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Dominic Mills 

The Cannes selection: stuff from 'down south' to discuss

The Cannes selection: stuff from 'down south' to discuss

From Sir Martin Sorrell's rock throwing to the bad news for Accenture’s rivals, Dominic Mills deciphers Cannes 2018

Unless you are a complete masochist or Cannes junkie (often one and the same) you will have struggled to sort out the interesting stuff - official or off-platform - from the white noise generated by events, awards, comments, interviews and the like at that festival ‘down south’.

Stuck for something to talk about in the pub this week? Anxious to impress the boss with your sharp perspective on the industry? Keen to show that you’re not just on top of what happened at Cannes, but what it means? Then read on.

1. If there was one prize the rest of the industry didn’t want Accenture to win, it won it. This was for Creative Data, picked up by Accenture Dublin (the agency formerly known as Rothco) for ‘JFK unsilenced’ for The Times.

Why is it bad for Accenture’s rivals? Because it a) plays to a perceived strength - data - and b) confounds a perceived weakness - creative.

You can read about the ad here, but essentially Rothco took the text of the speech Kennedy would have made in Dallas and recreated it in his voice using AI and analysis of his other speeches.

Personally, I’m struggling to find the creative data element here. Yes, it’s a great creative idea. But what’s the data bit? I’m expecting genius analysis of billions of data points to unlock an insight or a creative idea.

And while I’m in carping mode, isn’t this editorial?

2. UK newsbrands are on the front foot - and about time too - with both the announcement of a joint sales initiative, aka Project Ozone (who thinks up these names, eh?), and News UK’s NewsIQ platform.

Is Cannes the best place to launch what are, relatively speaking, domestic initiatives? I’m not convinced. It’s hard to stand out against all the hoopla and hysteria.

As for Project Ozone, which combines digital assets from News UK, the Guardian and Telegraph under a separate sales operation, there are two points to make.

First, why is print excluded? As the newsbrands’ trade body Newsworks makes clear, advertisers get the best return when they combine print and digital. Surely newsbrands need to make it as easy as possible to buy in such a way as to get the best return? So why make it hard?

Two, Ozone will get its own independent sales boss. Good luck to them. They will need the skin of a rhino and the demeanour of a diplomat, a rare combo.

3. Sir Martin (kudos for fulfilling his pre-exit commitments to two events at Cannes - that would have taken nerves of steel) was on fine disruptive form, chucking rocks into the pool that is WPP.

Rock #1: His public endorsement of Mark Read and Andrew Scott, currently temporarily in charge of WPP, as his successors. Now this feels to me like the kiss of death for the pair. How stupid/independent does the WPP board look if, given all that has happened with SMS, it follows his recommendation on his successor/s?

Rock #2: Last week WPP sold its 18% stake in Globant, variously described as a Latin American software group and WPP’s answer to Accenture and/or Sapient.

But this didn’t go down too well with SMS, who criticised the sale (and thus, implicitly, Read and Scott) here. “WPP needs more Globants,” he said.

Hmm. Well, talk about back-seat driving. And, 1) I have never heard anyone in WPP mention Globant (I bet 99% don’t even know what it is) or say something like ‘we must work closer with Globant in the spirit of horizontality’ 2) What is the point of an 18% stake in anything? It buys you diddly-squat, as the man who bought the stake must surely know.

4. Meanwhile, there’s the sound of Mark Read hedging his bets across a variety of subjects in an interview with Ad Age in Cannes. Pondering the question ‘will WPP sell Kantar?’, Read gave a masterful non-answer: “We have agreed with the board, we'll look at kind of Kantar and we'll get to that I guess when a new CEO is appointed as a part of the strategy. I can see strong advantages to having Kantar within the group, but we need to look at what creates the most value for shareholders.” Er, clear as mud.

And here he is talking about how WPP needs to change...”we need to be more client-centric, and more focused on clients. And more focused on them than us.”

To me this sounds like a hat-tip in the direction of Lord Obvious. I have a simple test when people talk like this: would they ever say the opposite? If not, you can disregard it as flim-flam.

5. A step forward for Blockchain...maybe. With the added complication that most people who talk about Blockchain (me included) only have a vague idea about it, Blockchain strikes me as the ‘mobile’ of the current era - i.e. lots of talk, not much action.

But maybe not for much longer. IBM and Mediaocean (formerly DDS) took to the Croisette to launch their joint initiative to pilot a project involving Unilever, Pfizer and Kellogg’s. By any measure, if it removes fraud and opacity, this is a good thing. On the other hand, is it also just another tech tax?

6. Perversely, Publicis has done the Cannes organisers a favour. I know this sounds counter-intuitive, but P&G/Publicis’s Grand Prix in the film category for this year’s Superbowl Tide ads is actually a ringing endorsement for the Cannes festival. How? Well, Publicis’ much-publicised withdrawal from the Cannes competition proved to be no such thing, with the agency persuading its partners/suppliers to enter a shedload of its stuff.

We’ll draw a veil over how it managed this particular process (arm-twisting or a ‘subsidy’ seem the most likely mechanisms), but what it underlines is just how hooked the agencies are on Cannes and its prizes. Even a supposedly principled stand on withdrawing for a year couldn’t defeat that visceral need agencies have for recognition. If I was the Cannes organiser, I’d find that immensely comforting.

And by the way, the P&G/Publicis victories underline just how far an advertiser once as famous for its dull, repetitive, creative formulae as for its shampoo formulae has become.

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