Fast Company

Does The Ad Industry Really Need A Festival of "Creativity?"

Cannes should award longer-term thinking, AKA, brand building

Last year, The Cannes International Festival of Advertising quietly changed its title. We are now at The Cannes International Festival of Creativity. The word "ad" takes another direct hit. If I had a drink for every time I heard the word ad this week, I would not have finished one bottle of rose. Some hushed conversations going down like a drug deal on a street corner not only defended making ads but actually admitted to loving them - but in a slightly nostalgic way.

When did this industry become ashamed of the business we are all in? And am I showing a stubborn streak by asking this question? I’m not sure I’m comfortable with the vague thought of being in the business of creativity. Is the Cannes Film Festival not in the business of creativity? What about the music industry? I’d like a little more clarity and specificity as to what business we think we are in. Though I do appreciate the continued push to embrace the idea that building a brand is about creativity, not a medium or what we’ve come to know as "ads."

I would suggest this is nothing new. Titanium work was being done long before new technology and social media. Take The Macy’s Day Parade created in 1924. A brilliant brand-building creative idea. Not an ad but a piece of creative that is still building a brand today. Let’s commandeer the start of the biggest shopping month of the year with the ultimate shopper, Santa Claus, showing up on our doorstep in Herald Square. Now, that's an act.

I worry that if we created The Macy’s Day Parade today, we would do it for one year and then ask, “What will we do next year?” Because repeating an idea certainly doesn’t seem very creative. Not to mention, it has very little chance of being awarded twice. However, if you are trying to build a brand with this idea, you might be inclined to keep investing in it.

It is ironic to me that we are in a business that frequently creates campaigns to encourage recycling and conservation. Yet, we are the first to throw away ideas because they’ve been done before or because we’ve grown tired of them. Interestingly, Malcolm Gladwell’s "better-to-be-number-three-than-number-one" seminar nodded to this very thing. Watch what number one does and then do it better. Perhaps that is why we shouldn’t be in the business of creativity. Because that demands that we start over. I would suggest we are in the business of building brands through creativity. We will make slightly different choices if Cannes awards brand building through creativity versus creativity in a vacuum. Brilliant brand building creates equity, and equity has huge value.

More people from more diverse industries showed up this year than ever before. Because this week isn’t about the ads anymore. It is about a business called brand building. And it’s time we got back to taking that seriously.

Susan Credle is Chief Creative Officer at Leo Burnett USA.

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