Escape the shackles of false boundaries and start thinking about customer flows

Cannes should be seen as an opportunity to think bigger and break through the lines of marketing.

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Cannes has always been about what we do best, celebrating great work and ourselves, and to do that most easily we draw lines. Only a cynic would suggest it’s commercial interests that drive the existence 30 ever-growing headline categories and a myriad of subcategories like ‘outdoor animated digital screens’, ‘voice activation in radio’, ‘best instruction manual front cover’ or ‘best copywriting in packaging’ – with only one of these is made up by me.

But the truth is we all know great marketing is a song, not a note, nor a beat, not a producer. It’s the sum of its parts. It’s an orchestration of elements, not the celebration of components. But we’ve done all we can to deny this reality, mainly because it’s really hard.

We’ve always been obsessed by lines, we split media from creative, and then every time something new came along we bolted it on, we ended up with agencies just to make stuff for Snapchat (Truffle Pig), we have digital display ad agencies, VR agencies, B2B agencies and you wonder if it helps. The more we divide and conquer and mirror client org charts, the more we lose meaning in the whole. And more than this, we miss the wonderful gaps we could thrive in.

To see the future opportunities we need to understand the past and the history of lines.

We used to have a line in marketing, some was below it, some was above it, while we knew what it represented, few knew it came from financial accounting. Buying mass media came with rebates from media agencies, while more targeted marketing didn’t, so they were separated out on P&Ls.

We have powerful new contexts to seduce and impact people across the built environment.

The internet led to the development of a new line, online and offline, and because online ads could be targeted, could be interacted with, could be tracked, we treated these like very different domains, normally by different teams, with different goals and expertise and culture.

Always restless, we coined a new line, that between brand and performance, because we assumed that brand advertising somehow didn’t “perform” and that no ads designed to make people do something could ever help build a brand. Something so utterly daft and nonsensical, but rarely questioned.

We’ve arranged our entire industry around lines that don’t make any sense. The most clear example today is the line between commerce or retail media and advertising. It made sense before when our role was to drive interest and awareness and eagerness to buy in-store, and then drive interest at or near the point of purchase, which was a place, needing cardboard and retail implementation and signage, different skills, different knowledge, different strategies, like the idea of messages to attract then act.

But three things have happened.

The store is now the entire world, the phone is the shelf and the checkout, the stock rooms are now infinite, price comparison is a search bar not a stroll. Thanks to QR codes or image recognition the world becomes a catalogue we walk around, it means advertising and retail happen in the very same place and moment.

Physical store environments have become digital, shelf edges can now be dynamic screens updated in real time and playing videos, in-store signage tends towards being vast digital display boards, able to both help convert shoppers but also become massive in store media channels place owners can monetise with ads.

Retailers and in fact any company with well trafficked websites are now vast media networks. Banner ads on ecommerce websites are the new Gondola end units. Sponsored search is the equivalent of better, bigger, more visible product facings. As digital screens get thinner, cheaper and connected, they can be thought of as wallpaper that can be affixed to almost any surface. And new equipment like EV chargers, or new taxis or retrofitted spaces like elevators can be viable new digital media networks.

New possibilities

We now face a brilliant torrent of amazing possibilities.

We can make ads that can allow people not just to hopefully glance at and notice, but to buy from. We can go from brand messaging to commerce in one unit, by adding “buy now”.

We have powerful new contexts to seduce and impact people across the built environment. We have integrations via API’s which allow any purchase flow to add on insurance, or care packages, or upsell with new items, or anything we wish just by embedding a snippet of code. We have models like affiliate marketing which mean any interface can become a retail channel with no need to actually hold or even handle the goods.

Now is the time to explore the new spaces, and use our imagination and ambition to explode out of our boxes.

We have new spaces to explore, new screens, new data feeds, new moments to interact, a plethora of places to shorten the purchase funnel, many new opportunities.

We’ve arranged our entire behemoth of an industry around channels, screens, tactics, relationships and not the modern consumer journey. We can now ignore those foundational errors and evolve to think around consumer flows. How can we create compelling series of messages and motivations around how people actually shop? We’ve the best screens we’ve ever know, we’ve interactivity everywhere, we’ve new interfaces like voice or touch or automation, we have rich, real-time data feeds, it’s a fascinating time to think about advertising thinking, we just need to escape the shackles of false boundaries.

Now is the time to explore the new spaces, and use our imagination and ambition to explode out of our boxes.