In the winter of 1988, during my sophomore year in college, I spent a chilly January in Cannes. To this day the only French I truly mastered was, “Bonjour, je voudrais un sandwich — trois tranches du jambon et fromage — et un biere, s’il vous plait.”
Ah, yes. I could ask for a ham and cheese sandwich and a beer — a workingman’s lunch. But spoken in French, even simple delights sounded so much more sexy and sophisticated.
Skip ahead 20 years. Not without significant irony, I found myself in Las Vegas last week, eating a $25 ham sandwich and probably drinking a beer at one of the most beautiful hotels on the Strip, looking at online photos of the great advertising fete known simply as “Cannes.” I was in Vegas to pitch this great hotel on an interactive campaign aimed at filling one of its new properties with 250 wealthy patrons on opening day. With a budget less than the annual electricity costs for its grand marquee, I would devise a campaign concept heavy on social media among affluent travelers, search and limited display.
Back at lunch, as I was perusing the endless photos of completely hammered and plump advertising execs and their completely hammered but decidedly non-plump female interns, I kept thinking to myself, “You know, I bet their bottle service for the week might have the same budget as this campaign.” Certainly the weekly rental fee on the yacht cost more than the paid search budget, right? And those go-go dancers! I bet they make better margins during Cannes than this campaign’s display buy might.
Sure, call it sour grapes. I wasn’t in Cannes. I was in Las Vegas, 1,800 miles away from home, pitching an idea — a good one, I might add — that may in fact fill a luxury hotel with 250 guests at a per guest conversion cost equal to a large bottle of Grey Goose. I will know this because I will have painstakingly measured every nuance of success pre-campaign, mid-campaign and post-campaign. We’re probably going to need to tweak the shit out of this one to make it fly, but it will fly. And I bet it might even be brilliant. In fact, I would think that it would be Cannes-worthy.
Judging from the coverage from Cannes, I’m not sure it has an award class for me: highly effective, low budget, social, highly optimized, with creative elements more functional than visually stimulating. In fact, I’m more worried that creativity — as defined by the winners at this year’s Cannes — may actually interfere with the success of targeting potential visitors to this hotel. I’m expecting the social interactions among campaign visitors to win each other’s hearts and minds. I don’t think there’s an award for that in Cannes.
I’m at peace with all of this. The last I checked, the traditional ad business is in bad shape. “Cannes” money is flowing down the Cote d’Azur to the old burned-out city of Rome, where the hard-working men and women of digital have been slaving away on the streets, sipping cheap beer and eating ham sandwiches. It was here centuries ago that the emperor’s fiddlers played as the city burned. I visited Rome in 1988, and if I were to go back today, I’d tell them the fire has charred its way up the beach to Cannes where the fiddlers are still playing.
Andrew Eklund is CEO of Ciceron in Minneapolis. He also blogs about “campaigns gone wrong” from SuperGinormousWebAddress.com.