While Cannes Burns…

Scott Donaton, Publisher of Advertising Age, wanted sparks to fly from the panel he moderated in Cannes last week. Instead, he could barely muster enough smoke to smudge an industry wallowing in denial.

Here’s what we learned at the high-powered Cannes Debate panel on agency reinvention, which I moderated during last week’s International Advertising Festival: next to nothing.
Here’s what that means: The ad business has a bigger problem than it realizes. Because its leaders refuse to share real learnings and best practices, or to discuss the frustrations they face in reinventing their legacy businesses, there’s little chance of harnessing their collective wisdom to benefit the industry. Which means each player within it has to keep trying to figure it out on their own. That’s a shame.

I can’t help but smile at this scenario. We work in an industry dedicated to passing off utter bullshit as something wholesome and worthy of the customer’s time. Then we go to fancy gatherings in France to celebrate our best bullshit from the preceeding year. Meanwhile the emperor stands alone and naked. Personlly, I’m glad. The brave and the few will move forward from this low point and create better work. As it should be. As for the rest, who really cares?

About David Burn

Co-founder and editor of AdPulp. I wrote my first ad for a political candidate when I was 17 years old. She won her race and I felt the seductive power of advertising for the first time. I worked for seven agencies in five states before launching my own practice in 2009. Today, I am head of brand strategy and creative at Bonehook in Portland, Oregon.


  1. I am in total agreement with your point about not sharing information.
    The whole Cannes thing cracks me up. Anyone who’s worked in this business longer than 5 years remembers when Cannes was a place where BBDO won awards for its latest Pepsi spot (or DDB Chicago for Bud) and all anyone cared about was The One Show.
    Kudos to whoever owns Cannes- you’ve done an incredible job of building that show up and making it the major ad show.

  2. theo kie says:

    Forget the shows. Forget the award ceremonies. Turn the lights off when the last bit of glad-handing is over.
    If all the agency “practices” will work together (no more sniping over the fence between traditional agency and interactive types), I believe the core of our business remains pretty simple:
    Have a good story.
    Tell it well.
    Figure out where your audience will most likely hear it.
    The big question mark lurking in the corner is this – how do we profitably charge clients for telling our stories in all these new “venues”? So far, we’ve stupidly said, “Sure, you can have more storytelling for less.” Ask most business owners, and they’ll tell you that’s a plan for disaster.

  3. John Reid says:

    Common sense and/or conventional wisdom tells us to not let anyone in on our secretes; don’t air the dirty laundry, or whatever cliché is appropriate here.
    But the more transparent a system is, the better it gets. If we’d all talk openly about what we’re doing right–and what’s giving us gurgling ulcers–every agency would do better. And hey, chances are, your agency falls under the “every” category. So if the only cost of making your agency better is pulling some other people up with you, I’d say that’s more than worth it.

  4. daveednyc says:

    Unfortunately, most of us not “privileged” enough to attend Cannes are still forced to give a damn b/c our jobs are on the line — it’s Cannes or be canned…
    And theo kie, you do have a point, but I believe you can never make make a good story out of utter bullshit, no matter how well it’s told.
    The truth is, we’re not telling stories. We’re selling shit. No amount of award shows, punditry, industry panels, marketing treatises or ad blogs (all due respect to Messrs. Burn and Goldgeier) will convince me otherwise.

  5. Of course, we’re selling shit. Lots of it. The question is, can we do so in an elegant manner? “Applied storytelling” certainly increases the odds that we might one day do so.

  6. I know I’m selling shit. Or to paraphrase Y&R, shit well sold.

  7. I thought “Truth Well Told” was McCann’t.
    Or are you para-ing a different phrase?