Secret Marketer: Don’t get carried away with the ‘Big Ideas’ at Cannes – it’s the simple things that add value

Doing the simple things well and creating value for customers is often better than notions of world-beating creativity, innovation and mega-budgets.

The Cannes Lions festival is nearly upon us, where legends of the ad world swoop down to the French Riviera to network and talk about creativity, storytelling or that old chestnut – ’the Big Idea’.

However, yours truly has never been one of the cool kids, sitting on the yacht in Cannes, drinking daiquiris, or on the main stage with Sir Martin Sorrell. Much to my chagrin, of course.

I love reading and learning about the latest opinions and ideas about creativity from assorted advertising A-listers and the tech elite in Cannes. The brilliance of their strategy. Their incredible ideas. However, it does strike me that this rarified world is quite far removed from the daily marketing grind of brands and budgets. And even company boards.

“It’s supposed to be,” I hear you say. That’s why it’s in the south of France, rather than a hotel in an industrial park. However, I think we often get carried away – me included –and are tempted to sit in our offices, or even on our yachts in the south of France, and dream up schemes and ideas that are not in tune with where our customers are. I’ve spent a lot of time in my career meeting actual customers face-to-face and talking to them. It always strikes me that their world is a little more prosaic and mundane than we marketers envisage while talking about creativity or storytelling.

If you could get inside the head of any CEO or board member at any company I have worked for, I’m pretty sure you’d find that as far as they’re concerned, it’s not all about the big idea, the creativity or the storytelling. It’s almost always about the money. I always remember a former CEO boss of mine telling me that working on the marketing side of the business was the only interesting bit that dragged his mind away from the constant daily hassles of being CEO – and this was a very profitable business.

I’ve made up my mind now that over the next few weeks, whenever I see something emanating from the Côte D’Azur that I or the team start getting excited about, I will make a mental note to myself that opinions are not facts. I will stress the importance of doing the simple things and remember that ideas combined in a new way and executed well, which create value for customers, are often better than notions of world-beating creativity, innovation and mega-budgets.

Of course, if you have spare tickets for Cannes Lions, and maybe an invitation to share a festival stage with a Hollywood A-lister, I am sure I can find space in my diary. Maybe I should start practising some soundbites – just in case.



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