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Ogilvy & Mather

Cannes perspectives: The best of times, the worst of times

Meng...“‘content creation belongs to the people, we don’t need creatives. This is direct democracy’”
Meng...“‘content creation belongs to the people, we don’t need creatives. This is direct democracy’”

Everything is different, but also everything is the same in an industry where the noise is constant and both hope and fear abound

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness. It was an epoch in which traditional advertising men and women were on the run. "Save us!" they cried. "No one wants our wares any more, they want ‘content’. What on earth is that?"

It was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of  incredulity, it was the season of revolutionary turmoil, called social media. Mob rule! The common folk tossed cabbages at the aristocrats in their marble palaces on Madison Avenue. 

"Off with their heads!" they cried. "We don’t need the guillotine, we will mouse-click them to death. Hurrah! Content creation belongs to the people, we don’t need creatives. This is direct democracy, let us go and write the ‘Universal Declaration of the Rights of People’ on Facebook. Let us be a brotherhood of tweeters."

It was the season of  darkness… chief executives said the advertising agency was dead. Le roi est mort!  No! It was the spring of hope: virtual reality offered us the vision of a brave new world, much better than the plain-vanilla reality we all knew. A promised land where all the people would dwell and we could advertise to them through "experiences", reality itself would be branded…

Oh dear, that sounds like the winter of despair.

 "Global slowdown," they cried from the turrets. "China has devalued the yuan, they are going to lay off a million steel workers, who will buy the iPhones? There’s a bear rampaging on the street, it’s the stock market, commodities, and the BRICs are down…" 

There was so much noise out there it made your head hurt…

We had everything before us, we had nothing before us, activist investors were hounding chief executives, chasing them down the street, the folks on social media were nagging brands about the environment, clean fuel, global warming… pessimism abounded, fear now!

Everyone cries: "It’s a different world from five years ago!"

But hang on, didn’t they say that five years ago? What will we be saying five years from now? Will we even be here? Or maybe we will have left this world for the branded one in an Oculus Rift headset.

And everywhere there was fear in the hearts of men, and no shortage of Jeremiahs to tell them how bad things were. Brands are looking for growth. 

OK, some things don’t change. But now we have a new breed of wolf to fear, activist investors who want more bang for their buck, not necessarily yours. Feel the fear and palpable paralysis.

Goodbye, ideas of Christmas past.

We were all going direct to heaven. There are more people working in the industry today than yesterday. There is more money. The brands are bigger. Shouldn’t the ideas be better? 

We were all going direct the other way – in short, the period was so far… then I woke up. Phew. 

A Tale of Two Cities lies on the floor where it fell off the bed. That will teach me to read before going to sleep.

Sometimes, when you look at the state of the business, you really have to ask, what the Dickens is going on?

Most underrated Cannes experience? It’s a quiet stretch of beach I found a few years back. White, powdery sand; no tourists; no-one. I’m surprised nobody knows of it. It’s really not that far. 
A Cannes hidden treasure? See above. 
Most useful app in Cannes? Google Translate. 
Wished-for celebrity speaker at Cannes? Walt Disney. 
Best creative idea of the past year? Shiseido – "High school girl?"
When in Cannes, be sure to meet...The Leopard Ladies.

Tham Khai Meng is co-chairman and worldwide chief creative officer at Ogilvy & Mather 

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