At Cannes last week, there was much discussion about the influx of Big Tech, with many fretting that its presence meant the festival has lost its creative focus. But while these new players might make it harder to get a good dinner reservation, they are also an indication that our creative circle is expanding, improving our industry and keeping us — and the Cannes Lions — relevant.
A quick look at this year’s speakers and winners make clear how these new players are giving our industry the opportunity to make a real impact on the world. Whether it is designing new ways to fight iron deficiency or helping NASA fight asteroids, we have scaled our ability to impact through partnerships, especially with tech partners. And those tech giants need us as well – innovation is not just about tools, it is about having creative minds and creative technicians who can make sure new tools have real impact. And it is only with a spirit of collaboration and partnership, not a fear of new players, that we will elevate these new tools from supporting a brand to changing the way we live.
Yes, my experience at Cannes was markedly different in 2015 than it was in years past. Gone is the cozy industry party where everybody knows your name. Now we have Martin Sorrell being feted by Sheryl Sandberg. There are more and more celebrities each year. And the flashy parties of the tech giants and startups at times seemed a little desperate. But I am excited to see, in the Lions Innovation award winners especially, that the collision of all of these parties is resulting in new partnerships that are committed to changing the world, not just selling to it. Of course, this is a trade show at heart, and we were being pitched left and right about vertical videos and Facebook autoplay. But the bigger picture is huge. This is about paving the road to a better world through partnership.
Our recent work in VR has shown me the power of passionate collaboration. One of our own directors, David Mellor, took to the Innovation stage this year alongside R/GA’s ECD Jay Zasa, whom we had worked with on a Google Cardboard VR project for Volvo last year. Speaking broadly on the creative realities of virtual reality, they noted how vital collaboration is to playing with new tech. When you have such a novel storytelling medium like VR come on the scene, it raises a lot of questions: Which VR headset will best execute our message while getting it to the right audience? Do we shoot in live action or CG, and does it matter? Once we decide that, how much research, development, and prototyping needs to be done? How will all that prototyping reshape the creative brief over and over again, and how can we work together ? In our case, all these questions made the silo model null and void, and brought together agency, production house, brand, and tech company as true co-creators from start to finish. You could sense a resounding "yes!" from the audience, as well.
But this palpable need for creative collaboration at the festival went far beyond technologies like VR that are already available for the mass market. When you consider the Cannes lineup – both at Innovation and the original festival – it was filled with tech of the future that can be much harder to wrap your head around – robots, AI and Audi’s moon rover.
On Day Three, we witnessed web creator Sir Tim Berners-Lee on stage with PHD’s Mike Cooper discussing the inevitable reality of AI controlling business decisions and Virtual Personal Assistants improving day-to-day mishaps – none of which will be possible if we don’t submit our data to the world. That submission of data not only could bring about a fear of privacy breach, but also a fear of creativity breach.
But instead of seeing that data as a barrier to creativity, we must embrace it as just another platform that will force us to think differently, play differently and work differently – while bringing new partners along for the ride. Even some of the most "traditionally" creative people at the festival showed the least fear and said it best: We are entering a Creative Renaissance. Data simply gives us a framework with which to create art.
The Festival proved to me that this is a great time to be in our business. I was especially excited by the work coming out of the new Innovation Lions, including Pepper the "emotional robot" and chopsticks that test for contamination. Does it matter if Silicon Valley, NASA or BBDO introduces a brilliant idea or technology? Or does it matter how the technology or idea impacts our lives?
So let’s stop whining about the new people arriving to the party. Cannes is not the Festival of Advertising, it is the Festival of Creativity, and we should embrace anyone who belongs in that circle.
Jon Collins is president of integrated advertising (worldwide) with Framestore.