Cannes Lions 2014: Anyone can tell the story. But someone has to. Who will it be?

It’s not creative versus digital/data as it is made out to be; this is just a family squabble.

21 Jun 2014 | By Campaign India Team

Tony Sarmiento is due to speak at a media festival in 2015. The fest’s site shows his designation as ‘Regional Creative Integrator’. He works for Havas Media Group APAC. What makes Cannes special, besides the seminars, the galas and the bonhomie, is the opportunity to have conversations on the sidelines with the likes of Tony. Being lodged in the same hotel helps. Adding his wealth of experience to our conversations each evening has been Rahul Kansal from The Times of India. And then there’s the delightful Fadi from Qatar, whose anecdotes are funnier than most told in the Grand Audi at the Palais.
Tony’s career seems to tell the story of where we’re headed. A management course drop out whose family runs a big pesticide business back in the Philippines, he opted for communications instead. Against the wishes of his father. Okay, that’s pretty much a common diversion. Endearing anecdotes like his mother keeping track of every clip on his awards, to help him know ‘how far you’ve come’, make his story more interesting. Success apart, he’s also made the shift from a creative to media agency rather effortlessly. The media allows it today, in its efforts to reintegrate. That, to me, is the story of Cannes Lions 2014. Could this perhaps be a tipping point in reintegration?
With many an interesting anecdote, BuzzFeed co-founder Jonah Peretti took audiences through its early days, in a session hosted by Mindshare. He recalled how newspapers started off as ‘viral content engines’. The TIME magazine came in, and handpicked the best of content from the newspapers, and elaborated on them. The business was about aggregation, he underlined. He cited how in the early days, people said radio would never make money. Ditto for cable. Cut to the early days of social media.
In 2002, with his sister, Peretti launched a ‘New York City Rejection Line’. If one wanted to reject someone’s advances, they would pass on this number. An automated set of messages would convey that the person the caller wishes to reach, does not want to hear from the caller again, and so on. You get the picture. Understandably, it got shared, albeit in those days on e-mail and through word-of-mouth. It led to curiosity, said Peretti, on why things spread and how they spread. I’d like to hazard a guess. It was the creative idea. And its execution.
And there was a lot more in his talk that should get people thinking. In the early days, no medium makes money. And then, when they do, everyone rides the bandwagon. At that point, when the medium isn’t innovation by itself anymore, how does one differentiate? Enter creativity.
Formulaic solutions like the use of celebrities, pets, being ‘in the moment’ will become hygiene. What one does using them will be the key.
If I’m stating the obvious, I’m doing so because increasingly talks at Festivals are using headers like the ‘Death of creativity (as we know it)’. When the content in itself is nothing but a reiteration of the need to remain relevant, and cut-through enough to connect and engage with consumers.
Ash Bendelow of Brave UK, in his talk on what advertising/marketing could learn from the Casinos of Vegas, spoke of ‘Divine Data’ as against ‘Big Data’. Yes, actionable delivery in real time based on the data is what makes it useful. And there was one more thing he said. Players who are winning big and losing badly need different strokes. Based on the data, the Casino guys on the floor know when to have a friendly chat with the gambler - when the player reaches his ‘threshold level’ of losing. If the human touch doesn’t exist, then marketing is losing it. Data alone can’t deliver, can it?
So never mind the session titles, never mind the provocation. And never mind the highly entertaining and tongue-in-cheek talk by Chuck Porter.
The truth remains that communicators will remain relevant, and so will those that help them reach out to the right people at the right time. Someone, somewhere, will have to ensure that the message is empathetic and creative enough. Someone will have to tell consumers a story they can relate to.
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This article was first published by Gokul Krishnamurthy, editor, Campaign India.