Insights from Cannes – Do we ask the question WHY enough?

Cannes was full of lots of great debates, insights and good stuff generally – and some inspiring creativity. But it’s also about good business and how great thinking is helping global brands perform better.

The downside is that it’s also a massive trade fair, with people trying to sell everything you can imagine. Which means it attracts a lot of people who jump on bandwagons and recite the latest jargon to make a pitch.

Every evangelist is claiming their fad is the next big thing and everything else is dead – nothing defines a moron in marketing more than that script. (In America, I am told, they call them “bandwagoners”.) Intelligent people never dismiss things without evaluation.


It was about 2am outside the Gutter Bar (that’s a bit of context to add to my story) that I challenged one guy preaching ‘story telling‘ as the next big thing. I’m not knocking it, I’ve used it myself, but it has a place and a limited one, and needs to be done incredible well to have any impact. And it isn’t new.

So how and WHY does story telling sell I asked? “Because people like stories.” They like cake too, so does writing a message on a cake sell? Kids like stories, we like to tell each other stories, but do you really want to hear about the story of yoghurt? (I have actually researched this and people don’t.) [SILENT REPLY, TAKES A SLUG OF BEER]

And how do you propose you are going to grab people’s attention long enough to tell this story when the average person has an attention span these days of a few seconds, I asked? Why should they give you their valuable time? [SILENCE WHILE HE THOUGHT..DRUNK MORE BEER]. It’s hard enough to get simple ideas across, let alone long-winded ones, I added.

And, given the millions of existing stories online, how do you propose your story about toilet cleaner , photocopiers or glue will be more interesting? “You have to find the story in the product,”  he replied. What if there isn’t an amazingly interesting story, I asked? [SEEING AN OLD FRIEND, HE MADE HIS EXIT]

I don’t doubt story telling is an effective methodology if you have an engaged audience, but please use some common sense and evaluate when it will work, know how it works and be able to make it work. Ask the questions, especially why? Not just run around claiming it’s the solution to everything – we all know the story about a man with a hammer.

It’s a classic syndrome of the industry hanging its hopes on techniques rather then emotionally engaging ideas.

You see the same with technology, “everyone needs an app.” Yep apps are brilliant, they can be very useful, but only if you’ve done your research, got insight and able to meet a need. And then packaged it well. Of course that’s after you’ve asked the question, why do you need an app anyway?

And even if these trends take off, many are short lived – when was the last time you did a Podcast? If I was a client I’d sit back, let others experiment, and wait to see the evidence before I spent my hard earned dollars.

What Cannes did show us was that in the age of the ideas economy, whatever the channel, platform, data, technology or technique, you still need a brilliant engaging creative idea to make your marketing work. Some things will never change!