Cannes Lions 2016: The awards are about being big – but is big overrated?

Matthew Heath
Cannes From The Air - The 67th Annual Cannes Film Festival
The Cannes message has always been clear: go big, or go home (Source: Getty)

Size has always mattered at Cannes. It’s the biggest celebration of creativity in communications in the world, famous for attracting the biggest names to its keynote speeches from celebrities and politicians to advertising legends. It’s about big ideas. Big data. Big, bold brand promises.

Even the after parties are industry competitions to play the best music, from the loudest speakers, serving the most impressive cocktails and canapes on La Croisette. The Cannes message has always been clear: go big, or go home.

But, as we approach this year’s festival, the questions on delegates’ lips are the very same ones we’re now asking of brands: is it too big? Is it too impersonal? Are these experiences so far from my own that they don’t resonate with me? Will I get anything useful out of this content, delivered in huge auditoriums crammed with ad executives scribbling down the same so-called gems?

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In the past, the marketing challenge has been to create a brand which people aspire to, and strive towards. Today, the aim is to close that gap and reassure consumers that, instead of being slightly ahead of them, their brand is right there next to them on their journey, making the trials and triumphs of modern life easier and more enjoyable.

However, the fact that so many “deletist” consumers are now severing links with brands suggests that few are getting this transition right. Recent research from the Aimia Institute shows that seven in 10 Britons are shutting accounts and subscriptions, and “unfriending” companies, because of poorly targeted communications.

The way to get closer to consumers, and create meaningful bonds with them, is by being relevant and personal. You can have all the big data in the world, with all the deep analysis tools and real-time technologies at your fingertips. But if you don’t use them to handcraft a message which resonates with an individual, you will be deleted.

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Delta Airlines is a good example of reinvention as an “individual” brand. It diverted its marketing investment to power the personal touches, like analysing customers’ inflight behaviour, attitudes and social media activity. So is Toyota, with its fascinating move to generate thousands of different versions of its ad, depending on a viewer’s Facebook information and personal preferences.

I’m hoping that it will not only be the big gestures, the expensive ideas that we hear about at Cannes. Like in any relationship, the beauty is often in the small details.

The same is true of Cannes itself. Its charm, and the reason we go back year after year, is because of the re-ignition of an old connection you meet in a corridor queuing; a random conversation with a stranger, as you sit in the auditorium waiting for the main event to start; or an impromptu, free-flowing conversation, over France’s free-flowing finest, after the official sessions have long finished.

Big is increasingly overrated. Small, intimate and personalised is the new big. And it will be interesting to see how Cannes deals with this dichotomy.

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