The Musings Of An Opinionated Sod [Help Me Grow!]

Is The Lion Facing Extinction …

As you know, I recently went to Cannes.

It had been 12 years between visits and I must admit I’m quite conflicted with how I feel about the experience.

OK, so I was always in the skeptical camp.

I appreciate the need and value of celebrating ‘the best of creativity’, but I have long felt Cannes was less about that and more about celebrating the celebrity of advertising.

That said, while there were some differences, some had scarily remained the same.

The biggest difference was who were the big boys in town.

Last time I was there it was the big network agencies.

Massive venues.
Big Boats.
Grandiose parties.

And while all those things were still there, they were the domain of the tech giants … with agencies now occupying the odd beachside suite or – more typically – an Airbnb venue in one of the backstreets.

Don’t get me wrong, there was still some “look at me” statements from adland, but compared to what they were – and what the tech industry was doing – it was much more of a whimper than a roar.

This ‘tech industry doing a good impression of 80s adland’ was even more visible when it came to the evening festivities.

On the first night I was there, I found myself at the Carlton Hotel.

As usual, it was packed with people in jovial mood – either because they were catching up with old friends or were bullshitting network colleagues in a bid to look good to them.

Every now and then, you’d see a magnum of champagne being taken to a table. A fucking magnum?! Given my average burger and fries with a diet coke had cost me an eye watering €60 when I had it earlier in the day [not on expenses, so keep your rolling eyes to yourself], I literally daren’t imagine how much this cost.

But who would buy such an overt display of wealth and arrogance?

You guessed it – probably because you know ad agencies can’t afford that level of excess or expense anymore – it was people from our tech and media brothers and sisters … living and acting like it was still 1982.

There were plenty of other signs that revealed the tech companies were becoming the beasts they were meant to slay …

From the insanely big, patronising, condescending and delusional ego-driven ads that were all over Cannes [congrats IBM, that will be the only award your agency will win] to the gift bags handed out at every opportunity that were universally filled with Amazon rainforest worth of paper through to the overtly misogynistic atmosphere that permeated the air in the night.

This last thing upset me the most.

It’s bad enough that women had to deal with men propositioning, groping and touching them in the past, but the fact it is still going on – in this era of #MeToo – is breathtaking. Actually that’s not what is breathtaking, it’s the fact they felt comfortable doing it in public, at a global industry event, surrounded by peers and colleagues.

Nothing shows how prevalent sexist, predator behaviour continues to be in our industry than that.

One of my colleagues, Iain Preston, spotted a particularly unpleasant episode and thankfully stood in. You can read about it here.

As you can tell, I’m not a fan of Cannes.

Actually, let me be more specific. I’m not a fan of the behaviour of Cannes.

There are some amazing people there.

There are some amazing talks you get to listen to.

There is some amazing work to be inspired by.

I’m glad I went but happier I got to leave within a few days however I did come away with a very good reminder that the greatest gift you can give a client is the gift of honesty.

Honesty of the situation.
Honesty of the audience.
Honesty of the business or brand.
Honesty of what needs to be done.
Honesty of the creativity … in terms of encouraging the creatives to craft somewhere new not repackage and rehash something old.

Sadly this reminder came from witnessing too few agencies giving it &/or too few clients valuing it.

So to all the winners who wanted to make a difference in a way that was different, I don’t just say congratulations.

But thank you.

21 Comments so far
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Great write up with a valuable lesson to remember. Unfortunately you have to have self awareness to achieve this goal and as your post shows, this is one skill many of the attendees attending and financing this blow out fail to have.

Comment by George

Oh I think the industry has self awareness, they just choose to see it as weakness so carry on regardless – blundering and staggering their way forward, holding on to whatever [to paraphrase David Ogilvy] lamppost the clients like and will pay an ever increasingly reduced fee for.

Comment by Rob

So much in here but the standout is your friend having to step in on the unwanted treatment of the female attendee. I hope she sues and recievws a huge payout from all involved. Sadly I don’t have a lot of faith this will happen which just lets it continue. Thanks for this Rob, I am glad I wasn’t there, despite the talks and good work on show.

Comment by Pete

Yes. That is horrific and yet is a pattern of abuse that has been going on for years. Good on your colleague for stepping in.

Comment by George

For all the talk of change, nothing has changed much. It’s not even just the male management who are keeping things quiet, I’ve heard of at least 3 very senior women at agencies who have turned a blind eye to abusive behavior in their company for political, client or financial reasons. Rumor has it even your beloved WK are not entirely clean. It’s definitely more men who are keeping things the same, but it does seem the higher up the career ladder you move, the more elastic your principals.

Comment by Bazza

I’ve heard the rumours mate … and yes, it is rife across C-Suite execs, but given most of those C-Suite are male, my attitude is they are the ones who need to shoulder the biggest blame.

Comment by Rob

Should I assume the people who physically abused the young woman were white, middle aged, management level men? When men are with men, they turn into a pack of hormone filled teenagers. When men are with men at industry conferences, they turn into a pack of hungry wolves. Thank your friend for not being a stereotype Robert. And thank you for not shying away from this despicable issue.

Comment by Mary Bryant


Comment by Bazza

Yes on all things Mary.

Not all men are assholes.
Not all men when they’re together with other men are assholes.
But a lot are and if we don’t step up, we are all complicit.

Comment by Rob

It might be your way of justifying your tough love approach to absolutely everything, but this is good.

“The greatest gift you can give a client is the gift of honesty.”

Comment by Bazza

Which is also the power of independence.

It is not limited to that, but it helps a lot.

The great irony being shareholder want the companies they invest in to be ethical and yet demand a return on investment that invited seniority to do what’s right for the money often over the people within the business.

Comment by Rob

Thanks for saying it like it is Rob (and thanks again for your and Martin’s great talk ;).
Very sad, though hardly surprised, about the episode you mention above – there was way too much protesting around the whole Festival about our industry being a force for good and harbinger of diversity and inclusion for comfort.
Clearly and other attempts went sadly unheeded.

Comment by Benoit Wiesser

dont tell me campbells talk was good. that just will fucking depress me.

Comment by andy@cynic

It seems it was. Or at least Martin’s part. 😉

Comment by DH

Thank you for saying this Rob. I’ve been to Cannes exactly once and felt like a fish out of water at the networking bits, even if, as you say, the talks were good. Luckily I didn’t have a bad experience but my heart goes out to the poor lady who had to go through that and then was fired – almost can’t believe that kind of brazen behaviour (but then I absolutely can). Advertising goddamn better speak up and change, and fast. Thanks again.

Comment by Anjali Ramachandran (@anjali28)

might actually be your best fucking post campbell. not your doing, your fucking mate iain but then youre great at being a fucking parasite.

Comment by andy@cynic

“I have long felt Cannes was less about that and more about celebrating the celebrity of advertising.”

More like celebrating the celebrities in advertising.

Same old names. Same old work. Same old celebration.

Comment by DH

Believe it or not, I’m not defining you as the old guard. You might be old but at least you’re still spikey. I reserve the right to change my opinion once I’ve watched your talk.

Comment by DH

An excellent write up Robert with an excellent point at the end.

I must say that I am appalled at the treatment of the young lady you mention in the post. If she requires any legal advice, I would be happy to help. Please let her know.

Comment by Lee Hill

I only was once there. I liked some of the talks, some of the things I saw there were absolutely drop dead gorgeous in terms of creativity and implementation. However, It makes my guts sick to see people claim that through ads they change the world in something good, and fight global problems. I especially hate the social campaigns fighting severe issues like hunger in a festival that has no issue to waste, millions of dollars yearly on catering and expensive boat parties. I have yet to see an add that actually educates people long term. Most of the campaigns that get awards are productions that are made for brand notoriety, to raise an issue to public attention, and then to totally forget about it without providing a long term solution. Can you actually say that: “We don’t have an issue with hunger or abusive men, due to the add made by corporation X? I doubt it, but we celebrate most of these ads with blitz and glamour. Some of them truly deserve it, most of them do not.

Comment by Mihai Suciu

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