Is it me... or is the Gold Lion for Prudence not so far off?

Cartoon 4 July 2011 Poolside.jpg

In 2009, I sat and watched mournfully as the tumbleweed rolled across the Cannes beachfront as the industry limped through recession. Two years later, the tumbleweed was gone yet the beach remained. Except now, somewhat inexplicably, it was sponsored by Google. Make no mistake about it, the industry is back.

The Croisette was heaving, the terraces packed, and The Gutter was opening its loving arms to pilgrims from all over the world. Yahoo, perhaps desperate not to let Google steal a march with their beach coup, was even paying for middle aged graffiti artists to spray the French Riviera's beloved waterfront.

It seemed companies were once again eager to be associated with Cannes, they just hadn’t quite figured out why, or how. Anyway, let them worry about that, I was just happy to see the place buzzing again.

However, under the sheen of ‘corporate creativity’ and well appointed industry folk, the conversation was well and truly focused on one topic: mark ups. Yep, mark ups and money.

What a drag. I’ve been lucky enough to have had some time in the inner sanctum of the Film Festival and even in its darkest days, when the top directors and producers couldn’t find funding anywhere, film makers still raved about the creative. Sure, they discuss budgets. But not as much as they talk about the work: what’s new, what’s worked, who’s coming through and who are they replacing. The Cannes Film Festival is an event where scripts are still being written, ideas are excitedly exchanged and new co-productions are set up over breakfast.

Back in the advertising world, I just didn’t hear enough conversation about creativity and the way it could shape the future. It was all about dollars and cents. There were no producers writing novels on the side, no directors opening bio-organic gardens to feed the homeless of Kensal Rise, and few creatives who wanted to talk about creativity outside the envelope.

Of course throughout the week lectures raged and the seminars of the mighty Palais positively hummed with the noise of questioning and debate. Yet the foot soldiers of the revolution last seen running up and down Mr Ogilvy’s newly installed red carpet were more concerned with keeping the wheel turning than re-inventing it.

That’s not to say there wasn’t some on display. The Volkswagen “Force”, Homeplus Subway virtual store, and Old Spice interactive – check them out at http://www.canneslions.com - were all deserved winners. For those of you wondering; still no spoof award.

For me, this year’s Grand Prix winner encapsulated this. Nike’s ‘Write the Future’ campaign garnered fantastic results: 1.9 billion online campaign impressions for one. Yet it was the World Cup. And they are Nike. Despite its excellent production values, was it really that far removed from Nike’s last great triumph? I’m not so sure. I think we need to ask: are great works of creativity being knocked off the top by good copies of the good copies that have been winning Lions for years? And are campaign results well and truly trumping creativity?

Then again, can we blame the industry? Conservatism and maintaining mark-ups have been the order of the last few years. Risk taking has been at a premium, so naturally, creativity has suffered. But now the money is slowly returning we need to make sure the creativity returns too.

For some brave souls, it never left. At one summit I met an old friend from Germany who sees a future less aligned to the God of mark-up. He believes: if you build it, they will come. Perhaps, more importantly, he didn’t once want to discuss percentages and loan outs.

In short, everyone needs to regain their creative swagger. We need to start producing daring adverts so good companies can’t help but take a risk on them. We need to once again make creativity the king of the Croissette and ensure squabbling about money is limited to splitting the bill at the Gutter Bar.