Why the Ad Industry Needs to Be Grounded in Consumer Reality

Dave Morgan
Dave Morgan  |  Chief Executive Officer
Updated: Aug. 02, 2022
Published: Jun. 29, 2022

I had a great Cannes Lions last week. It was truly special. It was the biggest, best and most productive in-person event that I have been part of in our industry in years.

We had tons of meetings -- the right ones. I ran into so many people that I wouldn’t have thought to schedule, but was so glad to get to talk to. I got a lot done. It was so cathartic to really be back in person after so long in the post-COVID world.

I loved my time there, but it doesn’t take much time there to recognize that the ad industry’s future cannot be defined at places like Cannes. For me, it was the moment I walked by a Cannes badge-wearer with a T-shirt emblazoned with the slogan “Less plastic more ocean” while drinking from a luxury branded disposable plastic bottle of water.

If we really care about the world’s brands and the people who consume them, we need to get past Cannes.

Toasting glasses of rose on oligarch-sized yachts anchored off the French Riviera while being serenaded by the latest top recording stars makes you (and your business prospects) feel very special, so special. But that is not the part of the world that needs our help, and our advertising.

The Cannes world is far away from the lives of the consumers around whom brands and their advertising should center: the folks who buy those cars, potato chips, mobile phones and dog food, but who today are truly terrified about how they can pay for the next tank of gas to get to work and not be late on the monthly mortgage payment or the co-pay on their kids’ orthodontist bill.

Being present at a place like Cannes makes you feel good about yourself and your importance in the world. To be clear, I am not against that kind of celebration. But, after a point it defines you -- you don’t define it.

Thus, it’s not surprising that many folks today see the ad and media industry (and much of big tech, as advertising become its key revenue and profit driver) as hypocritical global elites living privileged lives in bubbles. I get it. We’re fair game on that front.

Ad events like Cannes, CES, celebrity red carpets, and hobnobbing in D.C. shouldn’t go away, but we need to find a way past them.

Today, we have the worst inflation in more than 40 years, a war in Europe, gasoline prices through the roof and a climate crisis that presents real and significant existential issues for all of us.

We need a grounded ad industry. Advertising means too much to the world. It can be a truly noble industry. But we will have a hard time finding and truly living that nobility if we can’t find ourselves past Cannes.

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