Is Cannes really championing creativity?

As part of the preparation for next week’s CS Mini Cannes event, I was reviewing the work and was amazed to find that Apple’s campaign had won the Grand Prix in outdoor:

I had never been a real fan. Yes it might have replaced the really dull (but extremely effective) product porn of previous campaigns but there was simply no idea (compare it to the We Are David Bailey work we did at Cheil) and I found the photos quite uninspiring. So I tweeted my thoughts and got this response from my good friend Flo Heiss:

This got me wondering what the other Socials, members of the Creative Social collective, thought about the quality of the award winners in general, including some of the rather barmy winners such as the Press Grand Prix (WTF):

It seems on Apple there was mutual agreement on it not being a worthy winner.

“An impactful campaign, hollow at the core”

“Apple work is very unambitious and has no real idea behind it, that was my downside of the festival in terms of what won. They said at the awards show it was “behaviour changing” and I just can’t see how. If anyone was on the jury I’d love to hear the conversation!”

However what I didn’t quite expect was the ensuing barrage of feeling around this year’s Cannes. It is fair to say this year they were extremely strong (which I think reflects its position as a beacon for the advertising industry). Some felt it had lost its creative heart (with tech taking over), others felt that it was being killed by the excess of the networks and the vanity of their respective heads (e.g. Sorrell interviewing Kim Kardashian and Levy interviewing David Guetta) while others applauded it for its increased diversity and its continued networking opportunities. And of course coming away a winner also helped put people in a good mood.

Below is a roundup of the best bits of these discussions. Anonymity has been kept at an individual level as this was a private chain amongst friends who included Bo Hellberg (Ex ECD at Hey Human), Chris Clarke (CCO at Digitas LBi), Cyrus Vantoch Wood (Head of Creative at Naked), Dan Machen (Director of Innovation @ Hey Human), Emma Perkins (ECD at Lowe Open), Georgia Barretta (UK Design Director at Geometry Global), James Cooper (Head of Creative at Betaworks), Lars Bastholm (Global CCO at Google, The Zoo), Lawrence Weber (Managing Partner Innovation at Karmarama), Laura Jordan Bambach (Creative Partner at Mr President), Mark Chalmers (ECD at Vice), Nadya Powell (Managing Director at Lost Boys), Patrick Collister (Head of Design @ Google) , Scott Morrison (Founder of The Boom!) and Tim Polder (Strategy & Innovation at Cheil).

From my perspective I think Cannes still has a lot to offer and while it clearly needs some fixing, there is very little that the organisers can do to temper the excesses of the networks as well as their sponsors getting it wrong (come and speak to us!).

If you go into the festival itself you will see a lot of hard work going in to inspiring the next generation from the Innovation Festival to the See It Be It initiative (nice work Senta) to the Glass Lions which really brought the issue of gender equality to the fore. Yes they have made some missteps (e.g. Data Lions) but I think you still get out of Cannes what you want to get out of Cannes. As for the question below about what we are going to do about making it better, that’s one that Creative Social is working on now.

In the meantime enjoy. It’s quite a long read but I certainly enjoyed it”

Social 1

Who owns the yachts?”

I think was one of the most telling questions in Cannes this year: where once it was agencies, it’s now adtech.

In the ongoing creative tension between art and science, I feel many think Cannes has swung too much towards the latter and is awarding accolades that leave many in the agency business scratching their heads.

Many people I spoke with feel the judging criteria is out of whack with what they feel the awards should be about — especially in the innovation category…..’What 3 Words’ an innovative and worthy platform, but for me more at home in Virgin’s ‘Pitch to Rich’ rostrum than Cannes Innovation.

Social 2

Cannes changed from being a Festival of Advertising to a Festival of Creativity two years ago — so that allows ideas like 3 Words to be entered in the Innovation section.

Can’t get the stats for this year yet but two years ago only 25% of attendees to the festival had the word ‘creative’ in their title. In other words, creative people in agencies are now a shrinking minority at the festival. And it shows!

Social 3

As you all know I love Cannes and all that comes with it.

I love the scam work and the gimmicks, I love the tech led ideas and the story led ones, projection mapped like buttons on crowd-funded dinghies, hashtags on the moon, sprayable drones and data driven cupcake printers, I love it, I love it, I love it all.

Cannes celebrates experimentation, and I like that.

Nothing of that stuff is real of course. For “consumers”. That’s ok. It’s for us. To challenge us to do more groundbreaking work. Inside the bubble, to maybe try and penetrate the outside world with real work.

This year somehow the work wasn’t on everybody’s lips though. Confusion reigned. There is just so much. So much to get your head round. And I agree with Social 1. A lot comes from a science place and lacks soul.

The powerful stuff that moves.

It seems to be happening elsewhere. Where I don’t know.

I’ll keep looking.

Social 4

Get rid of all the categories — they’re clearly about making money and not the work. And they are so confusing.

Have three categories

1. Work that changes culture

2. Work that changes business

3. Work that changes lives

(sometimes they’re the same thing, sometimes they’re not)

Social 5

I did the tours of the work, but in truth I can do that from my computer.

Cannes for me as a Creative and a working Mum is just a huge opportunity.

I went to sell a piece of work. Our Global CD was there, our Global Client and of course the CMO — a unique moment to get key decision makers in one place.

In London I’m often running between work and home and so miss out on so many social and networking events. I can do more networking in 72 hours in Cannes than I could do in a year in London.

…….

The thing that shocked me most was not what won the Grand Prix, but the number of agency CEO’s who attend without their CD’s.

Social 6

There was a lot of C-Suite action there that didn’t include the CD. The usual sea of old suited men, swanning about, but more so. I saw just as many GADs as CDs. Very few young teams. And I was surprised that some of the tech companies were doing more with celebs there than with the agency creatives (who I would have thought are important customers to schmooze). It was sad to see Shots, Massive, Mediamonks all kicked off their beaches by the likes of AOL but I guess that’s business.

Regarding what won, I think What3Words is amazing and very happy to see a different kind of very creative work there. As long as it’s got creativity at its heart then it should be there. The fact we are breaking out of marketing and into problem solving in a much more major way makes creativity more powerful, not less so.

Social 7

We are all old enough to have won something or been there for the last 10 years so we’re jaded.

No doubt it has changed from a festival of creativity to a general advertising wankfest but the CEOs and ADtech people don’t care — they get a week on a boat rather than a conference in a shit dark room somewhere. You can’t halt that.

So the question is what do you want to do about?

Social 8

Cannes is like a Vegas or Disneyland of advertising and creative, where you start to think that anything’s possible and all your dreams can come true. Like one big fucking fairytale on the beach.

But there was definitely more confusion this year. No real centre of gravity. Usually there’s a piece of work or a topic that everyone loves or hates. Not this time. Reckon there was nothing that really resonated, emotionally. what3words is awesome, but it doesn’t tell a tear-jerking story nor show how it saves the world.

I got the sense there were more people talking about the work, commentators, than people actually doing the work on the frontline. Random agency management, clients or media-douches on a network-jolly. Less about creatives enjoying their Disneyland moment and getting inspired

Not saying it should go back to the good old days. But would like to see more young creatives and some kind of focus or centre of gravity.

Social 9

To build on the no centre of gravity, I’d say in that respect Cannes is a perfect mirror of our industry.

We’re fighting amongst ourselves over who owns content and what it means in the first place.

We’re jostling with the platforms to be the one’s who lead our clients.

We’re trying to work out if start-ups are production partners or rivals.

We’re wondering if any of the work we love and celebrate is as effective as an algorithm.

And so the work is a fascinating but confusing mix of pure craft, innovation as creative use of Tech and tech with not much creativity.

It was my first Cannes and I was disappointed at how little most people cared about the work and how much they cared about what parties where on.

Me included.

Is everyone definitely going next year?

Social 10

Have never been to Cannes but always avidly follow what’s happening there.

The previous view hit home the most. It’s the view I witness most closely when working with clients, agencies and start ups. A slightly unhelpful cynicism meets condescension meets et tu Bruté all bubble wrapped in excitement and good intention.

I don’t feel qualified to talk about Cannes but do feel strongly about the state of creativity, innovation and its recognition.

Social 11

To people outside our industry a Lion is as important as a “greatest dad in the world” mug. Always has been.

[There was some talk about] data versus creativity this year. ….There are rationalists and creatives, there always have been. We have to be creative in the world we have and try to change it a bit for the better. The world we have is currently being quantified and measured and weighed down to an individual level. That’s how the British Empire was created. It was built on weights and measures and censuses. Knowledge is power.

I suppose the trouble at the moment is that we don’t know what to do with all this micro-knowledge. But looking at the yachts, it’s definitely where the power is.

But it’s probably not where the most interesting creativity is to be found. I think at the moment that’s Athens. All you need for things to be interesting is not enough money.

Cannes is a festival of money and data Empires. Perhaps we are just the jesters there to amuse the Emperors when they’re not taking selfies with Kim Kardashian on a yacht ….. Or interviewing David Guetta.

The best fun I had this year was the Bossa party in a dirty bar with no guest list. All you need for things to be interesting is not enough money.

Social 12

I don’t mean to sound like a dick, but came away just very grateful that I was there with a winning team. It was a bit of an emotional dichotomy — at once depressing to see the “Taschen -Publication-esque” behaviour of our industry, sunburned, garish and disillusioned at some despicably over-catered parties and otherwise civil hotel lobbies and rooftops , and then of course, bloody good fun to let go and embrace the ugly, like you would on the dance floor of a wince–worthy wedding DJ.

Had we not arrived half way through the ostentatious celebrations of winning some hefty metal, it would have felt incredibly desperate to be jostling for wrist bands with other hanger-on-ers, let alone if I had to fund my own ticket as so many, I hear, do.

Clearly my commentary is solely focused on the cultural set-up, the parties; perhaps the nocturnal version and just as irrelevantly indulgent as listening to Kim or Farrell for an hour or so.

That’s what Cannes was to me. I can critique and learn from the work online in the air conditioned surrounds of my office. As long as the festival doesn’t assume any kind of ethical, political or in any way intellectual stance, then fine.

Social 13

Cannes has changed, but it’s still worth your time.

At the risk of sounding like Grandpa reminiscing from his deck chair about that time when everything was better, I’m going to do just that (sort of). This year marked my 20th anniversary from the first time I was in Cannes. Things were much simpler then. All anyone cared about was which TV spot would win the Grand Prix. There were no clients there. Nor any camera phones. Which meant that focus was simpler, and the debauchery was way beyond what the kids get up to these days.

Nowadays, it’s essentially a handful of different festivals rolled into one. That makes it both more interesting and way more complex to navigate. No two people will ever again have remotely the same Cannes experience. It’s all about what seminars you go to, what conversations you have and whom you stumble into at some weird party on a boat. In a way, the award shows have become the least interesting thing about the festival. I had more conversations about technology and AI this year than I did about the winning work…it felt like advertising was just not at the top of people’s minds the way it used to be.

The one trend I find ridiculous is the amount of celebs that agencies keep dragging to the Croisette. It seems to get worse every year, and the connection to what we do as an industry is every more tenuous. However, for all its faults and challenges that have been well identified by others on this thread, there really are no other events in the world that I find quite as worthwhile for the intellectual stimulation, the networking and the cast of characters who show up.

Social 14

Maybe you are all just too old?

The worst thing as an industry we can do, is pour out an endless stream of cynicism, and miss the good stuff.

Or forget focussing on the good stuff and making more of it.

Cannes (for me) is the yearly celebration of doing what I love and therefore not working a day in my life.

Despite the shitty clients. Despite awful briefs. Despite my mum really not getting what I do.

Despite the scams that win. The scams that could have easily been prevented if the juries had an intern who knew how to use bloody Google.

For me it is realising how lucky we are.

(At least, I think I am.)

With the added bonus of a shift in the type of work.

Big winners this year had big ideals. Not just big ideas.

If we truly shift away from advertising to creative problem solving, and not just in name only;

If we can fight even more for equality;

if we can reduce stigmas;

if we can clean up the world’s pedophiles and help save some Cambodian villages from iron deficiency along the way;

if that keeps happening more and more?

I can finally tell mum what I do and I’ll keep doing it for a lot longer.

Social 15

There’s a lot of talent in Cannes, we could all turn up with a bigger agenda. And I’m not talking Carlton terrace @17.00.

With the world’s comms and brands brains in one spot on the Med for a week, we’ve got a place and time to make things happen.

For me it was the launch of the Glass Lion, “towards a more positive, progressive gender aware communication” and Vice’s new female-focused channel Broadly. These pretty much summed up the feelings of the year. If we all bring our own ammunition for Cannes to be a place of cultural shift, and ignite the minds who have travelled to be there — then it can become an amazing moment with some decent meaning.

Thanks for that closing comment Mark. Certainly gives us a challenge for what we do as Creative Social next year. I wonder whether one of those tech brands that have been doing it so badly might want to collaborate on something?

Anyway if you got to the end of this thread, well done. Do tell us what you think. And if you are in London and would like to continue the discussion, please come join us next Wednesday (15th July) for Mini Cannes. Tickets are here.

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