McDonald’s and the Pig-Fucker Principle

In the aftermath of what commentators have dubbed ‘Piggate’, the accusation that our Prime Minister David Cameron was intimate with the head of a dead pig as part of some kind of twisted initiation ceremony for the Piers Gaveston Society (a shady men’s dining club for the uber-privileged at Oxford University), there have been mentions of Lyndon B. Johnson’s ‘Pig fucker’ principle (made famous by Hunter S. Thompson’s Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail ’72).

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For those who don’t know, during the 1972 Democratic Primaries, incumbent Lyndon B. Johnson may or may not have spread the rumour that his opponent was a ‘pig fucker.’ When an aide pushed back on the fact that the accusation was baseless Johnson is said to have retorted ‘I know, I just want to make him deny it.’ Although no one has officially made a claim to coining the term as ‘The Pig Fucker Principle’, I would challenge you to find a PR person who would suggest that these kind of accusations, like those currently levelled at the PM by Lord Ashcroft in his book ‘Call Me Dave’ should be responded to and summarily denied. Denying such claims gives them a level of legitimacy in the very act of acknowledgement.

With their latest ‘Good to Know’ campaign from Leo Burnett, McDonald’s have decided to fly in the face of subtlety and address the accusations commonly made about the quality of their products (specifically the ‘chicken’ and ‘fries’) head-on.

In the ‘chicken’ ad we get a put-upon young lad who looks like he’s spent his whole Saturday morning following his mum around the shops and waiting as she tries on endless cardigans in the women’s section of M&S making an innocent plea for chicken nuggets. His poor mum Sarah then seems to go into some kind of nervous breakdown as she recalls the various rumours about chicken feet and beaks (which have already been debunked by both internal and external parties) that she’s heard and read about online. We then get a Food Tech teacher Rosie who looks kind of like Mary Berry but younger utilizing her expertise to tell us what chicken breast looks and tastes like before we split screen back to a newly reassured Sarah and her son who happily purchase their happy meal. The second ad (below) runs across similar lines as office worker Steve is close to being deterred from eating McDonalds French Fries by his dead-eyed colleague, controlling girlfriend and a market trader with obvious ulterior motives before being set straight by the no-nonsense authoritative farmer Terry.

McDonald’s, in a similar way to William Hague back in 2010 has allowed a seed of a rumour to grow by acknowledging it and dignifying it with a response. It’s hard not to agree with Mark Roalfe, Chairman and ECD of RKCR/Y&R in Campaign Live where he states that they ‘protest too much.’ There are a multitude of ways in which MacDonalds and their comms partners from Leo Burnett to their PR people could have countered these prejudices against the brand but barging in head first with such a forceful denial seems like an ultimately flawed strategy which will not meet the objectives of the original brief.

What popular memes tell us about today’s cultural trends

Memes. You know what they are; those humorous things that you browse whilst going through your phone on the toilet. Those inspirational quotes laid over a picture of a night sky or a sunset beaming across desolate corn field. Those life lessons warning you about the haters, time wasters and girlfriend/boyfriend thieves. Those pictures of a shifty-looking bearded Muslim informing you that he’s planning to burn some poppies at the weekend along with your tax money that your racist uncle shares on Facebook. Those images of dying children being held by devastated parents imploring you to pressure your government to take action. Those ‘What are thooooooose.’ The point being that they take many shapes and sizes.

A meme is officially defined as ‘an element of a culture or system of behaviour passed from one individual to another by imitation or other non-genetic means.’ Memes are the viral strains passed from individual to individual with minute degrees of variation that make up the cultural consensus and their very being certainly predates the internet and social media. The study of Memetics, largely popularized by the infamous Richard Dawkins, has been around for 30 years or so at this point.

It goes without saying why memes are so important to marketers. Richard Huntington of Adliterate writes brilliantly about the debt that Strategic Planners owe Dawkins for his work on Memetics. Now that most of us share a common dialogue via social media, internet memes have become some of the most prescient signifiers of the zeitgeist. Fortunes and profiles are made and destroyed on the ‘content farm,’ and marketers will often get into bed with internet personalities and curators just to try get a piece of the pie, just ask The Fat Jewish and Buzzfeed. There is however a different way that marketers could and should be approaching this modern phenomenon. Instead of trying to ape, appropriate and stand next to the shiny new thing, why aren’t we analyzing them as serious cultural propositions which tell us a lot about our shared values, passions and struggles?

Below I’ve gone and done a breakdown of the memes that I see regularly accompanied by my analysis of why they are so popular and what that tells us about the zeitgeist.

You are special and unique and someone needs you

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The above meme, one which has been Liked 118,348 times and shared 45k times is one which has clearly struck a powerful chord with a lot of people. Thematically it covers two basic needs, the first is people’s need to know that their differences or ‘quirks’ are nothing to be ashamed of, the second is the individual’s need to know that they have these points of uniqueness within their character in the first place. If we consider social media’s role in today’s world, the second of these needs seems infinitely more important. Facebook, Instagram and Twitter forces us to be both wildly individualistic and conforming. This creates a sense of cognitive dissonance which these kinds of sentiments help to reconcile. Nietzsche, Satre, Camus et al grappled with the question of life’s meaning and purpose incessantly in the 19th and 20th centuries but the social media age in which we are more connected yet somehow more isolated may be the one to give us the most interesting insights (excuse the pun).

People are shit

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Next up we have existential rage. The above meme shows us that most people, at some stage, begin to suspect that we are not truly needed by others, that we’re merely surrounded by opportunists and people those who would use and manipulate us for their own sordid purposes. We’re scared that other may have it easier than us, that maybe there isn’t a benevolent justice system which doles out everybody’s just deserts. This cynical anti-humanism, I would argue, is indicative of our political and economic landscape as the below meme demonstrates:

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Despite coming from popular American conservative Facebook page ‘Right Wing News’ I have seen the above meme countless times on my newsfeed posted by my predominantly British ‘friends.’ Aside from the political implications (anyone with half a brain knows that no one in the UK is taxed to ‘breaking point’ and very few people ‘refuse’ to work when they are able), what the meme really expresses in being shared by the largely nonpartisan public is a fear that honest (apparently) purposeful toil will never be rewarded as it should be and that the undeserving ‘other’ is reaping the rewards.

Fuck Politics

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You can’t have been on Facebook in the past 2 years if you haven’t seen the above meme. Yes it’s a completely made up assertion but considering the popular sentiment that politicians uncaring careerists only out for themselves the creator made the wise choice and printed the myth. The rise of nationalism, factionalism and populism in its many forms from Golden Dawn and Syriza in Greece, to Marie Le Pen in France to Nigel Farage,the SNP and Jeremy Corbyn (and even Russell Brand) in the UK to Donald Trump in the U.S. tells us that a lot of people are struggling with the social, political and economic effects of Globalization. Politicians from the long-established main political parties are identified as the culpable stooges of corporations and international governing bodies such as the EU, IMF, UN etc. The trend now is to say ‘Fuck it, they’re all the same! They’re all saying and doing exactly the same thing, and we- the little guys- are getting fucked by forces beyond our control!’ This may not strictly be true (it isn’t) but there is an element of truth, or wider theme at play, which allows memes like this one to resonate with people and become viral.

Kanye is a twat

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There is a great post on Reddit which lists and analyzes all of the reasons people really hate Kanye West. Personally I’ve always suspected that both Middle England and Middle America have trouble dealing with the presence of an audacious, iconoclastic and outspoken Black Man who deliberately appropriates symbols of White Male strength such as ‘the greatest fucking rock star on the planet’ and rudely hijacked the acceptance speech of Southern Belle Taylor Swift years after he called out the then-President of the United States George W. Bush. So when Ian Peters at Edwards&Sons Print Producers (made up person and made up business but you get the point!) sits down at his desk in the morning and sees a story on the Daily Mail about Kanye’s latest public spectacle, he can sit back in his chair, sip his morning coffee, let out an exasperated sigh and mumble ‘Kanye you twat.’

We’re Not Like Them

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Fuckboys, fuccbois, basic bitches, basic bros, hispters, ‘cunts,’ these are the people whom we must disassociate with at all costs otherwise we risk joining ‘sluts,’ fat people and people who don’t respect the armed forces in the internet shame bin. The irony being of course that anyone, if not everyone, can easily find themselves in one or more of these categories. Like the first meme in this list, this kind of post, when shared or liked on social media tells others that we are simultaneously above these broad categories of undesirable individuals and a part of the consensus that these people are idiots. They also function to protect us from not being a part of any distinct or identifiable group so that we do not feel too much like we are being excluded by either the ‘basic’ mainstream or the cool alternative kids.

Fuck you Katie Hopkins!

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Like a pantomime villain of old, Katie Hopkins, businesswoman and media personality, serves as a scapegoat or sacrificial punching-bag onto which we can project the worst elements of our culture. She is clearly a savvy individual and has managed to carve out a niche for herself which requires minimal original thought and effort whilst achieving maximal results. People who would normally complain about scroungers, immigrants (or ex-pats as they should be called), ‘chavs’, fat people and lesbians all suddenly release their vitriol at Mrs Hopkins with a hearty sense of self righteousness. KH gives them a reference point from which they can say ‘I know I have my opinions on certain things but this is just bang out of order!’ rather than confront some of their own prejudices and assumptions.

Cheeky Nandos

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This one will be lost on Americans. Along with the Grime resurgence, chart-friendly Deep House music, Wavey Garmz, Netflix &Chill, Instagram and going to the Gym, having a Cheeky Nandos has become a cultural signifier for young working and lower-middle class lads in suburban areas. There are countless variations of this meme including everyone from David Cameron and Ed Miliband to Hitler to Louis Walsh to Tumblr posts of people explaining the phenomenon to Americans. Someone even did a Cheeky Nandos rap which plays off the various stereotypes associated with patrons of the South African casual dining experience. The meme-ification of Nandos and its alleged cheekiness seems to be an offshoot of the much-maligned ‘Lad Culture’ which gives its adherents a more relevant and ‘urbanized’ version of the phenomenon where words like ‘cheeky banter with the lads’ remain but the background of the participants is largely different and the dress code, taste in music, taste in women and type of haircut is worlds away from the clean cut Hollisted-clad Ruby lad from Durham University.

Everyone knows their place around here

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To paraphrase Marx, Nostalgia is the opium of the British masses. Downtown Abbey, Cath Kidston, The Great British Bakeoff and Strictly Come Dancing tell us this quite conspicuously. Whilst the plight of East Londoners and West Midlander during the Blitz can’t really be compared to anything that we experience today, the sentiment of ‘Keep Calm and Carry On’ does carry some resonance for a population subjected to seemingly endless austerity that many of us suspect is not an equally shared burden. Another related meme category that ties in with this is the Queen doing various mundane tasks and pulling faces that us mere commoners are sometimes want to pull. For the benefit of any international readers, Queen Elizabeth II occupies a strange place in British life. The British (or English if we’re being accurate) have what Christopher Hitchens called a ‘fetish‘ for the Monarchy. There was a time when we ‘ruled the waves’, our Queens and Kings from House Windsor were recognized by our lowly colonial subjects as the governors of their everyday lives and we were prepared to take on the Sausage Munching-Bosch at the drop of an aristocratic top hat. Queen Elizabeth is like our beloved old aunt, politely fearful of change and too proud to use the NHS, who keeps that problematic family history alive in our minds. Coupled with campy English whimsy the result of this is memes like the below:

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Cool Shit Round Up 28.08.2015

The Ad

C’est shook by Grey London for Orangina

The Art

Back to Bed. A surrealist video game based on the work of Dali, Magritte and Escher.

The Song/Video

The Weeknd x Kanye West (on production)

The Article

The Internet’s Newest Plague: The Cult of Negative Viral Content by Clive Martin at Vice.

Misc

The Making of Jack Ü and Justin Bieber’s ‘Where are Ü Now’

Why is Ed Sheeran so popular? A Marketer’s analysis

It’s been a long journey for me, I’m still reeling from the disappointment of seeing Ed Sheeran on the track-list of the disaffected dark edgelord Abel Teysfare (The Weeknd)’s upcoming album Beauty Behind the Madness . I’m still praying that Kanye doesn’t lose his judgement and employ the Ginger bard’s services for the upcoming Swish. I’ll level with my readers here and admit that I do not enjoy the music of Ed Sheeran, I find it unbearably banal and disingenuous. The fake sincerity echoing the faux-depressing half-sincere wailing of Chris Martin or Sam Smith puts me to sleep and infinitely less offensive to me than any of David Guetta’s formulaic club muzak or anything the Bieb and gus associates put out (must reiterate that Where are Ü Now is a stroke of genius). The only stuff I can really get on board with is a couple of the funkier catchy tunes from the recent album X like Sing (watered-down Justified– era JT) and Don’t.

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This is not however an article dedicated to slagging off Ed Sheeran but one designed to be an analysis of his appeal to the masses and resulting success. Un-stylish, non particularly attractive and lacking in charisma, Sheeran is clearly a departure from the popstars of old. His sound shies away from any boldness or experimentation and there’s no real compelling back-story.

There are likely a multitude of causes for Ed Sheeran’s success but the most important, in my view, is the fact that his brand as an artist and public figure of note is based around encapsulating the character of Middle England and being a projection of their innate desires. Some analysts claim that the term ‘Middle England’ is not a particularly useful one, such as  Ben Page from IPSOS Mori’s Social Research Institute who dismisses the label as ‘a convenient shorthand for the 25 per cent of the population who are not surgically wedded to one of the main parties – and who happen to live in marginal constituencies.’ There is likely a certain fairness to this observation and it’s unfair to generalize but the Labour voting, cosmopolitan, often better-educated and more socially pluralistic Guardian/Vice/i-D reading 18-30 year-olds of the capital are liable to forget that they are the demographic exception rather than the rule. Middle Englanders are often written off by metropolitan left-leaning liberals as a bunch of closet-racist sexist homophobes (all the wrong types of ists, ics and obes) who’s small mindedness would match us towards a Conservative-UKIP coalition at the next election but there’s more to them than that. Certainly they march in their droves to pick up the Daily Mail from Tesco and Morrisons, they fear waves of invading foreigners coming here to absorb their tax money through the welfare state and ban their bacon, they worry about the state of public finances and are naturally suspicious of the supposed Metropolitan elite. They are however more complex than this simplistic caricature suggests due to being a diverse group in terms of class-origin. Middle England, in my view, seems to be made up of a mixture of those descending from families that were more well-off before the economic paradigm shift that took place in the late 70s and early 80s who retain their conservative hierarchical view of society despite having less considerable means, and descendants of the upwardly-mobile skilled working class who felt their quality of life improve during the Thatcher, Major and Blair premierships who value personal responsibility, hard toil and self-improvement whilst still feeling a sense of inferiority compounded by the aloofness of Cosmopolitan Londoners and remnants of the British class system. This cocktail of demographic shifts originating in the latter part of the 20th century means that those whom we call Middle Englanders are in fact as complex and contradictory as anyone else. This means that they are as prone to Like something such as a photo of Will and Kate with baby George or a meme about benefit money going on Anjem Choudry’s beard-cream rather than our brave troops on Facebook as they are to Share an article about homelessness or Tory excesses in NHS cuts/privatization. They make big financial sacrifices for their children, they don’t want someone who doesn’t want to work to be more comfortable, they feel like the Guardianista outrage over Jeremy Clarkson’s quarterly racist (sexist, classist, homophobic) jokes is an example of the PC establishment trying to diminish the genuine enjoyment that they get from watching Top Gear, they fear radical social change for the sake of themselves and their families and despite maintaining good relations with the patron of their local curry house and cheering on Andy Murray every year, they feel like British culture is under attack from Islam-via-the-EU-open-boarder and Nicola Sturgeon clambering over Hadrian’s Wall with the tartan hordes behind her.

Enter Ed Sheeran, not a typical ME (his parents are Art Curators) but one nonetheless (he’s from a Tory constituency). Going from relative obscurity collaborating with Grime legends such as Wiley and JME (I’m still crying a bit about this) and gigging daily for peanuts in half-neglected pub and bar venues across the country to writing songs for One Direction and Taylor Swift, Sheeran’s rise to the centre of the UK’s pop culture sphere provides with a combination of a safe amount of danger and a comforting amount of familiarity. He had gained attention and sympathy for apparently being homeless (something he has since been forced to deny) for periods while trying to make it as a musician and for speaking out against wealthy fans getting VIP seating at concerts whilst simultaneouly mastering the distinctly British art of banality and mediocrity so applauded by England’s silent everyone-knowing-their-place-majority. The fact that he’s a middle class white guy with a guitar forever plays out in his favour and the patronizing simplicity of early tracks like ‘A-Team’ where he doles our sympathy for homeless people plays well with Middle England’s platitudinous concern for the less fortunate. The obligatory celebrity philanthropy also allows Sheeran’s appeal to overlap with the outside-of-London bourgeois; those who own Small to medium sized businesses, members of Countryside Alliance, ‘Shy Torys’, small time Accountants and Solicitors living in the small town on the outskirts of big cities- they read the Mail but have a basic understanding of wine and went to better universities. His beaded necklaces, casual vagabondism and oblivious disposition remind them of the son they have that plays guitar all day in his room and volunteered building a school in Togo for 2 months. Ed is the nice kid who maybe smokes a little weed and wasn’t headed for a Russell Group Uni but did work hard with his music thing and deserves credit for not getting help from anyone and sticking to his guns. His humble manner also nicely reflects the inoffensiveness that the majority craves making him endlessly endearing.

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If there’s one parallel I can draw between the result of May’s General Election result and Ed Sheeran’s success it’s that like politicians and pollsters, marketers and Agency folk alike shouldn’t underestimate the quiet power of Middle England– our silent majority. I for one have learnt that there’s a world outside of the trendy weirdos and armchair socialist gender-theorists that make up my Facebook and Twitter feeds beyond my somewhat conservative grandparents.

Cool Shit Round Up 17.07.2015

The Ads

Greatest Moments by Brothers and Sisters for Sky Sports

Rewards by Adam&Eve for Harvey Nichols

The Art

I Feel Ya: SCAD + ANDRE ‘3000’ BENJAMIN Exhibit. The innovator-supreme Andre 3000’s infamous Coachella jumpsuits are being exhibited at the Savannah College of Art and Design.

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The Song

Toro Y Moi x Rome Fortune Pitch Black

The Article

Kanye West: why can’t rock ‘n’ roll’s old guard handle him? by Tim Jonze in The Guardian 

 Please leave Generation Z alone until 2018

If you’re in the toy or gaming industry you don’t need to read this. 

I’m hearing more and more about the need for brands to appeal to ‘Generation Z.’ Otherwise known as ‘post-millennials’ or, if you prefer weird militaristic terminology, the ‘Homeland Generation, ‘ these are individuals born after 1998 (making the oldest ones 18). They have never known a world without easy internet access, e-commerce, financial downturn, smartphones, an African American leader of ‘The Free World’, legislation protecting almost all minorities, the minimum wage and the threat of terrorism. They will admittedly be an interesting bunch and will bring with them a heap of new challenges for marketers down the line however there does seem little point in trying to actively reach a demographic who, at this stage in their lives, don’t have any of their own money.

The counter-argument that I would anticipate is that brands are what people are increasingly choosing to define themselves with. For example, there is no shortage of brand-complemented narcissism on Instagram, Buzzfeed’s commercial partners manage to merge their ‘listcicles’ with lifestyle-base content and Apple’s marketing is largely based on the personal qualities that its target market aspire to. If we follow this logic then it would make sense to get in there early with Gen Z (sorry) however there is one major factor that is being overlooked and that is that kids and teenagers have not fully developed yet as individuals.

Sure, Generation Z likely enjoy Zoella videos and Minecraft or One Direction or whatever but these are things that they will grow out of and probably be embarrassed by once they reach an age where they have their own income- I used to think The Kooks’ ‘Naive’ was a brilliant song, I watched How I Met Your Mother and thought that The Libertines were a culturally pivotal band for Pete’s sake (pun intended). We also have no idea how this demographic will evolve once they start to have to deal with financial responsibility, career choices, marriage, voting, tax, parenthood etc. Might this impact their starry eyed social liberalism or their projected entrepreneurial spirit? Who can say?

By no means am I saying that Generation Z aren’t an important research topic for planners, marketing strategists and the like. There is no harm in trying to understand them or even making some speculations about what their spending habits and feelings towards various brands might be however it seems foolish to be putting time, effort and money into ‘reaching’ them with our advertising before they have any independent purchasing power, experience of adulthood or sense of what defines them as individuals. So back off until 2018 when some of them will be 21 and spending their Zero-Hour Contract wages on products that they’ll take home to their parents homes which they’ll still be living in because of the Housing Crisis.

Cool Shit Round up 10.07.2015

The Ad

#WeGotYou by Hill Holiday for The Partnership for Drug Free Kids. We all know that anti-drug fear-mongering is a dead end but this is a clever campaign nonetheless!

‘It’ll feel like everyone is doing it’ and ‘I want to fit in but I don’t want to smoke.’

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The Art

Political Portraiture by Lola Dupre. See the full collection here.

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The Song

Regret by Everything Everything. Really enjoying the album, it’s not easy to find a relevant guitar band these days.

The Photo Collection

‘The History of Grime’ by i-D magazine

Apple Music, the brand and first impressions

So it’s finally happened, Apple has thrown its hat into the ring alongside Spotify, Google Play and the (in my opinion) doomed Tidal. Announced by its beautiful TBWA produced ad the company has rolled out its music streaming service allowing those of us dependant on both Apple products and music streaming to sync up with the mothership. Emphasizing music discovery and curation the new service allows you to browse artists to whom you can ‘connect’ and receive periodic updates and follow popular cultural platforms such as Vice and Pitchfork who are dispersing playlists alongside those created by Apple.

As one of the world’s strongest brands, one that’s built on innovation, premium design aesthetics and most importantly being used-friendly, Apple has done a pretty solid job with its streaming service. What sets Apple Music aside from both previous Apple products and its competitors is its emphasis on curation. As well as opting to follow media brands such as Noisey and Pitchfork you can also tap in to the vast amount of playlists that Apple have curated for you based on what you told them you’re into. I’ve been suggested everything from ‘Introduction to Four Tet’ to ‘SoCal Punk’ to ‘The Fall:The 90s’ to ‘Hipster’s Guide to R&B’ and ‘Lounge Rap,’ it’s all highly specific and new suggestions seem to present themselves to me every time I hit the ‘For You’ tab. Beneath all of this is the acknowledgement of the profound truth that we are in an age of personal and public curation. The user gets the opportunity to work alongside the existing algorithm to control how they get to access and explore music and then curate a library of tracks which compliment, or perhaps exacerbate the individuals sense of who they are- it is a prime example of branding and the innovation lies in the way in which the (forgive me Mr Hegarty) consumer is involved. This will reach even further once the planned social media integration is rolled out.

It does, of course, have its flaws. Multiple music and tech commentators have pointed to the overload of features and content and the awkwardness of certain aspects of the interface. I do not doubt that this will be worked out in subsequent versions, Apple has released some pretty clunky incarnations of iTunes in the past- nobody’s perfect! From a PR perspective Apple could have done without its run-in with industry power-broker Taylor Swift who initially held out on releasing her hugely popular 1989 album to the service due to the initial policy of not paying royalties during the trial period.

Despite a few predictable bumps in the road Apple Music has gotten off to a good start. It’s a prime example of marketing led innovation at its best, leveraging both its existing cultural credit and influence and launching itself in line with the current truths of the market. A couple of personal peeves that I have with the service are firstly, where the hell is all of the UK Garage? All I could find was a really weird cover of ‘Blinded by the Lights’ by The Streets and Daniel Bedingfiled’s ‘Gotta Get Through This.’ Also I don’t really understand how Beats 1 Radio works, do I just check the schedule for the shows that I wanna hear?

Cool Shit Round Up 03.07.2015

The Ad

1000 years of less ordinary by W+K for Finlandia

The Art

Eggs Benedict by Niki Johnson (the last pope made out of condoms)

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The Songs

H.O.M.E. by Trinidad James (yeah he’s still about) featuring ILOVEMAKONNEN

Back Then Skepta x Plastician

The Interview

Shane Smith, CEO of Vice interviewed by Johnny Hornby, founder of CHI&Partners and The&Partnership at Cannes Lions festival.