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Final Recap, Cannes 2014

What’s a Nice CPG Brand Like You Doing at a Place Like This?

Years ago, you wouldn’t have seen quite the same Cannes presence from the giants of the CPG world. With advertising just as utilitarian as their product suites (and this is particularly true of P&G), Cannes didn’t matter all that much to them. That was then. Now, they bring out their heavy hitters and hunt Lions. Marc Pritchard of P&G spoke of the need to work from essential truths and make your brand matter. When you’re selling soap powder or scented water, one way to meet that need is transcendent advertising. P&G’s work for Old Spice and around the Olympics certainly qualifies. Keith Weed took a different approach in his talk. The CMO of Unilever focused less on his company’s own work and instead on the shared tasks that await us all. Large CPG companies can take a leading role in making their operations increasingly sustainable and in nudging consumers to more earth-friendly habits, and Unilever has continued to demonstrate its global commitment to both sides of that equation.

You Too Can Help (RED)

There’s star power, and then there’s star power.  Jonathan Ive, Apple’s deity of design, joined Bono (blue sunglasses period) to urge juked up packed house to turn their combined creative power to eradicating AIDS. His band, U2, was initially uncomfortable with his turn from front man to righteous man: “The band said ‘this could sink our ship, you’re meeting really uncool people—like George Bush—looking really crap in photos, it’s not rock’n’roll’.”  Bono disagrees, and he wants us all to join the band. Since advertisers are “the world’s thermostat,” Bono is relying on us to turn up the heat, and Ive wants us to use our industry’s gift for sharp thinking to get us there: “We don’t let the complexity of the problem be evident in the solution.” That’s worked for Apple, and it can work for eradicating AIDS, too.

A Matter of Debate

Twitter, Viacom, and WPP (in the persons of their respective leaders) enjoyed a spirited…consensus. What was billed as a debate was, as in years past, an intellectual group hug. These companies are not competitors; they are instead different organisms in a shared ecosystem—one in which they are the apex predators.  Twitter wants to be the default second screen, Viacom is building up production capabilities to match its commodious distribution network, and WPP does big business with them both. Viacom’s business is 75% US while Twitter is the other way ‘round. But for the future? Well, that depends on how Twitter’s new “easy onboarding” (someone ban that phrase) and in-the-moment-commerce (yup, that one needs to go, too) strategies perform.

Nope, No Theme

After the pleasantries are exchanged and the conversation between distant colleagues dries up, the talk turns to the Cannes week just ending. The parties, the work that won, the rankling injustices, the epic nights, and the awful next mornings. And the theme. Always the theme. Many say there was no unifying thread this year, and on the surface they’re right.  But something big is cutting through the dark water beneath.

Maybe There Was One

Editorial consciousness reemerged, and it is organizing the internet, not because it is an autocrat but because most of us want some sense of what’s worth our time. Here’s what you already know: We’re too busy having a life to want to curate every part of our online experiences. The heady rush of freedom has been grand, but the online world has gotten so big and so complex that we’d like a bit of direction, thank you very much. And we need more than what our friends can provide on their own. Chaos is for the early adopters; they’re the ones who need unmarked, untrammeled public spaces in which to range.  But the rest of us value a good experience so much that we’re willing—desperate, even—to ask someone to come curate it, to edit it.  Brands have sussed this out, and every brief must now contain the word “curation” on pain of death.

So, What Does that Mean for Me?

Twitter’s “easy onboarding” (that phrase just won’t die, dammit) means that users new and old aren’t dumped into a cubist landscape. We’re no longer entirely free to assemble our own picture window on the world from the shards of a thousand other views. Twitter is willing to do it for you. How, at its core, is that any different from what the New York Times does? It’s not, but the chaotic self-assembled window is still there next to Twitter’s nicely stage-managed view. If we look out of both, nothing will have been lost—in fact, much will be gained.  But will we hold on to both perspectives?  The chaos loving early-adopters are moving on. They’ve glommed onto 3D printing and connected gadgets.  The Internet of Things may become the new social, as our digital world becomes an ever more integrated part of our meatspace one. The brands will go there, too, not just as purveyors but as advertisers, too. The Innovation Lion, first awarded last night, is just a cub. What will it grow up to be?

Thanks for reading this week.

Check out all the Cannes week recaps here and the slideshares here.


Jeremy Katz

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