Kevin Gessay
Kevin Gessay 28 November 2017

Mirror, mirror on the wall, who’s the fairest festival of them all?

Next years Cannes Lions Festival of Creativity will see some major changes to the event, including an acknowledgement of the huge importance new disciplines such as influencer marketing are having on the industry.

The news that the Cannes Lions Festival of Creativity is to be drastically overhauled is a clear admission that the flagship 60 year old event is taking its own advice to “hold a mirror up to the industry”. Kudos to the organisers for owning this, and doing something about it.

The raft of changes announced, from reducing the duration and cost, to scrapping superfluous sub-categories, make sense and make for a more flexible, future-proofed approach. It also acknowledges the huge importance of new disciplines, particularly influencer marketing.

I often wonder why it has taken so long for the industry to see the huge potential of influencers, and how the notion of “influence” itself is being turned on its head.

Over the last few years, while the die-hard traditionalists stuck rigidly to the “big idea”, predictably translated primarily by a multi-million pound celebrity-fronted above the line campaign, it was clear that the tide was changing.  We witnessed how real impact was coming from authentic, credible, reliable word of mouth communications from lower-level influencers and, increasingly, niche-specific micro-influencers.

It’s therefore unsurprising when brands like clothing label Jack Wills shift budget from glossy photoshoots to influencer management. Or when another cutting edge name in fashion, ASOS, eliminated sponsored posts in favour of creating entirely sponsored accounts, called ‘ASOS insiders’, for individual influencers.

We’ve also seen a change across Europe with iconic, traditional brands using influencers to become more progressive.  Just look at German department store Breuninger, who switched things up by hiring artist and photographer Michel Comte as Creative Director.  Having worked with the likes of Andy Warhol, Yves Klein and Karl Lagerfeld during his career, he brings a modern and creative edge to the retailer, helping to reimagine and contemporise the brand.

The true trick of modern marketing is to beautifully blend scale with grass roots engagement to create that perfect cocktail of reach and message impact. Influencers may have far fewer fans than big-name A-listers, but can have much more impact in terms of calling consumers to action. The numbers speak for themselves. By the end of 2016, this so-called “new” discipline of “influencer marketing” was already valued at $2bn, according to HYPR Influencer Marketing Index.

Now, a year on, the rest of the world has cottoned on to influencer marketing and the discipline is predicted to be worth $5-$10 bn over the next five years, according to mediakix. Nearly two thirds of marketers (63%) increased their influencer marketing budgets for 2017, and 84% intend to do at least one influencer marketing programme in the next 12 months. In 2018, the meteoric rise of the new influencers is set to continue.

But, inevitably, following hot on the heels of this industry wake-up, is many a bandwagon trailing after. Brands and agencies alike are desperately trying to jump on these bandwagons to grab a slice of the influencer action. Wannabe influencers, too, are clamouring to convince the world of their people power, even when they have none, making it harder and harder for brands to separate the wheat from the chaff.

This is another reason why I am so glad that Cannes is recognising the power of influencer marketing; it’s my sincere hope that the festival’s restructure will bring some much needed rigour and analysis to the sector as it continues to evolve and mature.

The keys to successful influencer marketing, after all, are authenticity, credibility and relevance – if these are looked after, sales will look after themselves. If they are damaged in any way, so is the vital consumer connection and the influencer instantly loses his or her all-important superpower; to influence.

With its new awards, Cannes has the opportunity to endorse and support the professionalisation of this growing discipline and reward those brands and influencers that create genuinely engaging, creative, compelling, results-driven content.

As with any channel, there are the good, the bad and the ugly campaigns. If Cannes is to remain the industry’s true custodian of creativity, it must hold its mirror up truthfully and reward the fairest of us all.

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