'Cannes Has Changed' and 'Content Isn't King' Anomaly’s Carl Johnson returns to the festival
Carl Johnson, co-founder of Anomaly, a marketing communications firm and advertising agency, isn’t actually staying in Cannes. He’s staying at the historic Hotel du Cap in Antibes, an extravagant celebrity destination since the early days of Hemingway. Johnson has a bit of the Hemingway in him himself, insofar as he has a gut and some stubble, curses somewhat liberally, and actually says what he thinks. In a town—he drove in to Cannes for our interview—where so many people are repeating variations on familiar themes, he made for a refreshing lunch partner.
Johnson, now in his early 50s, hadn’t been to Cannes for over a decade. After Sept. 11, 2001, the then-COO of TBWA\Worldwide packed up the family and moved from New York to Sydney, where he spent two years “on the beach.” He only got back into advertising in 2004, when he started Anomaly: the firm or agency or whatever you want to call it—he prefers “a place for clients to go when they don’t know where to go”—that is responsible not only for successful Budweiser, Converse, and Sony campaigns, but for the Emmy-winning television show Avec Eric, the experience of flying Virgin America (down to the interior, the uniforms, and the entertainment), and all the posters and stickers around New York City for a soccer team that doesn’t even exist . . . yet. In 2010, Adweek picked Anomaly as one of six top insurgent agencies to watch.
“It was always important to me that if I gave up living in Australia—which, to be honest, was fucking hard—it had to be for something really meaningful to me,” he said. “So Anomaly was a deliberate attempt to say, ‘All this crap is wrong, all these silos are a barrier to the right types of ideas. Ad agencies, design agencies, digital agencies, media agencies—all these things have changed. And yet we’ve got these big silos that don’t like each other, don’t talk to each other, can’t collaborate, can’t share . . . In order to be a compelling new model agency, you had to break that.”
Given that point of view, Johnson didn’t see any point in coming to Cannes. “When we were starting Anomaly, I thought this was the definition of the past, and therefore had no interest in coming here and confirming how crappy it was,” he said. “But it has changed.”
“It’s changed primarily in that it’s moved from a gigantic agency party, which it used to be 10, 15, 20 years ago. It was basically a global, fantastic, drunken party, with talent from all around the world. Now, principally because of the introduction of clients, and a more serious agenda, you’re going to learn more here, not just get drunk.”
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