by Charl Thom, Group MD, FoxP2 The seminars and speakers over the Cannes Lions week are  some of the most inspiring and informative an advertising or marketing person could hope for. Here are a few of the many notes I made during the week, and a few interesting quotes (some more colourful than others) that stayed with me:

  • It always has been and always will be about the idea. The canvas may change, but the big idea remains at the core of everything. charl thomAs the canvas, or rather channels, become more and more fragmented, and some of them become channels within channels, our industry sometimes loses sight of the most important thing – the idea. A great idea effortlessly spreads itself across a variety of channels, without compromise or dilution, to deliver a single-minded message that people are interested in and want to engage with or participate in. “Entire industries are built to create things that help people avoid what we create.” David Droga
  • Technology is not an idea. It’s an enabler of the idea. As George Lois so eloquently stated in his legendary session with Lee Clow “We aren’t in the technology business, we’re in the f*cking creativity business”. If you don’t have an intimate understanding of technology and digital communication platforms, and how to execute in them, your agency is in deep trouble. It would be similar to not understanding what broadcast television could do for your brand when it reached South African shores as new technology in 1975. But our job is to deliver the idea that makes the technology come alive.
  • Execution separates the great from the good. The idea is nothing without execution, and vice versa. Many great ideas are greatly compromised through poor production. If you can’t afford to execute an idea to its full potential, go back to the drawing board and come back with an idea that you can create on the budget. Don’t compromise. As Sir John Hegarty likes to say “good advertising is 80% idea, and 80% execution”. Working with an agency that truly values craft is an invaluable asset to a brand.
  • Great work is a culture. This is true in an agency, and it’s true for clients. Jonathan Mildenhall and Ivan Pollard from Coca Cola took us on the tour de force that is Coca Cola’s advertising history. This is a company that believes in the power of creativity and the value of partnering with agencies that believe in fighting for great work every step of the way. George Lois, once again in his inimitable style, remarked “Choose clients that let you do great work. If they don’t let you do great work, then f*ck ‘em!”.
  • If you’re not going to be great, you need to go home, get the f*ck out of the room.” P. Diddy. Building anything great is a marathon, not a sprint. And you have to be relentless in the pursuit of this greatness. This holds true whether you are building an agency, or building a campaign. And it’s a critically important qualifier for George’s statement above. I’ve seen too many agencies fight for mediocrity and then respond with arrogance and indignation when the client rightly tells them where to go. By all means, choose clients that let you do great work, but then put great work in front of those clients. Otherwise, get out the room.
  • Authenticity is the non-digital revolution sweeping our industry. Watch television for an hour or two, and you may find this hard to believe, but the days of fooling people through insincere advertising are gone. Conan O’Brien lamented the fact that some advertisers on his show still try to insist on fake product interactions. They don’t understand why he would resist snacking on their particular brand of chocolate bar, and then turn to camera to tell everyone just how tasty it is. He says “people are more aware than ever of ‘phony-ness’, and they are suspicious of it”. It seems obvious, but weaker marketers still want it, and poor agencies fall back on it.
  • Digital is the new traditional. Marcello Serpa uttered these words at Cannes two years ago “the only line that matters is the line between good and bad ideas”. I’m excited by the continuing convergence between old and new media (and these terms are rapidly becoming outdated). Last weekend, I sat in Amsterdam, watching television as the British and Irish Lions played against Australia in Brisbane. I watched the game with my buddies in South Africa and the UK as we commented back and forth via Twitter. We looked up player stats and retweeted plays the following day. This ongoing convergence gives old media platforms new relevance and constantly unlocks new opportunities.
  • Stay true to who you are. It’s the only way to be great and build something worthy of a legacy. Too many agencies start out great, and as they grow and get more clients, they lose themselves. Some of them become clumsy, fat and lazy. The guys from IDEO candidly shared how a decision to do the right thing cost them people, offices, clients and profit, but gained them allies, believers, reach and a legacy. P Diddy backed this up by saying “Never back away from your authenticity for the sake of profitability, you will eventually lose”.

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