Cannes Lions 2019: BBH will never become a Math men business: Neil Munn 

Munn, Global CEO, BBH, spoke to exchange4media about what’s different at the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity this year and Publicis’ self-imposed exile

e4m by Neeta Nair
Updated: Jun 21, 2019 7:59 AM
Neil Munn

They are back in good numbers after Publicis’ self-imposed exile for a year in 2018 from the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity. Neil Munn, Global CEO, BBH, talks about what is different at Cannes Lions this year.


How does it feel to be back at Cannes Lions this year after the break last year?
It feels good to be back. It is a great place to meet all the big leaders. In fact, when I was a client, about 10 years ago or so, I used to never come to Cannes. Clients didn’t come to Cannes back then, very few did. It was very much an advertising festival for the industry to celebrate advertising. And it has really transitioned significantly in the last five years, with so many clients here now. I used to look at Cannes as an optional choice. It’s not an optional choice any more because you have to take advantage of the opportunities to connect to so many clients, and to keep up with the emerging sort of landscape of technology and techniques, so it feels good to be back.


On the awards front, how have you been faring this time?
It has not been one of our bigger Cannes while we did have a lot of shortlisted stuff. See, Cannes is really dominated by a few creative fireworks, 4 or 5 runners and riders emerge even before Cannes and tend to dominate the awards and then there is the chasing pack. And we are in the chasing pack. Last time, we were here with ‘Nike – Unlimited Stadium’ and ‘Audi Clowns’. They were two fireworks that were at the forefront. This year, we have probably not got those, at least not in terms of jury recognition so far.


Has there been any benefit of staying away from the awards for Publicis? And was it worth?
I think one benefit has definitely been that Cannes is more streamlined this year. And I don’t know all the details about the number of categories, the amount of events, but the fact that it has now been reduced to a Monday to Friday festival I think has been a positive consequence of Publicis’ intervention because it put the spotlight on something which was becoming a little bit flabby. It’s a bit tighter now and it’s a bit more easy to navigate and digest.


But were creative leaders from your agency network unhappy about having to skip awards last year… after all what incentive would creatives have to make great work if there isn't a Lion or Pencil beckoning them? 
Yes, of course. Creative leaders were very disappointed. However, there was significant work around in terms of entries submitted last year in conjunction with the clients, and with production partners. So, we weren’t entirely absent from Cannes last year in terms of the awards and entries. We were absent in terms of presence.


It’s the last day of the festival today. Which were the big campaigns that you were betting on this year?
We had hope for Audi because we continue to do outstanding work creatively and commercially for them, so we got shortlisted on effectiveness in Audi, and it is a very compelling story for BBH and we have done a lot in terms of building that brand and overtaking Mercedes, overtaking BMW in the commercial returns, driven by very smart and consistent marketing and creative brand building. So, we always have hopes for Audi. We always have hopes for Nike. So, we have got a nice experience platform called ‘Go Bangkok’ which is where people can run around Bangkok. And there are geotags all over the city that you collect. It’s a bit like an integration of gaming and running, so people run around the city and they can check their time and see where they stand. It’s a nice new way to add a layer of brand experience to exercise. 


Do you feel you are slowly moving out from the mad men of advertising to the Math men of advertising?
If BBH becomes a technology company, we will be an average technology company at best. However, we are a world class creative company. So, we continue to develop those muscles, but obviously evolve them because the rules of the game are changing. It’s a blend. Today, creativity has to be fueled by data and enhanced by technology. If you are trying to sell creativity to clients, the best way to do it is underpin it with very strong data fuel. We got to make sure that we harness the opportunities that data provides, and we are using it to fuel our creativity, but BBH will never become a Math men business. Perhaps, it will be both mad men and math men, or women.

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