Cannes Lions: BMW Wants Agencies To Tout Failures

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cannes-lions-ambient-usethisAdExchanger is in the French Riviera, where some 12,000 people have gathered for the 60th annual Cannes Lions festival of creativity. We'll have updates throughout the week, and a definitive (!) answer to the question, Can Big Data can play nice with the Big Idea?

This morning Adobe hosted a discussion around advertising and trust, called "You Can't Trust Marketers." Below are a few highlights from the session, which included Steven Althause, Director, Brand Management at BMW; Tina Brown, founder and editor-in-chief at The Newsweek Daily Beast Company; and Lisa Donahue, CEO of Starcom USA; and Adobe CMO Ann Lewnes.

Perhaps the most striking comment was a plea from BMW for more bad results from agency partners. That's right.

"A great number of presentations we see on corporate and agency side are superstar presentations. Perfect execution, great results, all smiles," Althause said.

This creates a perception that everything an agency partner pulls off seems to be a success.

"We shouldn't fool ourselves, he said. "We should share our mistakes and share those failures. Failures are a great reservoir. I hope five years from now that we're a bit more honest."

He added, "With decency and honesty, we'll get better cases." Which is to say, worse cases.

Agency World Is Changing

BMW represents three brands – BMW, Mini, and Rolls Royce – and relies on agencies to help it articulate changes in how consumers think about their car buying decisions, and translate those changes into powerful communications.

But Althause says agencies should be a bit more humble and collaborative in how they go about this.

"Agencies, sometimes you're pretty good at explaining to us how our world is changing. I'm handing it back to you. Your world is changing as well.

Oftentimes we're being sold to by agencies or other services providers who say, I know exactly how it works…. I'd like to say, help your clients find out together.

He said the strategy should be "co-creation," not dictation. "I think we need to raise our game," he said.

Digital Ads: No Love

Adobe kicked off the session with some new research finding that, to paraphrase, many people can't stand digital marketing. A significant minority of respondents, both on the consumer and marketing side, believe online ads are not effective (consumers 32%, marketers 21%) and a larger subset said banner ads don't work (49% consumers; 36% marketers). Traditional media including print and TV got higher scores for effectiveness.

Starcom's Donahue interpreted saw those results as a failure of message customization.

"We sit with the data now that allows us to be incredibly personalized with our interactions, and shame on us if we as marketers aren't taking advantage of that to build personal relationships," she said.

Despite the harsh sentiment, Donahue said the ad function is viewed as a real contributor to the business, moreso than at any prior moment.

"We're going to see the full switch from marketing as an expense to marketing as a business imperative," she said. "We can now say how much business we are capable of driving. The dynamic can flip to say, 'If you give me $50 million this is exactly how many share points we can drive.'"

Donahue added, "They key is to put the infrastructure in place that you are looking at the right data."

BMW's Althause agreed marketing is riding higher on the corporate hog but said it needs better alignment with other corporate functions. He scoffed when Adobe's Ann Lewnes cited a comment by Adobe CEO that one day the CMO would have access to more business data than the CFO.

"No offense to your CEO, but I'm not sure we need to compare ourselves to other functions," he said. "It's in our interest to get very close to the IT function, HR, sales, legal."

New Approaches At NewsBeast

Times are changing at The Newsweek Daily Beast company, where social amplification is now a prime way the company values its writers.

"The writers who generate social media reaction are the ones we prize the most," Brown said. "There are writers who are really good but don't generate that social traction. And they're not favored as much."

Brown was fairly negative on "native" ad formats, to the extent that such ads deceive the reader. "In all the marketing surveys we do of our brand, credibility is one of the top three things people come to us for. If I throw that out the window, that'll long term [damage us]."

But she added, "I do think collaborating and creating seductive and brand specific advertising is really important."

Adobe's Lewnes wrapped up with a question about the future. With advertising ranked low on the scale of career desirability and trust, she asks how can change that?

"Creativity is at an all time high," Donahue said. "It's a crime that people see the profession as creepy. We need to put our energies toward that. It'll look different if we continue to put forth authenticity."

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