Technology And Advertising, Together At Last

BBH Labs founder Mel Exon reports on a more meaningful relationship blossoming at Cannes.

I suspect 2011’s Cannes Lions festival may be looked back upon as the year advertising and technology agreed to meet and get married on the beach. Sure, previous years have seen tech company attendance (Yahoo! is a regular at the festival) but this year the commitment to one another was unprecedented, visible and visceral.

Unquestionably, the two industries have much still to work out about each other. Nonetheless, the re-branding of that bastion of old school ad cool, Cannes Lions, as a ‘festival of creativity’ this year signaled a broadening mindset. And Facebook’s VP of Global Marketing Solutions, Carolyn Everson, took a big step towards agencies, speaking compellingly about Facebook as a "platform for creativity" and the company’s desire to "stay small and empower agencies." On the very same day, Eric Schmidt was on stage declaring that "hell has frozen over..we would never have thought there was value [in a Super Bowl ad].. We strongly believe advertising has value." Importantly, the brand also picked up a pride of Cannes Lions this year, thus proving again that the appreciation flows two ways.

This shared acceptance spilled out beyond the seminar speeches and awards. Having done some early reconnaissance at last year’s Cannes, Google’s Tom Uglow came to the conclusion that "people want decent wifi and fairy lights". A year later, surveying an array of geeks and ad types happily mingling on the beach at Google’s Creative Sandbox, it’s hard not to agree. Designing a space like this for all comers is laudable, but more than this, the approach said loud and clear that the company values its relationship with the creative community and has something to show them about giving back; about being open, versus closed.

The ubiquitous bottles of Rose lined up on tables along the Croisette may be delightful, but finding uniquely useful, entertaining ways to enhance each other’s experience is a lot more fun and well, different. As John Hegarty’s speech on Friday spelled out, as humans we’re hard-wired to respond to difference: "difference wakes us up". At Cannes this year, advertising and technology finally woke up to one another, properly and in public. I’m looking forward to 2012.

Mel Exon is a Managing Partner of BBH and founder of BBH Labs. Google is a client of BBH.

[Image: Flickr user Giampaolo Macorig]

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