spotlighted.

Given where the world spends its digital money, I think a hard look at made-for-advertising sites based on the quality of the user experience and the ad to edit ratio is much required. The media agencies can seem like the pied piper leading both clients and platforms to a lower payoff. I am not being alarmist, just mindful.

There is an acute need for advertisers to tap into unduplicated reach through whichever publishers in digital, video and audio deliver it. Trusted news sources are top of the list.

More and more brands are dedicating budgets toward minority owned media outlets and taking a more thoughtful approach to media spend. This is an excellent step forward in creating a fairer environment and will only go farther as the industry adopts new standards for identifying these outlets and scaling campaigns. The separation between editorial and advertising must be reclaimed for journalistic purity’s sake. But, we must think of the world where as advertorials fade, so would many of the storied publications.

I felt the entire discussion on digital in a world of enforced privacy was a bit muted. It isn’t about the regulatory environment, privacy expectations or auditability. It’s about rebuilding the tech stack with a privacy-and-compliance-first mindset across all consumer touch points. Marketing in the post-cookie world will take cross-industry collaboration. The principle of advertising as an unavoidable interruption of the content experience rose from the ashes stronger than ever with the growth of digital media.

Publishers will scramble to leverage first-party data. Brand advertisers will need an understanding of the right audiences. There will be a new marketplace of first- and second-party data vendors set to change the future of buying. Apple is cracking down on tracking on Safari and iOS. Google's final deadline for cookie deprecation is quickly approaching. All of us must prepare for cookie-less solutions.

There are some fools who find it impossible to sleep when they are passengers; apparently they can sleep only when they’re the driver!

Finally, if you haven’t already, do get influencers aboard. The creator economy is mainstream. Influencer work is the main campaign in many cases especially lifestyle, alcobev, luxury and fashion. The creator economy is a big business, and after gaming, it best delivers messaging in an environment of attention.

It was a privilege to be there at Cannes. It was a personal trip for me cutting days out of a family vacation. My daily trek from the, not so nearby, Mandelieu was not the easiest. I was high on ideas more often than on expensive wine. The arrangements at all festival venues were first rate. McDonald’s fed me many a McSwirl and convinced me of in moment marketing.

In conclusion, as I took the train to Paris, I thought of the debates on the rules of engagement, part industry talk, part frenemy warning. I was reminded that the world is in a withdrawal from globalisation and growth is the key deliverable. All of us are impacted by fragmentation.

Then, as the afternoon sun bounced off the shimmering waters on the Côte d'Azur, I remembered that attention is the mother of memory. In my world, it’s the brand first and always and my business is producing wow ideas that scale.

Then I ordered a beer. Yes , We Cannes !

Shubhranshu Singh is vice president, marketing - domestic & IB, CVBU, Tata Motors. He writes Simply Speaking, a weekly column on Storyboard18. Views expressed are personal.

First Published on Jul 10, 2023 9:48 AM

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