Cannes blog: Questioning digital

Philip Donne, president at Campbell Company of Canada, on the growing role of marketers at the festival and questions around the effectiveness of digital.

By Philip Donne

Philip Donne, president at the Campbell Company of Canada is in Cannes taking in the best work and great thinkers the festival has to offer. He is sharing his takeaways with people back home through strategy.

Officially today is day three of Cannes 2013, however anyone worth their salt as travellers knows that day one is essentially a write off as the bed magnets are at full power in the morning after a night flight. So, day three, but actually day two mentally…and no, I was not a participant in any “Gutter Bar” conversations. I will leave those to the Young Marketers in attendance. However, in my first “official” 48 hours here, there have been a couple things that have been noticeable and of note.

Over the last number of years you have read in virtually all coverage about the Cannes Lions that the presence of marketers has been increasing. As someone who has been attending on and off in a stealth/lurking fashion for over 12 years, I can vouch for how significant this really has become. From P&G’s brand foray here a few years ago counting in the hundreds, to now several brand giants sending smaller but still robust numbers (I understand hearsay-wise that Unilever has sent  65+, Diageo 15+), this is a brand healthy, overdue and necessary change. No longer are the seminar halls, chichi cafes and notorious “Gutter Bar” reserved enclaves for the “creatives” and I put them in quotes with the same love that a parent has for children and friends have for lifelong chums.

From my squinty-eyed view, “it’s the creative stupid,” that has ruled and shall continue to rule the best we can offer consumers in our content, connections and relationship. I will be unequivocal here, if you ain’t got creative, you ain’t got bubkes (and I use “bubkes” legitimately thanks to both Polish and Russian lineage…Cannes makes one very, um, reflective too). So, Mamma Mia (my wife is Italian), if you ain’t here, get here and join the rest of the creative world. As one lone consumer, I can see the results in the work of Unilever, Diageo and P&G. Simply, being here creates tension within yourself that screams “we can do better!” as a brand.

What’s behind that first flash of the obvious is a more foreboding and Y2K-ish sense that the digital/social/mobile/latest descriptor explosion (evident here with all of the premium beachfront and Croisette locations being snapped up by Google, Yahoo, YouTube and the like) is having us all on. I have now participated in two roundtables with global CMOs and sat in on conversations with some brand heavy-hitters to clearly discern that MROI is now developing into a real and deep concern.

The bloom is off the rose and the honeymoon period over for the rush of “lemmings” (not my descriptor) who have hoped to either be first and most powerful or alternatively first and most popular amongst the growing roster of “cool” firms and people to work/hangout with. The “shake-out” is seemingly upon us. Expect CEOs and CMOs to be now mirroring this rising level of doubt that suggests that we are in the middle of one of the biggest potential effectiveness oversells of the century. Luddite, I am not, by a far stretch, but I can share with you that several huge company CMOs are following this line of thought here at Cannes 2013. The digital and big data age is definitely here to stay, however I sense that going forward, the Missouri “show me” approach has landed. At an event just last night, a well known Ad Age columnist asked a room of over 100 people, “is this digital stuff working for any of you?” and one lone senior marketer raised his hand. It will be interesting to see if this track of doubt plays out.

For now I’m off to see more of  “the work, the work, the work” and am 100% certain that I will be challenged, moved and motivated to push the edges. The trick here though is that although I always leave Cannes with the conviction that I will only support truly breakthrough work, where the spirit is willing, the flesh is often weak! Given a few early views of this year’s entries, my resolve may finally be cemented. More to come on that.