Are we putting too much stock on 'do gooder' marketing?

Are we putting too much stock on 'do gooder' marketing?
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The 60th Anniversary of Cannes had many highs, and also lows. Great work, inspiring people and a small concern we really do think we’re curing cancer. Which we’re not, by the way.

There were four main themes that dominated the award-winning work, and probably just as importantly, the conversation.

The first two were scale and content, the poster child of which was, undoubtedly, Dumb Ways to Die. The infectious jingle was so popular that Palais audiences clapped along each and every time the campaign was awarded; the design of the hapless dummies so endearing you wanted to go and stick a knife in a toaster just to join in on the fun. It’s an incredibly snackable piece of entertainment that wowed the world and left everyone wanting their own Dumb Way to Die… Ros√© seemed to be the method most were experimenting with.

The third theme involves our ability as an industry to generate creative uses for new technology. There was the World’s Most Powerful Arm, solar magazine ads that charge your phone, outdoor posters that have a secret message for abused children and laser-etched placards designed specifically for an ant rally. All brilliant stuff.

But it was probably the fourth theme that generated the most awards, and indeed the most scrutiny – that of advertising designed to save the world in one way or another.

Led by the admirable, but on the whole almost indecipherable, Chimera Awards, there seemed to be a desperate desire at Cannes this year to highlight how advertising can ‘do good’. This reflects the increasing pressure brands – and the agencies that support them – face from consumers to do something meaningful in the world. Pressure almost exclusively driven by social media.

I wholeheartedly believe advertising can and should do good and that embracing social causes can, in some cases, influence customers to be more loyal. That said, I do not believe it is at the heart of marketing, and an idea should not be diminished because it doesn’t save the world. If it can, great. But you could be forgiven, leaving the south of France this year, for thinking your dishwashing liquid brand better start saving a third world village somewhere and fast if it is to succeed.

The posturing of certain brands that claim to be helping make the world a better place – when a quick glance at the reality of their business tells a very different story – does leave a somewhat bitter taste in my mouth. But that was not for me to judge this year.

I was in a position to judge the seminars however, and went with high expectations – not just because the line-up was filled with names I admire, but also because I felt sure Cannes would add extra sizzle in an anniversary year. The reality was a little underwhelming.

Of course I did not see every seminar, but the conversations surrounding them were almost universal. Intermittently inspiring at best. Self-serving sales pitches at worst. Certainly there were moments of genuine transcendence, but a flaw in the current format meant they were few and far between – creative people should not be conducting these interviews.

Creative people are good at being creative. Creative celebrities however, should be interviewed by professional interviewers who dig in and deliver value to the audience, then quickly get out of the way. In the case of Vivienne Westwood, the current format fundamentally ruined what could have been a great seminar. This was not the interviewer’s fault. I’m sure he’s an exceptional creative in his own right, but in this capacity he just got in the way.

Despite the criticisms however, Cannes is still the most inspiring and motivational week a creative person can experience each year. It is a true celebration of creativity in the company of some of the most talented and intellectually demanding people in the world.

Make no mistake; this is the Olympics of advertising. There are international events elsewhere, but none of them bring together the best – both in work and character – like Cannes does. Clients come away transformed, and creative people come away hungry to succeed at a higher level.

Certainly this year I admire the desire for advertising to show it can, under the right circumstances, produce ideas that genuinely advance the human condition. I believe I’ve been involved in work that has done this in the past and would leap at the opportunity to do so again in the future.

I just hope it’s truly meaningful, and not some lipstick on a warthog.

Paul Nagy is ECD at Clemenger BBDO Sydney.

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