James Thompson
Jun 22, 2017

I regret nothing (well, maybe the dog with the erection)

Cannes week puts James Thompson in a reflective mood.

James Thompson
James Thompson

I couldn’t make it to Cannes this year. It’s not a statement. I’d have liked to have gone, but what with one thing or another I’ve had to forego the charms of the Croisette, the harbour and the Carlton Terrace. Just thinking about it brings on a wave of envy.

Truth be told, for a while the event lacked (shall we be polite and call it?) a little cutting edge. But by all accounts it has bounced back recently and industry buccaneers, veterans and hangers-on are likely to have been treated to a feast of revolutionary next generation communications ideas as well as the obligatory champers and awards.

As I said, I’m jealous. But this award season my own thoughts are somewhat more prosaic. You see, I’ve been reflecting on a lot of the ads that have had my name on or around them over the years. One of my big beliefs is that creativity unlocks business success, and that Cannes-like awards are the harbinger of startlingly enormous sales and hockey-stick performance charts.

To that end, in my time I’ve:

  • Filmed a bottle flying in outer space as a metaphor for a tasty drink
  • Shown fairies cavorting with Mother Nature to hint that one washing powder was better than another
  • Depicted aliens with misshapen heads to suggest that a beer had a splendid head worth drinking through
  • Engaged international film stars to perform dances and vintage car races with only exquisite long-form film and a glass of expensive whisky as a reward, and
  • To my ignorance at the time but subsequently my lasting shame, shown a dog running after its family enthusiastically sporting an erection in celebration of their odour-free clothes.

I admit to regretting very little of this. Life is short. Hell, it was fun. And we managed to sell quite a lot of the stuff in question relatively harmlessly most of the time.

But—and here comes the really dull bit—I keep getting reminded these days that we should all really pay a lot more attention to other things. Some Japanese agencies start looking at a brief from the perspective of setting and casting on the basis that if you can instantly recognise the type of people a product is for, and in what occasion it is suitable, you’ve already won half of the battle.

For over 30 years research agencies have been telling us that we need to integrate the brand at the moment of greatest interest in our commercials. And for even longer the same researchers have been telling us that ideally people should understand what the heck we are going on about. And yet still—regularly and often—poor results in test and in the market show that we forget these basics all too often.

So I’m skipping Cannes to focus on the basics. And if any of my team need any “encouragement” to remember them...well, I’m thinking of setting that dog on them.

Happy awards season!

James Thompson is global managing director of Diageo Reserve (Diageo’s luxury portfolio).

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