Desperately seeking a connection

After three days at Cannes Lions, there's one thing that I need for sure: a nap. It has truly been an exhausting few days with endless opportunities to see, do, and learn.

After three days at Cannes Lions, there's one thing that I need for sure: a nap. It has truly been an exhausting few days with endless opportunities to see, do, and learn.

Sunday's highlight was a seminar from the China Advertising Association on social media and mobile in China. The seminar featured Joe Chen, founder, chairman, and CEO of Renren, a social network I had heard of but did not realize has more than 230 million users. Chen was funny, smart, and insightful, a welcome presence for the mostly-jetlagged audience. He said that more than 55% of Renren users manage their accounts on mobile devices and that in China, there are more than 320 million mobile internet users. These statistics add up considering that Bessie Lee, CEO of GroupM China, told the audience that China is the largest mobile market, with users about to exceed 1 billion. Fittingly, Chen ended his seminar with the words: “think mobile.”

Along with the growing importance of mobile, another main theme at the festival has been the use of data. I attended both ZenithOptimedia's “Live information is beautiful” and Adobe's “Is data killing creativity?” seminars. While it's evident that data can inform sound business decisions, there is much debate about whether or not it is stifling the most creative ideas. One insight that resonated with me was from Linus Karlsson, chairman and chief creative officer of McCann Erickson in New York and London. He said that communicators need to ask "what's wrong with this picture?" when examining data and that "too many times we conclude that the analysis is the solution and we try to find commonalities. We should look for the abnormalities." I think that the main takeaway from these seminars is that you have to find a balance between basing your programs off data, and being able to go out on a limb.

While each seminar had its strong points, I was most affected by the last-minute presentation from Arianna Huffington, president and editor-in-chief of The Huffington Post Media Group. Her seminar focused on the idea that disconnecting is actually being enabled by the devices that connect us. For example, the “Do Not Disturb” iPhone option that lets you temporarily distance yourself from the constant bombardment of emails. What struck me was when Huffington declared that “by staying connected 24/7, we are really missing an important connection to ourselves…if we learn to disconnect in order to connect with ourselves, the results will be amazing.” She concluded by saying, “Connecting with ourselves will make us more creative, more compassionate, and more capable.” Her words rang very true for me in that we are not only looking for a mobile, digital, or social connection, but also a personal connection, both to ourselves and to each other.

I think the lesson here is two-fold. It's true that we all need to take some time to take a break from the noise and connect with our personal thoughts and goals, but the real lesson for marketers and communicators is that we should not be fooled by the digital revolution; we are all still starving for personal connections. And it's the brands and companies that create the platforms for these types of personal connections that we will want to embrace, that will inspire us to not only help ourselves, but also to try and make a difference in the lives of others. And those companies will ultimately find success.  

Allison Cohen is director of external communications at Hill+Knowlton Strategies.

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