As everyone knows, the big news at the end of this year’s Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity was Publicis Groupe’s announcement that they are suspending all creative awards participation for the next 12 months, including the 2018 Cannes Lions. The stated purpose was to redirect money saved to creating a ‘new AI product’.

On the surface, this statement makes perfect sense. As recently mentioned here, Publicis Groupe reported a $567M USD loss for 2016. Diving deeper, things get curious.

Curiousity #1

Publicis’ profitability issues are definitely not a result of the money it spends participating in creative awards. Even what it spends at the 63-year-old Cannes Lions, the pinnacle of the traditional ad industry’s excess.

Although there is no scientifically-proven direct link between Cannes Lions trophy wins and the client’s business results, there is a link. But Publicis’ new AI product, named Marcel, is a digital assistant platform for the agency network’s internal use, presumably to improve collaboration. It’s unclear what Marcel really is beyond that, so it’s not clear it has any link to the client’s business results.

So taken at face value, this appears to be a shift of Publicis’ resources away from their clients’ benefit, at least from their clients’ perspective.

Curiosity #2

Technically, what Publicis is doing is low risk:

  • Publicis agencies, especially Leo Burnett, are perennial winners of Cannes Lions and any other creative awards. Taking a year off won’t send Publicis creatives running for the doors, nor will clients see a difference in creative quality.
  • Marcel can’t fail in any public way.

One could argue that Publicis’ annonncement is a non-event, except for where and when it was made.

Maurice on Marcel

The announcement was made by Publicis’ brand-new 46-year-old CEO Arthur Sadoun. Earlier this month, he officially took over from industry legend Maurice Lévy. Only Sir Martin Sorrell, CEO of WPP, has equal standing. Sadoun has very big shoes to fill.

So is this whole thing a cleverly-staged publicity stunt for Publicis’ new CEO? I’ll let the previous CEO weigh in on that. Here’s how Maurice Lévy ended his final meeting with financial analysts this April:

“It’s been a fantastic journey. Bonne chance and I’m sure that you will enjoy Arthur’s way of dealing with you in the future.”

Notes and references:

  1. Main image credit: Geoffroy Van Der Hasselt/AFP.