Post-Cannes Ruminations: What Will Advertising Be Like When It Grows Up?

Gareth Kay at Cannes

‘As an industry we are facing our Kodak moment’

This was the point where I started scribbling down notes during a seminar on the future of advertising at Cannes. With Gareth Kay (Chief Strategy Officer, Goodby Silverstein & Partners), Paul Bennett (Chief Creative Officer, IDEO), John Winsor (CEO/Founder, Victors & Spoils) and Jimmy Maymann (CEO, Huffington Post Media Group) on the panel, by the end no one should have had any doubt as to the fact that advertising needs a complete revamp if we are to survive.

But let’s start at the beginning. Mr. Maymann quoted Adobe & Edelman’s recent State of Online Advertising report which stated that 68% of people find online advertising ‘annoying’ and ‘distracting’ (surprise surprise). Gareth Kay then stood up to give a rousing call to arms to advertising, saying in age where we have so much access to technology, why do we hesitate to create truly brave work? He asked us to get into the hacking mentality if we are to exhibit ‘creative bravery’, because hacking helps us achieve, amongst other things,  the following:

– Remove the gap between commercial imperative and creative solution: we will be forced to create what works because we will be testing in a real environment with real users

Put people at the center: because software that isn’t used by people will have to change its form to the point that it is

– Simplify and get out of the way: because complicated processes have no place if we are to follow the quickest and simplest route to get to a solution

– Helps us move as fast as culture: because we will have our finger on the pulse of what’s going on all the time, thanks to close relationships with customers

– Rediscover a healthy disregard for advertising: because advertising for advertising’s sake will no longer help us achieve our aims.

His advice was therefore for us to stop being advertising people and start being hackers through adapting that mentality.

Paul Bennett started with the story of an Ideo designer who swore he would never again design a product as environmentally unfriendly as a toothbrush he designed that he saw washed up on a shore one day. That mentality has led to Ideo now expanding into designing things like school systems; whether product or education it is all about designing an end-to-end positive experience for users across all environments.

The Innova school system in Peru had Ideo designing its curriculum, classrooms and business models, a complete change from their usual client brief. They are now doing more work that involves designing experiences for communities and spaces as well, such as the service re-design they oversaw for the Dubai Economic Development Authority. It came about after the Princess of Jordan saw Mr. Bennett speak at a TedX event in Dubai about how countries should be designed:

A quote from the Princess of Jordan is worth remembering, about the impact of positive design:

“Design transcends agenda. It speaks to the politics of optimism.”

As he concluded, Paul Bennett also mentioned the importance of saying no: Ideo have evolved to the point that they are able to say no and now work on things they really want to. As Henry Wheeler Shaw said,

“Half of the troubles of this life can be traced to saying yes too quickly and not saying no soon enough.”

(That was a theme that I found popping up in quite a few sessions).

John Winsor spoke about the crowdsourcing model that Victors & Spoils is using to work on briefs; people who aren’t bound by any rules and live in all corners of the world. His advice that we need people to come in and change the industry was also a common refrain throughout the festival. An interesting anecdote was about a freelancer in the Victors & Spoils community based in Istanbul saying he’d get back to working on a brief ‘but right now he had to fight a revolution’ – not something you hear often in the advertising industry in this part of the world; insular ways of working are all too common and in my opinion very unfortunate.

The kind of output you get is also linked to the kind of people who work in the industry: the people who insist on producing television ads are probably not the kind of people you want to tackle all briefs because TV ads, unlike in previous decades, are not always the answer. Gareth Kay also mentioned that we should start focusing on outcomes rather than just outputs; in this example a TV ad might be the output but what we need to look at is what change it is effecting (that applies across all forms of advertising of course).

So, in response to the title of the seminar, ‘What does advertising want to be when it grows up?’, think of hackers, designers, user-focused experiences, the ability to say no, and a diverse workforce. Those are the kinds of people and qualities we should be aiming to represent and gather.

If that happens, a few years from now, who knows – our chances of survival might be higher than they are now.

Posted by Anjali Ramachandran, Head of Innovation


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