Bringing The Creativity Back At Cannes Lions

June 16, 2016 | Share this article

As a first-time judge for the upcoming Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity, here is my pre-gala verdict: This annual celebration of the best advertising in the world has lost its way.

I say this with all due respect to the many thousands of people who will descend on the Palais des Festivals et des on the southeast coast of France next week. Unfortunately, a good deal of them will spend enormous sums of their employers’ T&E budgets drinking and partying with people they could drink and party with here in the U.S. any day of the week.

Don’t get me wrong. I have nothing against Kim Kardashian, Iggy Pop or Will Smith. It’s just that I doubt anyone in my company will learn from this particular trio anything useful that would translate to their daily work for some of the world’s biggest brand marketers. Marketers whose competitive challenges have never been greater.

In my opinion, the whole premise of Cannes has been lost. It used to be about celebrating the best thinking in the industry – inspiring people to return to their home market and do even better work. Now Cannes is a celebrity fest where a pop star or someone with a high media profile sits on a main stage and dribbles on about the things they do in their professional or personal lives. A lot of people go to Cannes and don’t even bother to make it to the Palais to experience the work. But they are fully versed in the bars, bistros and brasseries.

That’s what Cannes has become and it’s a massive shame. We need to get back to the essence and originality of what the festival was created for, which is a celebration of great thinking and great work from around the world. Anyone who spends the ungodly amounts of money on plane fare, hotel rooms, taxis and expensive glasses of rose should spend as much time as possible looking at the work that’s been brought there to inspire us all.

Every year, it seems to perpetuate further amid the growing noise and hoopla. Not nearly enough people even consider it to be a work-based week. It’s more like one-week corporate hospitality.

To practice what I’m preaching, our network of companies has re-thought the Cannes experience with an eye toward fostering education and training that will directly benefit the work we do for our clients. To the dismay of some, we’ve greatly reduced the number of our most senior executives for whom Cannes had become de rigueur. To be blunt, they are the ones for whom you can most easily justify the whole exorbitant affair, but they don’t actually need to be there. The people who need to go to Cannes are the people who are actually doing the work.

So we’ve chosen to send some two dozen of our best and brightest up-and-coming practitioners—our rising stars, many of whom have earned their way there by winning internal competitions in areas like best thinking and best practices. We want these young, impressionable people who actually do the work to experience Cannes not only to see what it’s all about but to learn from it. At least four times a day, they will be producing video content from Cannes live that will be distributed to our entire network. We’ve also selected two young “roving reporters” who are tasked with video interviewing people throughout the week to produce informative content.

This is not to say that we won’t have any senior executives in attendance. However, they must either be there with a client or actively take part in our content creation efforts, along with their junior comrades. No free rides this year. To be sure, it’s still a huge financial investment, but we expect to achieve a big return on it.

To be clear, I still think Cannes is tremendously important because it’s the most amazing celebration of creativity and of the advertising and communications industry that we have. It’s just that the important stuff all too easily gets lost in the noise that Cannes becomes. Our strategy is to try to dull some of that superficiality down and to bring some of the craft back in.

Think about it. When clients go to Cannes and just see a never-ending party, do they think, “This is the industry that I trust with hundreds of millions of dollars of my money?”

Maybe Kim can explain it to them.

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