Top ten reasons social media should not (and will not) kill traditional advertising

Image Credit: Easy Art

I spent the week at the Cannes International Advertising Festival and came away greatly encouraged. Not only did the Festival team (led by Terry Savage and Philip Thomas) do an amazing job but I was impressed by how well the event captured the latest expression of the marketing world. With all the excitement (and, yes, hype) around social media, one might expect this bastion of traditional advertising to take a defensive posture and shun social media, or at least to be a little out of touch. The opposite was true. Not only did the work and seminars fully embrace the potential of social media, but agencies and clients demonstrated real engagement with the marriage of the two. So I thought I’d use my experience of this year’s Festival as a way to explain why traditional advertising is more relevant than ever.

1. IT’S ABOUT THE IDEA: Whether it’s an uber traditional ad spot like Nike’s World Cup spot, ‘Write the Future’, or the Cyber Grand Prix-winning Nike Chalkbot, the fact remains that it’s the idea that determines success with consumers and at the show. Social media expands the reach of great content, but ideas determine reach into hearts and minds. As such, veteran idea generators like ad agencies are very important.

2. FIRST PRINCIPLES, NEW MEDIA: Irrespective of your marketing speciality – whether it be traditional, digital, or social media – the timeless fundamentals of effective advertising apply. Work needs to be simple, emotional and consistent. As such the hard won lessons of traditional advertising agencies are more relevant than ever. They just need to be applied to all media including social media.

3. SOCIAL MEDIA IS IS NOT AN END IN ITSELF: I did not see a single piece of work celebrated at Cannes simply because it was social media. The power of social media is only unleashed when an emotional connection is made that motivates someone to share something using social tools. Brands at the Festival demonstrated a clear understanding of this and a due respect for agencies as architects of community.

4. BRAND CUSTOMERS: Clients made up almost 15% of the 8000 attendees this year according to Ad Age, and this demonstrates a recognition of two facts. One is that consumers are now reaching out directly to brands through social media, and, secondly, that brands are looking to ad agencies for guidance in how to respond. As such the client/agency dynamic is as critical as ever. In fact Terry Savage, Festival Chairman, also said he is 90% sure there will be a prize for effectiveness next year in which clients will play some role.

5. ‘GOOD’ BUSINESS: So much work demonstrated that brands and agencies realize that consumers want a better world, not just better widgets. This a new thing. Campaigns like the Millions, UNICEF Tapwater and Earth hour receiving titanium awards in recent years. What’s more this year the Festival introduced the first Grand Prix for Good indicating a further appreciation of the positive role that advertising can and must play.

6. SILO BLURRING: This year clearly demonstrated the ability of traditional ad agencies to fill new roles. For instance, Interactive Agency of the Year was Crispin, Porter & Bogusky, and Direct Agency of the Year was Abbott Mead Vickers in London. As traditional ad agencies migrate their focus and talent into emerging areas, their creative prowess will come to bear on the marketing.

7. PURPOSE AS PROFIT: One of the things I stressed in my seminar was that the future of profit is purpose. This is based on the recognition that the universal values that inform purposeful work make brands innately sharable and therefore potentially profitable. Across the board work demonstrated a recognition that consumers want to see their brands changing the world for the better. A great demonstration of this was done by the Festival itself when Jeff Goodby, Ben Stiller and Yahoo, enlisted the entire audience to raise money for Stillerstong that is building schools in Haiti.

8. TECH = SAVVY: As someone who attended last year, I was struck by how tech savvy everyone suddenly became. Eyes were permanently glued to iPhones and Blackberries, laptops served as sun reflectors and there was amble wi-fi and power throughout the Palais (which is not always the case even at tech conferences). As such the Festival did a great job of reflecting the impact of technology discussed in so many of the seminars.

9. TRIUMPH OF YOUTH: Each year the Festival does an amazing job of filling its hall with the future of the industry. It would be easy for an expensive Festival such as this to become stocked with veteran ad types (like me!) but this year I felt more old and out numbersed  than ever. This is partly due to the Young Lions Zone and new efforts this year through Cannes Connect to put attendees in touch with each other and their communities.

10. THE FUTURE IS HERE: Each year the Festival does a great job of securing the thought leaders from areas that are re-shaping the industry. This year it was Mark Zuckerberg, founder of Facebook. The Debussy Room was packed to the rafters with two others rooms outside full of people as well. Beyond the understandable fascination around such successful entrepreneurs, the industry is clearly listening to those shaping their future on a daily basis.

With that said, there is still ground to be gained. I was surprised how few people were tweeting out from laptops during the seminars (if that’s any indication of the audience’s personal engagement with their own social communities). Plus I believe the private sector (represented by brands and ad agencies at forums like Cannes) can play an even more powerful role in shaping the future of marketing and society at large. No doubt next year will demonstrate an even fuller embrace of this potential in which brands, ad agencies and consumers co-create the stories that move people, sell products and change our world for the better.

How do you think traditional advertising agencies are doing? Are they sufficiently embracing social media?