'Cannes Has Changed' and 'Content Isn't King' Anomaly’s Carl Johnson returns to the festival

     He qualified that: “You’re still going to get drunk, but you’re going to learn more. It’s much, much less indulgent. It used to be a party for the awards; it’s now a worldwide gathering of talented people . . . talking about the ideas that matter. I came here thinking it was just going to be a fuss; I’m leaving here thinking it’s essential that we come back.”

     We were sitting at a table on the terrace of the Carlton Hotel, which is to Cannes Lions’ wealthier delegates what Rick’s was to Casablanca. Arguably, you could meet everyone you wanted to meet at this festival without leaving your table. (Ours, incidentally, had been offered to us by Arianna Huffington.) But that also had something to do with the fact that so much of what was being said on stage sounded the same. The chances of getting through a lecture in Cannes without hearing a CEO or CMO or COO talk about the importance of “content” was about as good as your chances of getting a helicopter ride out to a yacht, which is to say, roughly one in 20.

     I asked Johnson how he felt about the notion that “content is king.”

     “I don’t agree with that,” he said. “I think it sends you down the wrong track. I’d say the emphasis is on relevance and usefulness. The danger with the content story is—the most powerful thing you could do to me as a brand if I went to [a music festival] is you could chill my beer for me. If you pursue ‘content,’ you won’t come up with that idea. And if you go to the airport and get power from Nokia or Sony, that’s much more meaningful to me as a brand. I think content steers you away from that. I think content is a subset of that, if it’s relevant and useful. But the more fundamental thing is for brands to have a meaningful relationship and engagement with their audience.”

     Here was something else. And that, of course, is what Anomaly set out to be. But it’s been seven years since 2004, and in the new landscape, there are many agencies that describe themselves as “not an agency” and talk about “breaking down silos.” So how long can Anomaly continue to be an anomaly?

     “Right now, you’d have to have your head in the sand to not get the change that is needed,” Johnson said. “A lot of people have made a lot of change, so we have to continue to change. An anomaly is a deviation from the norm; the norm is changing. So our need to continue to pioneer will mean we will have to continue to be the forerunner. . . . But if you have commitment to quality, and you’re willing to put your balls on the line, it’s there to be had.”

Topics: Agency