Publicis Groupe’s awards bombshell divides industry
Has the ever-expanding carnival of creativity lost sight of its roots, Gideon Spanier asks
Publicis Groupe is facing continued scepticism over its decision to withdraw from awards and trade shows for a year from 1 July, with one top UK marketer warning that he is “not sure they have got it right”.
Kevin Mcnair, Great Britain marketing director at Britvic, questioned why Publicis is focusing on technology over creativity: “By saying what they have said, are they saying that it is an ‘either/or’ decision? What if you took creativity and added technology? That is the progress I would want to be seeing from our industry to really make a difference in the world we live in.”
Arthur Sadoun, chief executive of Publicis Groupe, announced the move in Cannes last week and revealed that the savings would be invested in developing a new artificialintelligence platform, Marcel.
Sadoun took to Twitter this week to field questions on the plans and was met with concerns from employees about the impact on their careers, their ability to recruit and the implementation of Marcel.
The majority of brands approached by Campaign, meanwhile, were unwilling to offer their views. Diageo, Heineken, Mars, John Lewis, Direct Line, Burger King, AT&T, Snapchat, Pepsico and Google all declined to comment. But Sadoun’s predecessor, Maurice Lévy, said the reaction was better than expected, and that the “vast majority of our clients and people are considering that it is a bold and positive move”.
Greg Glenday, chief revenue officer at Shazam, said Marcel sounded like “a terrific use of R&D resources”, adding that he expected the absence of Cannes Lions entries from Publicis would cause a repeat of this year’s surge in entries directly from clients, which were up 69% on 2016. Brands who partnered Shazam were increasingly looking to submit joint entries, he said.
Publicis’ absence next year could make Cannes “a little less efficient” in bringing together all of the industry players he wants to meet, Keith Weed, Unilever’s chief marketing officer, said.
He added that Apple’s refusal to take part in CES, which takes place in Las Vegas in January, had a similar effect on that event. Weed added: “I know that some people feel Cannes has got too big, too busy, too complex, too expensive, and I think that’s for Cannes to reflect on.” One of those pondering similar thoughts was WPP chief executive Sir Martin Sorrell, who revealed that he had discussed with his Omnicom counterpart, John Wren, whether the festival needed a major
shake-up – with a move to a major city such as New York or London one option mooted by Sorrell.
Sadoun’s announcement and Sorrell’s comments led Cannes Lions owner Ascential to launch an advisory committee to “shape the future of the festival”, bringing in top marketers including Weed and Procter & Gamble chief brand officer Marc Pritchard. Pritchard said it was the “right time to step back and take a look at the best way forward for Cannes Lions to provide the best possible platform for creativity in our industry”.
Havas chief executive Yannick Bolloré said that Cannes was a “very important moment” for his company. “Running away from Cannes would be like if you are a major movie studio and running away from the Oscars,” he said, but added: “Cannes is growing bigger every year – it’s important to adapt the format to its new scale.”
Moving the event was a non-starter, Glenday suggested. “If you move it, it becomes something else entirely. When I attend a conference in a city where most people have offices, they are distracted. The relationships and inspiration that are formed at Cannes are made stronger by the fact that it takes effort to get there and the setting is special.”
Jerry Buhlmann, global chief executive of Dentsu Aegis Network, also played down the possibility of a move and said he was “still a supporter” of Cannes Lions. “It does provide a very big platform for creativity and a very big platform for encouraging and training young people in our industry,” he said, citing the Young Lions.
Jose Papa, managing director of Cannes Lions, said it was important to keep the developments “in perspective”, adding: “While these stories have dominated the trade headlines, we know in the long term it will be the creative legacy of this year’s winning work that becomes the defining story. Having said that, we are obviously listening to the concerns being voiced.”
Cannes Lions just might be a victim of its own success. Much of the talk in the restaurants and at the parties this year was dominated by questions about whether it had got too big and needs a rethink. Publicis Groupe shocked the ad industry when new boss Arthur Sadoun said on the Tuesday of Cannes Lions that it was pulling out of all industry events and awards for the next 12 months and would instead invest in a new artificial-intelligence platform, Marcel.
Although the world’s third-largest ad group did not single out Cannes, the timing looked provocative, especially as Publicis Groupe is French.
There is already a feeling among most of the big six ad groups that an influx of marketers and tech giants has changed what was once a festival of creativity for agencies and production companies.
The leaders of the big six discussed how to change Cannes Lions privately a year ago, when one of them suggested an “alternative conference”. This year, entries for the Cannes Lions awards dropped 4.5% to 41,000 and a number of companies sent fewer people.
Cannes Lions, which is owned by Ascential, has recognised that it needs to listen to critics and has set up an advisory committee “to help shape the future of the festival and ensure it continues to respond to the needs of the industry”.
Marc Pritchard, chief brand officer at Procter & Gamble, and Keith Weed, chief marketing and communications officer at Unilever, are among those joining the committee. It looked significant that Ascential recruited marketers first, as it could help to persuade agencies to fall in behind.
Ascential has said that it wants major advertisers, partners, agency networks and the mayor of Cannes to be involved in the committee.
WPP chief executive Sir Martin Sorrell has been critical of Cannes Lions because of the costs and suggested it could move to another city, but he has resisted Publicis Groupe’s idea of a complete withdrawal. “Boycotting something that’s important or significant doesn’t get you anywhere,” he says. “Trying to reposition it or refashion it or re-do it gets you somewhere.”
Some attendees at this year’s festival played down the idea that it needs a radical rethink.
UKTV chief executive Darren Childs said Cannes Lions compared favourably with MIPCOM, the entertainment sales conference in the same city.
Jenny Biggam, a co-founder of the7stars, said Cannes Lions was a useful way to see a lot of industry people and hear them talk “first-hand”.