Function and dysfunction in agency-client relations.
Cannes, France-- In seminars and private conversations at Cannes Lions, agency and client bosses moved beyond droning declarations about digital to practical concerns.
On a creative level, agencies are refining skills and embracing the role of inventors as digital continually breaks into smaller pieces.
You can see it in work from digital agencies like R/GA and SapientNitro, from general agencies like CP+B and W+K, and from hybrids like B-Reel, an agency/production company founded 10 years ago in Stockholm that has since expanded to New York, London, and L.A. Its creative technologists, developers, motion designers, and producers worked on "The Wilderness Downtown" for Google/Arcade Fire, a Grand Prix winner that exemplifies the inventiveness of many honored campaigns.
"These days there are so many types of interactive out there," said Jeff Benjamin, CCO of CP+B (left). "What gets lost is the spirit of invention."
Invention, as one can see from the winners, can mean almost anything. The work is stunningly varied: Google's interactive music video, Old Spice's social video campaign, Foot Locker's wiki for sneakers, and many others. What they have in common is that they have nothing in common.
"What used to be the staples, banners and websites, are sort of marginalized. Everything has blown up," said R/GA Chief Creative Officer Nick Law, who helmed the Cyber jury.
But the digital storyline in Cannes is also about steady refinement. The race to new platforms appears to have paused at least for the moment, allowing marketers to let platforms serve the idea.
"We're starting to see some ideas that are not about the newest thing, but are about the best use," said cyber jury member Tiffany Rolfe, ECD at CP+B.
Going Beyond Rhetoric to Give Clients What They Want
Of course, what constitutes "best use" varies considerably depending on the region, compounding the inherent complexity of digital.
"We want to be the most local of the global players," said Keith Weed, CMO at Unilever, on Friday. "If you are going to have a community manager engaging online with Dove in China, it better be the local Chinese team, in Mandarin, not some global team," he said.
Along the same lines, Diageo CMO Andy Fennell (left) described a mobile app the spirits maker built for what he called "semi-smart" phones in Africa - devices with basic data service and small screens.
"We have no interest in Diageo becoming a smart phone app purveyor," Fennell said. "There are people who do it better. But for now this is what we need to go do because we don't want to wait the two years" for phones to improve.
He added, "Until phone companies make smart phones cheap or Silicon Valley figures out where Africa is on a map, we've got a problem."
As always, clients are pushing agencies to better integrate. To make technology better serve Diageo brands like Johnnie Walker, Smirnoff, and Guinness, Fennell wants centralized management of an increasingly fractured network of agencies, technology platforms, and other partners.
"When we talk about working together, that needs to reflect multi-point relationships," Fennell said, adding the agencies that get it right are the ones who invest in their core creative product with new skills rather than buy them or sub them out without client involvement. "We need to get beyond the rhetoric of 360-degree integration. I don't think bolt-on acquisitions work."
Unilever is also eager to unite partners. SVP of marketing Marc Mathieu told ClickZ, "You need to find ways to have people work as teams, as opposed to layers. I don't believe in layers."
And the company's CMO Weed sounded optimistic as he hammered the same point in a talk with WPP Chief Sir Martin Sorrell.
"We engage with multiple agencies, such as specialist agencies in mobile or social," he said. "We will see agencies pulling it together."
Sorrell pushed the burden back to the client. "We can only provide integrated and seamless solutions if a client has a similar organization," he said.
Meanwhile agencies are working harder to bring technologies in-house. On Thursday here, Toronto agency holding company MDC Partners renewed an investing concept it rolled out at Cannes last year. CEO Miles Nadal pledged to fund technology-driven ideas to the tune of up to $1 million in exchange for a stake in the business, but left the door open as to what sort of technologies are preferred (mobile, analytics, social are all fair game). It's telling that the money goes to tech this year, whereas last time around MDC proposed to fund services companies.
Aspirants have until the end of September to send their ideas to MDC, which will make decisions by end of November. It will announce a winner in December.
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Until March 2012, Zach Rodgers was managing editor of ClickZ's award-winning coverage of news and trends in digital marketing. He reported on the rise of web companies, data markets, ad technologies, and government Internet policy, among other subjects.
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