P&G: Creativity and the ‘Client-ization’ of Cannes

CANNES, FRANCE It’s about the “journey” and “total immersion.” About “stretching ourselves” through “holistic programs.” It’s “not about being rational—it’s about adding some emotion.”

Is that Dr. Phil speaking? A promotion for the opening of a new yoga center? Hardly. All those quotations came from the panelists at a press conference held by global marketing powerhouse Procter & Gamble today to explain its ubiquitous presence this year at the International Advertising Festival here.

Global marketing officer Jim Stengel, chairman and CEO A.G. Lafley and manager, global advertising development Lynne Boles spoke at the presentation. Key agency executives on P&G accounts from Grey, The Kaplan Thaler Group, Leo Burnett, Publicis and Saatchi & Saatchi also spoke.

P&G first arrived en masse at the tourist port town last year, and vowed to create a new agenda, “to lift the levels of creativity and innovation,” for the company and its agencies, Stengel said. Boles added that last year, the client made “two promises: for better decision making and improved watchability of commercials.”

The results were shown: perhaps the first naked man ever approved by P&G appeared in a La Coste fragrance spot from Grey in France. Shot by the late fashion photographer Herb Ritts, the spot shows the naked bum of a male model as he pads around his apartment, kicking a pillow across the floor. A print version has him sitting naked, although he’s covered from the hipbones down. The spot has already won three awards in France, according to group creative director Helene Le Guay, and has made the fragrance “a market leader.” Strategic planning director Frederic Gerard added later that “the concept did travel to other countries,” although the model wears pants for the version running in the Middle East.

After the naked man, the work was much more recognizably P&G, although The Kaplan Thaler Group did shake up the dishwashing liquid demo by having Robbie (son of Evel) Knievel jump his motorcycle over 10,000 plates (the amount that one bottle of Dawn washes) laid end to end.

Still, some members of the press questioned Stengel’s view that the client-ization of Cannes is a win-win situation. Rather than making clients more creative, some delegates maintain that the influx of companies such as P&G and McDonald’s at the festival merely makes creatives cranky.

In response to the comment that ‘spring break’ for creatives is turning into yet another place to have an 8 a.m. client meeting, Stengel said, “If our agencies tell us our presence is affecting the festival adversely, then we’ll pull back. But the only meetings I’m having with agencies are late at night, and there is no agenda.”

Panelist Bob Isherwood, worldwide creative director of Saatchi & Saatchi, made the point that “it’s a benefit to clients to have to sit through the screening of a whole category of work—every commercial that was entered—for four or five hours. The inevitable outcome is that it will make the work get better.”