Publicis have confided in the security of data and artificial intelligence- but have they forsaken the value of creativity in the process?

In late June, Arthur Sadoun stunned the advertising industry with his impending scheme, which on the face of it appears to assert that conventional creativity is no longer paramount. Following the decision to withdraw from the 2017 Cannes Lions awards and refrain from all marketing activity for the upcoming year, we were made aware of the imminent introduction of a new online platform which aims of improve opportunities for collaboration among clients and employees on a global scale. Redirecting the company’s £30 million of funding to the development of a digital tool known as Marcel, in recognition of he company’s founding father Marcel Bleustein-Blanchet. Campaign recently described it as a ’professional assistant system powered by Artificial Intelligence machine learning’ and it will mark a new chapter in the wave of technological influence in the advertising sector, within one of its most prominent agencies.

While Publicis Groupe have theoretically opted to reposition themselves as kings of data, Arthur Sadoun is adamant that this project will not be at the expense of creativity; but rather to its long term advantage. In an online twitter forum held in June, he openly embraced questions and inputs from a discernibly perplexed general public, facilitating discussion with the hashtag #AllAboutMarcel. “Switching the focus on Marcel for 1 year enables us to come back even stronger!” was one of the responses he offered to a series of difficult questions to concerned employees regarding the impending creation of the software. Decisively, he vowed that there will always be a place for the subjective creative instinct that has made Publicis a market leader, arguing that this online platform will serve to “multiply creative opportunities”. Sadoun proposes that Marcel will allow for increased interconnection between the company’s 80,000 employees across 130 countries, overcoming the obstacles of geography. I have read the likes of Kevin McNair, amongst others who are sceptical over Marcel, suggesting that it represents ‘an either/or’ decision as far as creativity and technology are concerned. However, Sadoun is clearly of the view that he can re-write this traditional nexus between creativity and technology, and illustrate how the two can co-exist harmoniously and in a mutually beneficial way.

As Publicis embark upon this new expedition and confide in the security offered by artificial intelligence, Sadoun must aim to ensure that Marcel maintains its focus on the people and not the clients, as success at this level will always be a reflection of internal solidarity. While many people understandably consider this operation a risk, which will undoubtably impact upon recruitment in the short term, it reflects the fearless essence of Arthur Sadoun as a character. “I’m happy to get fired, I don’t care, I have other things to do,”. Such comments made throughout his tenure and notably since the announcement of Marcel in June, have only served to emphasise his bold and fearless persona. It is therefore no surprise to see him challenging the state of the award system itself, which has increasingly come under scrutiny for its being overpriced and bloated. Publicis’ decision has since brought the role of the Cannes Lions festival into sharp focus. It is undoubtably a good thing be lauded and respected by ones contemporaries, but an award itself does not equate to business success. Sadoun is acutely aware that true success in the industry is something less tangible than a trophy, and therefore should be measured according to a different scale.

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