I was genuinely looking forward to hearing about the speakers at this year's Cannes Lions event. That is, right up until 12:39pm on Wednesday when I got an email telling me about who the first raft were. Then my heart dropped and I instantly took to Slack to rant about the utterly depressing state of our industry.
The 2020 Themes showed great promise. 1,500 people were involved in nailing them. CMOs, brand folk and strategists. They were inspired by "some of the most brilliant and inspired minds in our industry". So far, so good. Sit back, close your eyes and imagine for a second that the rain and wind outside is actually the sound of paradigm-shifting marketing discussions taking place close to the azure waters of the Mediterranean. Only a few short months to go before we're dazzled in equal measure by spectacular keynotes and the (invariably) white legs of men attempting to combine business and beachwear.
So how did we end up with what appears to be, in the most part, unrelatable mega-brands peddling questionable consumer goods (booze, chocolate, burgers, credit and drugs), some with even more questionable ethics (you join the dots here, my solicitor isn't ready for that level of litigation). Is this really the creme de la menthe of our industry? Are these the untouchables whose every word we should be hanging upon?
The level of wince-inducing hypocrisy evident in some of the speaker descriptions is quite astonishing, all delivered without the merest hint of irony by the organisers: "being brave and self aware…to drive double digit growth"….of fast food. Was it only eight months ago that the same conference was championing purpose and responsibility!?
Look, I'm not for a second blaming any of the brands. I work in PR after all and it is highly likely many of our clients will be appearing on stage at some point during the festival too. After all, we do what it takes to get our brands noticed and to deliver upon our ambitious thought leadership programmes. If you're on that big stage, I applaud you for getting there. Blood, sweat and tears went into it, of that I have no doubt.
But surely, dear Lions organisers, there's room on stage for those that sit below the upper echelons? For those with fewer conflicts of interest? For those without the clout and the big budgets? Maybe they will follow in the next tranche and maybe this is all just to get ticket sales going (if that floats your particular flavour of super yacht), but I find it quite strange that in a world which is rapidly moving towards new standards of environmental, social and sustainable responsibility, we're offered up a list of speakers which just don't seem relevant*.
Looking forward to seeing who will be revealed in round two.
*It wasn't ALL bleak….the people behind Doconomy look genuinely fascinating!
Amazon will share how it continues to build a sustainable and authentic brand by focusing on creating the best customer experience in every communication, being self-aware but not self-obsessed, and staying humble.