Five figments of Cannes

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A short piece on Cannes 2014 published in 'Marketing' magazine.

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Five figments of Cannes

  1. 1. Five figments of Cannes. 1. The Way We Live Now. Outsidethe Palais there are people dressed in brands I haven’theard of, squinting into their phones in the sunlight. I’m clearly in the right place. In the first talk, a slide tells me that Millennials live on their smartphones. I nod sagely. Mobile is the word of the week. 2. Vertigo. Wendy Clark fromCoke talks in the big theatre. I’mushered up into the Gods. It’s incredibly steep up there. I’mactually nervous that I might fall over the edge, like a guy did once at a football match I was at in Glasgow when he was on his way to get a pie. No one here is eating pies though. The girl in frontof me is writing a poem. My view is odd: a compressed screen and, froma great distance, Wendy’s scalp. There’s a really good manifesto film for the ‘World’s Cup’, but I think to myself that perhaps I’veseen so many brand films that they don’tmove me any more. Then she shows another in which a blind man smiles as he runs his hands over the World Cup. My eyes fill with tears. Wendy has a live link to the Coke team in Rio. When Virgin Galactic starts there will be a mad scrambleto havethe firstlink to spacefrom Cannes, and after that there will only really be two standout presentation techniques: live links to previously undiscovered planets, or the useof a quill pen and inkwell. She talks through some amazing initiatives involving huge and complex social participation, and the 23 centres that compriseCoke’s social listening Hub. But the bestwork she shows touches universal emotions, and at the end of the talk she reminds us that Coke is ‘a simple moment of happiness’. Likemany great modern brands, Cokeuses complex realtime techniques to touch simple human emotions.
  2. 2. 3. Pacing. I go back to do work things that could as easily be done in Rickmansworth. Butthat’s modern Cannes – a deluge of content, meetings, interviews, work to look at, work to do, and of coursepink wine. If ‘strategy is the art of sacrifice’, then so is Cannes. I tell myself it’s important to pace yourself, not do too much. One of my dinner companions, a strategist of global renown, shows up an hour late, so I eat mostof his starter. His lame but appropriateexcuse is that he had to stay in his roomfor an hour to chargehis phone. Some time later we end up on the Carlton Terrace. I am sickeningly grateful to be allowed to pay 23 euros for a small Heineken and a tonic water. EveryoneI’veever admired or disappointed is there. On my way home some people call and tell me I need to come back to the terrace. I don’t need to go back to the terrace. I go back to the terrace. 4. Streaming. I wakeup with the beginnings of a cold wondering whatthe French is for ibuprofen. Long day ahead. It’s streaming roomonly for Sheryl Sandberg. The live stream downstairs is favoured by the cognoscenti, particularly after lunch as it’s less embarrassing to nod off there than in the main auditoria, and easier to do stuff on your phone. Sherylstarts off by saying that mobile is big. Shemust have seen those people outsidetoo. Sheryl’s audience survey (‘How many of you women have been called too aggressiveat work? And how many of you men?) quickly becomes famous. She’s followed by Alan Rusbridger interviewing Ralph Fiennes, although the other way round would have worked too. Alan is as British as Sheryl is American – dry, self-deprecating, floppy-haired. Hedoesn’task Ralph for his views on Big Data though, so I switch streams.
  3. 3. 5. A Call To Action. The other stream is raucous. Omar Johnson fromBeats by Dr. Dre is laying down awesomesounbdbites. Hesays that before Beats, headphones looked like dental equipment. He shows a pair of pre-Beats headphones. They look like a lawnmower. Hehas fantastic brand values: Truth, Fearlessness, Culture, Hustle. He says that he hears the word culture way too much in decks. How come he has such a highly developed bullshitometer? Oh, I see, he worked for Nike. Then his agency partner comes on and puts up a slide that says ‘Fuck Briefs.’ I wonder if it’s the name of his new clothing label, but apparently it's justa desired behaviour. Tempting, but I head home to write some Strategic Pillars. Typical Cannes so far then: a heady cocktail of naked hedonism, self- promotion, and avarice, with enough great content to keep people awakeand engaged in intelligent conversation. Just about. (Published in ‘Marketing’ magazine, 23rd June 2014.)

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