Celebrating on Shaky Ground – Ryan Hunter

Hello Maxus…Maxonians…Maxites?

I write to you for the first time from our apartment in Cannes. The sounds of Vespa’s and old Parisian men hacking up decades of smoke into the streets permeating the air from beneath our living room window. I could stare at the window coverings across the street for ages, but there is work to be done so let’s get at it.

Being that this is my first time attending the festival, it’s not lost on me that it would be strange to write about how the festival its self is changing – so I won’t do that. I simply want to highlight what does feel abundantly clear to me in this wonderful experience and that is that we are all here celebrating on shaky ground. While the mood and buzz around the city has been predictably positive and inspirational; there does appear to be far more broad philosophical discussions surrounding HOW to proceed as an industry rather than more practical debates on what constitutes great work and the creation of award winning strategy.

The business is changing—perhaps more quickly than was anticipated by many. That much is clear and we’re all aware of this based on some of the recent, necessary and pragmatic structural shifts from within WPP. Further, it has been highlighted this week by thought leaders such as Sir Martin Sorrell – and by Publicis’ decision to pull out of the festival entirely – that perhaps extravagant and expensive celebrations such as these do not set the right tone against the undeniably uneasy climate surrounding our industry at the moment. This discussion evokes the question: should we dance while Rome is burning?

In this first timer’s view, let’s dance. Let’s shake that ground further. Not because Rome is burning, but rather because it only appears to be going through the infrastructure overhaul long since predicted by the Digital revolution. This overhaul should excite us, not make us question the feasibility of our continued existence and viability as a business model. We enter this business as challenge seekers, risk takers and innovative thinkers. We don’t shy away from controversy and stirring the pot, we embrace it. The rapid evolution of and adjustments to the mechanisms by which we deliver great work and impactful solutions to business challenges should not change that method.

I’ve arrived at this conclusion largely a result of spending long hours in the Palais dungeon this week viewing collections of some of the best work from around the Globe and attending many insightful panel discussions. While I am certainly inspired by it, the nature of all of that great work is undeniably changing. This year, much of the best has been focused on the principle of doing more with less, disrupting the status quo and bringing advertising ever further into the territory of invited – if even uninvited and subversive – influence versus traditional megaphone tactics to reaching our consumers. These trends have long been acknowledged from within our industry, but all do feel as though they are finally becoming the basis for our complete reality as marketers/advertisers.

It further appears that those taking hold of the opportunity to do great work within the boundaries of new technology and innovation in the industry are not those with the greatest budgets.

Rather, charities and smaller/economically challenged pieces of business seem to have been quite nimble in their adaptation of the full scale of technology currently available at their disposal. To echo commentary from the week: where are those top 10 ad spenders in the fold? Do they too need to wait for their backs to be against the wall in order to fight back?

It would seem that much of the industry has become content to simply play it safe in the face of a changing landscape. We hope to wait out change and adapt on proven applications of data/tech. The issue inherent to this being that change waits for no one and the nature of the Digital landscape is such that it is problematic to continue playing within the glut of cookie cutter activations largely ignored by a new generation with established ad blockers (both literal and attitudinal). We cannot be content to wait for the perfection of technology in order to take hold of all the innovation currently at our feet as even proven technology will constantly be reinvented at an ever rapid pace.

As I feel I’m at risk of delving into the realm of ranting on a street corner (although even those who do so here have a sense of elegance to them), I want to leave on a highly positive note gleaned from my experience at Cannes for all of you that currently feel tension in the air. This planner’s perspective is that we as brand custodians cannot – in the best interest of our masters – stand still and stubborn in the face of change. It will march forward without and eventually in spite of us. Therefore, we must push the envelope and reignite our collective creative fire – as so many entrants to the festival have this year. Absorb from this great work, as I have, and push forward in your day-to-day. If we don’t let creativity and innovation continue to helm the wheel of progress, we may actually end up finding ourselves dancing as Rome burns.