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Gladwell touts benefits of developing products late

The annual Cannes film festival isn't the only time celebrities turn up to work the Croisette in this Côte d'Azur town. With increasing frequency and an eye to the fact that they are themselves bankable brands, Hollywood stars and other artists are appearing at the Cannes Lions International Advertising Festival to tout their social media bona fides, offer a hand to a marketing partner, or simply expand their horizons.

On Sunday, the festival's first day, teen rocker Nick Jonas took the stage of the Debussy theatre as part of a panel exploring the use of social media to connect with audiences. Tuesday morning, Robert Redford will take a turn in the spotlight, appearing on a panel sponsored by Yahoo that will explore how changes in people's media consumption (i.e., moving away from watching half-hour sitcoms on live broadcast television to sharing viral videos on YouTube and Facebook) may prod changes in storytelling forms.

Sometimes at Cannes, though, the stars are of the intellectual sort. Monday morning, in a speech sponsored by Kraft, author Malcolm Gladwell expanded on a recent piece he had written for The New Yorker magazine about a paradox of innovation: namely, that while the business community and the wider culture laud those who do something first, it is often those who come later that are most successful.

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Though he did not mention Research In Motion by name, the troubles of Waterloo, Ont.-based RIM seemed to hang over his speech. That's because, to illustrate his point, Mr. Gladwell told the story of a visit in late 1979 made by Apple co-founder Steve Jobs to a Xerox innovation laboratory, in which he discovered two of the tech giant's landmark achievements: the computer mouse and the graphical user interface (a.k.a. icon-based computing). While Xerox failed to capitalize on its own innovations, after the visit Mr. Jobs and his Apple engineers worked furiously to refine the technologies, eventually bringing them to market in the Macintosh computer.

"If you look at the history of Apple, they're always the last to the party," said Mr. Gladwell. "They've made a business out of being late." Steve Jobs, he added, "is the archetypal entrepreneur of our age, right? And he is not an innovator, right? He's the guy who comes second or third and makes it better."

The four screens

Still, the urge to be first is dominant among many of the 10,000 delegates who make the annual pilgrimage to Cannes. On Monday, Microsoft Advertising presented a study of the relationships that people in different parts of the world have with what are now known as the four screens: that is, the TV, computer, mobile phone, and tablets. But while the speakers on the panel noted approvingly that there have been a handful of advertising campaigns that have successfully leveraged the unique characteristics of the first three screens (notably last year's Old Spice Man effort), no one has yet cracked the mystery of how to fully use all four screens.

Canadian content

In the festival's early days, Canadian agencies have yet to distinguish themselves. On Monday evening's Promo & Activation awards, only three went to Canuck firms: one Silver Lion to Leo Burnett Toronto for a James Ready campaign, and two Bronze Lions to Proximity PR for a Mars candy effort. Canadian agencies carry 14 nods into Tuesday's awards for media, outdoor and radio.

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About the Author
Senior Media Writer

Simon Houpt is the Globe and Mail's senior media writer, charged with covering the industry's transformation. He began his career with The Globe in 1999 as the paper's New York arts correspondent, covering the cultural life of that city through Canadian eyes. More

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