What Even is Innovation, Anyway?.. and Other Post-Cannes Questions
On Tuesday evening, I popped along to the inaugural ‘Hair of the Lion’ event at the inaugural screening in Soho House’s new Dean Street pad (the cinema, by the way, is rather swish). The event, hosted by Persuasion Communications and Dirty Soup, was a post-match analysis of Cannes 2015. Lions Festivals CEO Philip Thomas was on refreshingly frank form as he addressed the criticisms that have been levelled at the festival while a host of former jurors and speakers performed a post mortem on the winning work (and the work that didn’t do so well).
The evening unfolded like a well-curated group therapy session – uplifting lessons learned, souls searched and repressed issues becoming markedly less repressed. Lots of ‘sharing’, like an oddly rosé-specific alcoholics anonymous meeting (of particular interest, I thought, was when Phil tackled the issue of celebrities at Cannes head on. Genuinely creative celebrities from other fields are the most requested speakers at the Palais but ‘where we have a problem is if we have a celebrity that has nothing to say about creativity and that has happened to us numerous times’). Is Cannes getting too big? Too decadent? Or do guilt-ridden creatives need to get over the self-flagellation and hand-wringing that offsets the silliness (more power to your elbow, Mr Nick Bailey of Isobar!)? Is the click-driven digital ad industry we’re all involved in actually responsible for online bullying (thanks, Monica Lewinsky, for giving ad execs yet another reason to heavily self-medicate the mental torment away)? What do all these categories mean? How far do we have to stretch the concept of creativity to include programmatic? What… what even is advertising?
...are we here?
Existential stuff. But there were other questions too, questions which might be a little more likely to find resolution. It was Cheil’s Global CCO, Malcolm Poynton, who raised the sticky issue of innovation. Many of the ‘innovation’-focused entries at Cannes were not quite agencies flexing their inventing muscles and indulging in revolutionary product design; instead they are examples of agencies digging out neat products that already exist and rebranding them to advertise their client. Geometry Global’s Lucky Iron Fish fell foul of that confusion in product design and on Tuesday night there was considerable discussion around Volvo’s Lifepaint from Grey London. For what it’s worth – and I’m probably being hopelessly naïve here – I don’t really think anyone’s trying to be deceptive. And I can also see the benefits for small, inventive companies when ad agencies hunt them out and co-opt them into a huge brand campaign. On the other hand, can an agency really claim such a campaign as their own ‘innovation’?
Ultimately, I reckon, it’s part and parcel of the confusion around award categories – what does innovation mean in the context of award shows? It’s a word that the advertising industry has kind of fallen in love with, but we do like to fling it around willy-nilly. I see it this way: we’re all Marty McFly, with our hoverboards and baseball caps and self-lacing Nikes, but for some reason we think we’re Emmet Brown.
On the flip side, it seems that projects that see ad agencies doing bits of really complicated bits of techy tinkering can sometimes fly under the radar at award shows, as Havas Helia’s Tash Whitmey pointed out with a recent Dove project. The browser extension highlights skewed media portrayals of beauty and monkeys around with the Google auto-complete algorithm so that more positive terms are likely to pop up – and it failed to pick up anything. Holler’s James Kirkham also pondered, supportively, whether the two minute time limit on case study videos was sufficient to allow agencies to explain the complexities or subtleties of relatively unflashy but clever tech projects.
So, Hair of the Lion gave me lots to think about – and it was a refreshingly casual and honest alternative to the creds reel-filled sales pitches that can clog up advertising’s social calendar. A massive thanks to the wonderful Jane Austin, of Persuasion, and Dirty Soup for hosting and to Holler/Leo Burnett’s James Kirkham, Cheil Worldwide’s Malcolm Poynton, Karmarama’s Jon Wilkins, Tash Whitmey of Havas helia, Somethin’ Else’s Jez Nelson, and Isobar’s Nick Bailey and Cannes Lions CEO Philip Thomas for being so bloody interesting!