Creativity is awesome

As a Cannes first-timer, I had a few superficial expectations. I was expecting rosé, I was expecting madmen and I was expecting to be inspired by beautiful work. What I hadn’t expected as we rolled into Cannes was the total tech takeover. I guess they have the money to spend but it surprised me that the town, the Palais and the beach all seemed to be sponsored by Silicon Valley. Also VR. So much VR.

We were in town mainly for Lions Innovation, with a couple of stands in the startup village, so I figured there’d been a pretty significant evolution from the event that started as a celebration of the makers of advertising films in 1954.

This is a festival in transition, representing an industry in transition. But Cannes still proudly lives and breathes creative excellence, and so it should. Creativity is essentially responsible for all of human progress (according to Teresa Amabile). So this should be one hell of a celebration.

As expected, there was some very, very cool work heading home with metal lions. Some of my favourites:

I had a bunch of provocative chats with some super-bright folks into the early hours. I sat in on some interesting talks (in between playing with the VR toys) on things like “creativity and data” and “acting like a startup”. I started to remember my agency days before I went startup – getting paid to think creatively – through rosé-tinted glasses.

Yep. Creativity is awesome. And it matters. Right…?

Creativity enables value
I agree with Sir John Hegarty, founder of BBH, when he said,

“We’ve got to remember that technology enables opportunity, but it’s creativity that enables value.”

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And hidden within that statement is a pretty serious implication for creatives in marketing…
If creativity enables value, our creative endeavour – how and where we apply our creativity – needs to be accountable for fully realising the potential value of innovative technologies.

So how are we doing?

As I arrived in the innovation space in Palais 2 I was immediately directed to the “coolest thing” on the stand. A “hologram” – actually a spinning strip of LEDs – of the slimer that got Venkman (“I feel so funky”). It’s really clever and I love it for the smarts that went into designing it, but it’s kind of just a better version of a shelf wobbler right?

Even ING’s The Next Rembrandt, which is an awesome example of tech craftsmanship and deserved a Grand Prix on that basis. But it’s primary purpose is still to grab people’s attention, which for me kind of undersells the potential value of AI to marketers and sits pretty comfortably in v1.0 of marketing and publicity stunts. Referring back to Sir John’s quote, the value opportunity this technology enables is far greater than what was realised.

There’s a concern I’ve had for a while, reinforced here, that the creativity we most value and most comfortably celebrate as an industry is still in the attention-seeker paradigm. Too often “innovation” in agencies seems be about finding new tools and toys for the creative department.

Marketing technology and innovation needs to think bigger than just props for ads and new ways to get noticed.

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The great promise of technologies like AI, the physical web and materials science isn’t going to be realised from inside the attention-seeker paradigm. The future of marketing isn’t in hijacking eyeballs; its things like service and experience design, invisible data-driven decision making, frictionless access and distribution.

A bigger creative opportunity
We’re creating on a much bigger canvas now. So much more is possible, if we can start to think beyond what we know and avoid defining ourselves by our current capabilities. Are we here only to create beautiful work that captures attention? That might be part of the answer but I’d argue the reason we exist and the reason we create is to grow mutually beneficial relationships between business and people. The future value of our creativity to clients will depend on how broadly we define our craft and how effectively we can evolve out of the attention-seeker paradigm towards something based more on valuable interactions and a focus on relationships rather than transactions.

Which brings me to the other cashed-up insurgents on the beach: the consultants.

Accenture Interactive now ranks as the world’s biggest digital agency network. Its revenue rocketed 70.8% in the U.S. and 57.8% worldwide for the fiscal year ended August 2015. Of the world’s five largest digital agency networks, only one is owned by an established agency company: No. 5 Wunderman, owned by WPP. [Tweet this]

If we continue to silo our creative expression we’re limiting our value to clients and leaving a lot on the table. And leaving a gaping hole for somebody with a more relevant offering. The time to act is now.

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About Sandpit Lab
We partner with the industry innovators to define, design and build next generation marketing tech. Things like WeSeeThrough and A Million Ads – both of which were with us at Cannes.

Rather than innovating from the outside-in, we start by sitting down with the innovators inside the world’s leading brands to identify the high impact opportunities most worth tackling. We scan the market for what exists. If we find the right answer we introduce it; if we don’t, we build it.

We exist to enable the intrapreneurs and innovators within big business to realise their big ideas.

About me
Kiwi in London. Co-founder and Head of Sandpit Lab. A career marketer, starting client-side (Amex, HSBC), then agency-side (O2, Volkswagen Group, Unilever, Guinness) before jumping ship into the startup world in 2011, via Hyper Island, the d.school at Stanford and a Lean Startup Machine win. Dad to Will.

Author The Sandpit Team

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