Sometimes it's OK for it not to be about the work

Every now and then a year comes along when the real world eclipses industry conversations, writes the managing director of TBWA\Chiat\Day New York

This year, I was surprised by how little all my Cannes conversations were about the work. It seems, at the Festival of Creativity, we talked about everything but. 

Maybe it's because we couldn't identify a standout stage-dominating, "Holy sh*t, I can’t believe what I just saw" piece that typically accompanies the rosé flowing late into the night with clients, press and colleagues.


The funny thing is, there was loads of provocative work that wasn’t being discussed. 

Let’s look at REI. What retailer in their right mind would close their stores on the busiest shopping day of the year? Brilliant PR move or bad business move? Discuss! (For the record, I think it was 100% brilliance.)

How did Harvey Nichols pull off the one of the craziest and smartest of films for a reward app?! (No one cares about reward apps.) Discuss!

What do we make of brands that have never set foot in Cannes (Glade & Ziploc), yet shine with the brilliance most of us expect from start-ups or repeat winners? Discuss!

And what of the genius of identifying top, young surgeons in Japan by studying their dexterity through a series of tests making microscopic sushi, origami cranes and insects? Discuss!

OK. Now that I have gotten that off my chest, I’ll move on to what was being talked about in lieu of the creative work that sent us to Cannes in the first place.  

There was lighthearted chatter about Goop and whether Gwyneth Paltrow was out of touch with reality or really in touch with a more premium audience.

There was wonderment — and a slightly creepy conversation — about Samsung & "Sleep No More"’s sensory VR experience. It mixed real world and VR together, providing unbelievably surreal moments that tripped people out.

And we talked about the sheer number of players creating content and commoditizing it.

But that wasn’t all.

Orlando. We talked about Orlando.

We noticed, really noticed, the extra security scattered throughout the city. We were wondering if it was true that some agencies had pulled back their attendance at Cannes for fear of a terrorist attack.

We were discussing Brexit and the implications for the EU, the UK and the individuals gathered at Cannes who were disappointed in their people and in their country.

We discussed Trump, and whether Brexit was a precursor to decisions America might make this fall.

We were scared. We were worried. We were slapped with reality. We were philosophical. We were interested in understanding the "Why" behind it all. We became painfully aware of how far away we are from the world we thought we lived in.  

There was a sadness at Cannes this year. And a realization that, at this time next year, things would probably be different. We will be more personally affected by the worlds’ events than we have been, and that will be reflected in the work.

These real-world conversations with people from all pockets of the industry were really hard. We couldn’t lock ourselves in a room and crack it the way we crack a business problem. So, we left unsatisfied and unsettled.

And while many of us in this industry would agree it's always about the work, I imagine we would all agree that when major political, economic and societal shifts are happening in the world, it's perfectly OK for it not to be about the work at all. That is, so long as we go back home, lock ourselves in a room  and try to crack these issues like a business problem.

I’m encouraged by the six holding-company CEOs who sat on a panel with Ban-Ki Moon to pledge their support for the UN’s sustainable development goals. That’s a start. And then maybe next year we’ll all have something to talk about.

Nancy Reyes is managing director of TBWA\Chiat\Day New York.

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