No Cannes Do

By The Cog Blog Archives
Cover image for  article: No Cannes Do

We are a tone-deaf business sometimes. Consider the following unrelated facts. One, advertising is not trusted or liked by most consumers. Two, we are facing an unprecedented upheaval in the media available to advertisers, who owns these media, and how they're used. Three, the debate on how to assess the value of the different media choices, singly and in combination is a live one. Four, the main industry protagonists have just spent a large chunk of change entering for and "attending" the annual Cannes festival. I wonder which of these four the agency world considers the most important, as defined by where they spend their own money? Here's a clue: It isn't media structures, audiences and measurement.

Most years for the last dozen or so, I've helped with the annual asi audience measurement conference. This event has been going for over 30 years and is (most would agree) the best of its type. This particular event and others like it help set the agenda when it comes to defining what the industry needs from measurement. As a for instance, it was at an asi event that Phil Smith of ISBA unveiled his organization's Project Origin cross-media initiative.

Asi regularly attracts high caliber speakers, from David Wheldon to Bob Hoffman, from senior measurement figures from Facebook and Google to leading broadcasters and research agencies.

And yet the one group that is hardest to attract as attendees -- year in, year out -- is the agencies.

I've asked my agency friends why they don't attend events like this. Certainly, no event has a God-given right to an audience, so maybe (I've wondered) the organizers are missing the hot topics? Or maybe they should rethink the format or the content?

The answer is always, "We don't have the budget."

And yet mysteriously these same agencies have the budget to swarm all over Cannes.

This year's Cannes was naturally virtual. I don't know what it cost to "attend" or access but the entry fees for papers or campaigns are revealing.

This year, I make it that Cannes handed out 44 sets of awards across 28 categories, which led the incomparable Bob Hoffman (author of the AdContrarian blog) to make the clearly outrageous and patently unbelievable claim that he once met someone who hadn't won at Cannes.

The cost of entering varied by category between €985 ($1,369) and €2,450 ($3,383). Most seemed to be around €1,150 ($1,588) before any discounts*.

Then there's the cost in a usual year of showing up. I wouldn't like to estimate the annual cost of sending a delegate, once expenses are taken into account, but the whole shebang must cost an agency holding group something way into the high six figures, maybe even € millions; and an impoverished media agency somewhere between €25,000 ($34,525) and €50,000 ($69,047), assuming they don't go too crazy with the entries -- or the rose*.

Hopefully, someone will correct me on these numbers.

I'm certainly not against awards (I can't be, I've entered a fair few, won some and judged many more), nor do I think it's in any way a bad thing to come together to celebrate creativity. But do we really think that much of that happens at Cannes?

Cannes used to be an ad agency festival. Then clients started showing up, and major ad tech vendors, and smaller ad tech vendors, and media agencies, and traditional media houses and research agencies and software houses.

These days it's about as much a "celebration of creativity" as this blog. And more expensive.

If Cannes is holding a mirror up to and celebrating creativity then to be frank there's not a huge amount to celebrate at the moment, judging by consumer reaction.

What it is (Cannes I mean, not this blog) is a huge party, a demonstration of old-style excess leavened by the odd award ceremony and (judging by the approved photos released for PR purposes) some Very Serious Meetings that naturally couldn't possibly take place under any other circumstances. ("You'll never get such a group together, except in a beautiful waterfront setting or on a yacht.")

If it's that important I expect a way could be found.

Meantime the industry, and in particular the agency side of the industry, can't afford to come together to discuss what media measurement is required to equip us for the future.

No budget.

Well, I can think of a way of solving that one. Maybe send a few less people to Cannes; maybe enter a few less awards.

Maybe prioritize. At the end of the day if the choice is between a headline boasting that you're the most awarded holding company network at Cannes, and helping fund whatever work is needed to improve how the industry measures audiences, and thus improve how we spend our clients' budgets, I think I know which I would pick.

I also think I know which most advertisers would pick. Try listening to your market, guys.

There are plenty of smart agency guys. Maybe they should be encouraged to attend events that might actually help shape things in an industry in bad need of change.

*Exchange rate as of July 1, 2021.

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