'It's Cannes, Jim, but not as we know it'


Have you heard? Cannes is changing. In a bid to keep pace with a world that reinvents itself every three months, they have been doing some housekeeping. New Lions are being introduced, and some old favourites are being retired.

One of the Lions being put out to pasture is the Cyber Lion. Cyber, it seems, is old hat now, and it wasn’t ‘new hat’ for very long at all. According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, the word first came into use in 1992, the same year that saw other achingly modern terms such as ‘homepage’ and ‘HTML’. It’s hard to believe that in 1992 you could have told somebody about your home- page and they would have asked “what’s that?”.
In truth it is the analogue world that is being retired. There may still be a few places left where you have an old man with a bucket of paste putting up posters made of paper, but there can’t be many.
About the only thing we can predict with confidence about this new world is that there will be far more women represented and people of colour. Make no mistake, there will be more in the jury room and in your creative organisations. The momentum in this direction is now unstoppable, and quite right too. Enough talking already. Let’s go to it. One of the new Lions is Social and Influencer. This is timely because one of the more interesting stories to hit the radar recently was the meteoric rise of one particular influencer called Lil Miquela. She’s huge on Instagram, with over a million followers. She hit the headlines when another influencer, called Bermuda, accused Lil Miquela of not being real. This upset Lil Miquela, because she assumed she was real. It turned out Bermuda was right: Lil Miquela is a totally artificial digital avatar. But then so is Bermuda. It’s a bit like Westworld: it’s hard to tell who is an android ‘host’ and who a human ‘visitor’. But then, as one Westworld ‘host’ said, “If you can’t tell the difference, does it matter if I’m real or not?”. Certainly Lil Miquela’s Instagram followers don’t seem to care. Another new Cannes Lions recognises e-commerce. The pace of change here makes a tsunami look slow. Ask most people and they will guess that the biggest player in the category is Amazon. But China’s Alibaba is twice the size. The Chinese equivalent of Black Friday is Singles Day, held on November 11. In 2017 an astonish- ing$25bnwasspentinoneday.It was bigger than Black Friday and Cyber Monday combined. Crazy or what?
It seems to me we are seeing the end of traditional advertising and moving into a role that is harder to define. In future it looks like we may become purveyors of branded dreams. Brands will be tempting us with digitally created 3D immersive experiences.
Amazon is working on a project called Sumerian which will offer us the ability to create 3D VR worlds using a drag-and-drop interface in our own browser window. But 3D headsets may be just an interim solution, soon to be retired along with the Cyber Lion. Facebook is already trying to figure out a way of typing using thought control. The stage beyond that is BCI, or Brain-Computer Interface.
You will no longer be shown ads, they will just emerge in your consciousness. It means that you can have other people’s experiences, fully authentic and believable. From giving birth to travelling in space, or falling in love. Or how about achieving, in seconds, the deep Zen meditative state that leads to Nirvana? Brought to you in business class on Japan Airlines.
This strikes me as good news for ad people. Form most of our lives there was one downside to working in advertising: a lot of people found us annoying. We lied about our profession at parties.
Imagine how different it would be if you handed out a business card that said branded dream imagineer. People would say, “Oh wow! Which ones have you done?”, or “Have you got the instant Zen Nirvana one?”. Our wares might become more appealing than the movies traditionally screened at Cannes the month before we arrive. Wouldn’t that be something! As a famous pointy-eared Vulcan might say, “It’s Cannes Jim, but not as we know it.” And in the background a voice booms: “Live long and prosper”.

Harriet Palmer