On Clichés, Cannes and Complexity.

Pick your cliché.

“Business is moving at a much faster pace than ever before.”

“Marketing has been disrupted.”

“Consumers want purpose-driven, personal experiences.”

There are plenty of them making the rounds, though it seems platitudes are presently particularly plentiful as the supposed marketing cognoscenti have landed upon les Alpes-Maritimes in full force to compete on claimed universal solutions to immensely complex problems.

Of course, we’ve heard it all, in one form or another, before. While the theme changes from one Lions Festival to the next depending on what previous claim has been disproven in the year since, there is always one. It turns up on time as consistently as a Japanese train, right after the big name CMO posturing, just before rosé is served on one of the adtech yachts.

To a degree, I suppose it is a form of escapism. We marketers are under immense pressure to deliver and easy answers to the endless questions asked at every stakeholder meeting will look as attractive as the sun setting over the French Riviera. We’re not growing because businesses are moving at a pace faster than ever before. We’re not selling because consumers want experiences. We’re not relevant because marketing has been disrupted.

The problem with such explanations is that they are binary in nature, and as MediaCom strategy director Murray Calder recently wrote, ‘binary thinking encourages us towards zero-sum arguments where only one outcome can be “right”, or represent “winning”’. Reality, as it happens, is a lot more complex than that.

While the digital era has brought with it a potential pace of business hitherto unseen, brands still need to be set up properly to be able to handle audiences of scale.

While technology has disrupted the tools with which we do marketing, the fundamentals remain unchanged.

While some consumers want purpose-driven personalization, most still don’t. Brands don’t matter as much to normal people as they do to us marketers.

In the name of fairness, it should be noted that the discourse by no means is limited to the actors chasing soundbites and press space at Cannes. Many of the, so to speak, serious institutions are also guilty of presenting fractions of the entire picture, either through a lack of practical experience or theoretical convenience.

We know, because we have seen the figures, that TV is the most effective media channel on the planet. However, suggestions that all brands should invest heavily in it fail to recognize, for example, cashflow factors and lag effects.

We know, because we have seen the figures, that ROI corresponds negatively with market penetration. However, suggestions that we should ignore return metrics fail to recognize, for example, that every marketer looking to spend a large sum of company money will be asked for them.

At the end of the day, whether you are at La Croisette or in the halls of a prestigious business university, the only universal answer to any question in marketing remains “it depends”. The practical reality of our profession is inherently multifaceted and while efforts to simplify it are admirable, we have to avoid banality and acknowledge that there is not, nor will there be, one tool to rule them all, nor one kind of consumer to sell to. We have to do our strategies first, like we always have, then look at the tactics that within budget best set us up for success.

Sales and profit remain the purposes of marketing, regardless of what you hear from southern France or elsewhere. Ignoring that fact will only increase pressure, not release it.