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Cannes Diary: The lesson I learnt – digitise or die: Ashwani Singla@Cannes Lions 2009

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Cannes Diary: The lesson I learnt – digitise or die: Ashwani Singla@Cannes Lions 2009

Advertising is dead. Long live advertising.

The last few days at Cannes Festival has left me wondering whether I was in a tech conference or an advertising one. There was a time when the likes of Esther Dyson, founder CNet v 1.0 and board member of WPP would be hosting seminars on User Generated Media (she is really one of the early pioneers of propagating the advent of this phenomenon and its implications to the communication world) and the participants and speakers included a range of techies, developers, marketers, etc. etc. You would accidently come across someone from the Advertising world! Those were not the days of ‘digital’ but ‘interactive’.

Alvin Toffler was right about the Future Shock, a change so fast that it would be overwhelming. Certainly the way internet (web 1.0, web 2.0 and now web 3.0) has grown it has been over whelming to many and many are struggling to put their arms around it. What is heartening to see is that the advertising industry has embraced this change with a vengeance and if the enthusiasm and spirit to adopt the ‘digital imperative’ and drive change is same as what I have seen here, the business is going to look very differently a few years from now. There is so much more to learn.

Analogue Advertising is dead. Long live Digital Advertising.

Whether it were the consultants like PwC who predicted the exponential growth of digital spends and the decline of traditional media buys or the medium owners like Twitter, Facebook, Microsoft, Google, they all pointed in only one direction. You can run but you can’t hide from the fact that the consumers spend more time online and less time consuming other media and their sources of information and influence are more online than ever before and growing.

Therefore, it was not very surprising to see the biggies like Steve Ballmer, Microsoft; Eric Schmidt, Google; Biz Stone, Twitter; Linkedin, facebook all showed up at the festival. These are fundamentally publishers that provide the platform for user-generated content besides their own. Since web consumers want to pay nothing or very little for services or consuming the content, somebody has to pay for it. IS it rocket science then to figure that the advertiser wanting the attention of that elusive consumer would HAVE to be the one to PAY. The race for the ‘share of wallet’ is on and the stakes are high. According to PwC, the spend on internet by 2013 will grow from 20% to 31% approximately. Do the math.

It was great to see a lot of case examples, great work and shared experience going around the festival which ignited thought. All you need is an open mind to be a learner. For me these were the AHA! Moments - not the Lions, not the shortlists. To me the Cannes festival has been a confluence of the best and the most creative minds of the communications industry besides the great folks who have been there, done that. All those who will come here as students, will return home taller, sharper and stronger.

So here is the short version of my learning from the festival:

It does not matter whether you are in Advertising, PR, Direct, etc. the convergence of the PC, The TV and the mobile is changing our paradigms and the way ordinary people (consumers or target audiences to marketers) consume information is changing.

While their beliefs may be the same, the sources of influence have also changed. It is a connected and ‘on-demand’ world with real time ‘information exchange’ and ‘collaboration’ taking place among netzines.

There are multiple points of connection (print, TV, OOH, Outdoor, Mobile, Internet, Cinema, etc. etc.) so attention spans will be limited (there is still hope for analogue communication!) and marketers we will have to move from generating ‘top-of-mind recall’ to ‘top-of-the-pop engagement’. It would insufficient to be able to recall, brands will have to earn the trust and respect of its consumers.

Those who disrespect this trust will be punished and their stories will spread across the net like wild fire. On the other hand, those who do what is ‘RIGHT’ will be rewarded not only by adoption but by advocacy and endorsements and their stories will spread like wild fire. This advocacy will be the ‘currency’ that will need to be earned by brands.

This has implications on content creation, placement and promotion. Content that is transparent, credible and becomes the ‘social glue’ will be key to success! Take one look at the campaigns that are standing apart here at the Cannes Festival and you will know what I mean.

I hope you have enjoyed reading this as much as I have enjoyed sharing my learning with you.

[Ashwani Singla is the Chief Executive, Genesis Burson-Marsteller. He blogs at ]


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