‘I’m sure we’ll long to go back to being interrupted by ads — a more innocent time’ 

Weber Shandwick's Tom Beckman shares his pre-Cannes Lions primer on where the ad industry is, and where it's going

Every year for the past decade, Weber Shandwick’s chief creative officer, Tom Beckman, has come back from Cannes and written a report for clients about what happened at the Festival of Creativity. This year, he’s written them a brief on industry themes before heading to the South of France, too — and he shared it with Contagious.

Beckman is frequently interesting when he writes about advertising and consumer trends (he might be interesting on other subjects, too, but that’s not our purview), and his pre-Cannes primer offered some useful perspectives on where the industry is headed, so we asked Beckman to speak to us about them, and he obliged.

What follows is not an account of that interview but rather some notes that Beckman sent us ahead of the call, which were perspicacious and succinct enough to make the interview rather redundant. Still, it’s always nice to chat.

What do you expect from Cannes Lions this year?

In the past 12 months, we’ve seen a shift in tone and voice in the marketing industry, mainly driven by the social-commerce tsunami, with influencers and creators shaping how brands communicate. It’s an environment where brands are seeking clout with grassroots rather than elite groups.

I’d argue that one of the strongest ideas in the history of mankind is Donkey Kong. And the main reasons it became a world sensation was because it made zero sense.

Tom Beckman, Weber Shandwick

Marketing was always designed to blend in — to be contextual to the media that disseminates it. High-end TV productions were interrupted by high-end advertising productions. Newspapers with immaculate layout have carried print ads with flawless typography. But what happens when the media carrying marketing is predominantly produced by consumers and online creators? Meme-ification is what happens.

And what is Meme-ification?

With Meme-ification, the look, tone and voice of the internet is the primary shaper of marketing. Brands now mimic TikTok creators rather than Hollywood producers in an effort to promote their products or services. Weirdness, dark humor, radical honesty, self-deprivation and indie productions are all hallmarks of this new brand voice.

CeraVe and Pop-tarts [which was created by Beckman’s agency, Weber Shandwick] are two of the top Cannes contenders that reflect this theme.

What does Meme-ification mean for agencies and brands?

‘Authenticity’ is one of the most common words in brand books, which is peak irony since it actually means ‘fake’. After all, brands are not real. They’re made up by people like you and me. And most brand strategies are about guessing what the consumers want, instead of being authentic about your own beliefs. I think Whopper Virgins from 2008 is one of the best pieces of marketing ever made because it’s radically authentic — it’s an American fast-food brand on a world tour to deprive preserved communities and cultures of their innocence. It’s pure, true and cynical. And I believe, and hope that we will see more of that in the years to come. It’s the voice of the internet at its best.

But beyond radical authenticity, meme-ification is straight-up random. Our industry is always pursuing the best ideas, and sometimes we forget to look for the worst ideas, which are often as eye-catching as the best ones. I’d argue that one of the strongest ideas in the history of mankind is Donkey Kong. And the main reasons it became a world sensation was because it made zero sense.

What are some other Cannes predictions?

Per usual, most of the strongest contenders breaking out of the format. Look at Channel 4, The Sydney Opera House, or Translators for US Bank. The craft is amazing, but the format is no longer advertising — it’s short films or music videos. And when you see brands like Nike starting their entertainment studio, Waffle Iron Entertainment, or LVMH doing the same with 22 Montaigne Entertainment, it’s safe to predict this will increase over the coming years.

Sure, Hollywood talent agency CAA won a Grand Prix for Chipotle ten years ago. But I believe this will be different. When you add in social commerce and online creators equipped with Hollywood grade AI-production tools, you get perhaps the final collapse of the separation between Church and State — or commercial and culture — in media. And I’m sure we’re going to long to go back to being interrupted by advertising, since it will represent a more innocent time when there was a difference between commercial and cultural interests.

Anything else we should know about meme-ification? 

It’s a well-known formula that Tragedy + Time = Comedy. But perhaps a not so well-known formula is that Commercialism + Time = Culture. Old pieces of advertising or logos are today seen as cultural artifacts or time capsules. The inconvenient truth is perhaps that if we took the word ‘authenticity’ literally in all the brand books around the world, we could take ‘Time’ out of the formula and actually create marketing that is part of culture right away. I believe meme-ification could be a path to get there.

Want more Cannes Lions insights? 

Contagious’ analysts and strategists spend their time at Cannes Lions interviewing jury presidents and attending seminars and press briefings, to find out what’s really going on.

Then, we use our two decades of experience to put those findings into perspective and analyse what they mean for marketing and the marketing industry.

Finally, we condense all those insights and case studies into an informative, insightful and (occasionally) entertaining 50-minute briefing that we deliver to brands and agencies.

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