by Michael O'Neill
June 19th, 2013

This year’s Cannes Lions is in full flow, and the great and the good of the agency world are gathered on the Cote d’Azur for the annual celebration of advertising creativity.

Or are they?

Looking at the speaker line up over the past several years, it is safe to say that the days of creative directors and agency heads presenting to, erm, creative directors and agency heads are long gone. Sure, the agencies are still there, and in greater numbers than ever, but they are sharing the stage with media agencies, media owners, brand marketers and even PR.

Indeed, the biggest draws at Cannes Lions in recent years have been the likes of Bill Clinton, Robert Redford, Patti Smith, Malcolm Gladwell, even Yoko Ono; and from this year’s line up Gloria Steinem, Sean Combs, Conan O’Brien and Lou Reed. These speakers have little or nothing to do with traditional advertising but everything to do with great branding and communications, complemented by a sizeable amount of creativity.

To a lesser extent, this trend is also noticeable at the award show. While the traditional advertising categories — Film Craft, Design and Press — rightly remain and throw up some stellar examples of creative marketing (and, thankfully, a little less scam), newer categories such as PR, Mobile and Branded Content show how much wider the communications net is being thrown. Similarly, the standout campaigns from recent years — think ‘Best Job in the World‘, ‘Obama for America‘, ‘Decode Jay Z with Bing‘, and this year’s big favourite ‘Dumb Ways to Die‘ — have been great integrated communications campaigns, rather than advertising in the conventional sense of the word.

All of this is great for the marketing industry. The public face of advertising has for too long existed in a bubble, patting itself on the back at award shows, often for work that does nothing to grow a client’s business. At the same time, other marketing disciplines have been painfully slow to step up and recognise – celebrate even – their creativity and thinking. Cannes Lions shows how the marketing communications industry is evolving, nudged of course by the reality of a marketing world led not just by advertising, but also branding, PR, activation, media, digital and more.

Closer to home, events organisers have been slower to change, although the potential is clearly there. Adfest, fun as it may well be, feels like an anachronism and looks in no hurry to shed its reputation as a jolly in Pattaya for Japanese ad men. Spikes Asia – run by the same team behind Cannes Lions in a joint venture with Haymarket – is without question taking the lead. Although there is still too much emphasis on global and regional ad agency heads talking shop, the signs for the future are good, and with the Cannes Lions setting an exciting precedent, the expectation is that Asia will soon get the creative communications festival it deserves.

Michael O’Neill is digital managing editor, Asia Pacific, at Weber Shandwick

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