Why Cannes matters, now more than ever
As economies stagnate and advertising’s standing hits a low ebb, there has never been a better time for the industry to get together in the common interest and figure out how to solve its problems, writes Nick Manning
A few years ago I was entertaining a contact in one of Cannes’ many swanky establishments, and, as is compulsory, ordered a bottle of rosé from the more affordable end of the menu. Not cheap at €70, but an apologetic waiter came over to inform me that the festival price was actually € 90, and I’d be given last week’s prices. They don’t negotiate at the Carlton.
This one anecdote adds to the impression that Cannes week is just an opportunity for rampant profiteering at the expense of those fortunate enough to slope off to the sun for a week of client-funded extravagance dressed in linen and shades while discussing the Big Industry Issues of the day on earnest panels, apparently to no real avail.
And there are many Cannes detractors who say that it is further evidence that the Advertising Industry is in denial by being so profligate when times are tough for clients.
However, the critics may be surprised to know the advertisers themselves increasingly see the value in Cannes and are attending in ever-growing numbers. It’s become a ‘must-attend’ fixture for clients who want to survey the entire industry in one week.
And where the clients go, the supply-side follows, like Eric Cantona’s seagulls.
Advertisers, agencies of all hues, content creators, media owners, platforms, publishers, tech companies, data companies, consultants of every kind and the whole supply-chain turns up in droves. Yes, it’s heavily US, UK and Europe inflected, but these are global businesses and the streets are full of delegates from all over the world. It’s the only truly global event in the calendar.
It's also become more business-like, with the accent firmly on growth, and specifically how creativity and great marketing drives brands.
It’s also C-suite heavy, with a calibre of senior folk who only attend one such event each year.
Planned well, it’s an opportunity to cram in a year’s worth of meetings in one place. It’s not just a talking shop but has become a market-place, where initial contacts are made and business begins.
Yes, I’m a fan and it’s partly because I saw inside the highly-impressive Cannes ‘machine’ in my time at MediaLink and Ascential (and I now have no vested interest). My experience confirmed some long-held views:
1. That creativity is a key driver of business and competitive advantage, and if we lose sight of this, we only have ourselves to blame. The Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity is the most important celebration of our core job, whatever our job title.
2. That the whole ‘AI is going to kill creativity/jobs etc’ line of argument is just wrong. We will use technology to enhance brand communications and make them more compelling and attractive to people, when used well. This is still a human business.
3. Tribalism in our industry is a dead-end. It's not ‘agency versus consultant’, there is room for everyone if they have the right proposition. Yes, the menu for advertisers is expanding, so adjust accordingly. Competition is good.
4. That we need as an industry to come together to address our collective challenges. The Trade Associations can only do so much, and at least in Cannes the issues do get raised in the open on a global and senior level among the entire industry. It’s one of the few occasions when the big platforms break cover.
5. That if we lose our self-confidence we contribute to our own demise. The Advertising Industry is supposed to be brash and proud of our contribution, so a one week global festival of flag-waving is not excessive for a trillion dollar industry.
This year is an important year. Economies are stagnating, even in the East, advertising’s standing is at a low ebb, there are rumblings of further regulatory interventions (many self-induced by the ‘bad actors’ in our industry), not to mention the ongoing debates about diversity and inclusivity. There has never been a better time for the whole industry to get together in the common interest and figure out how we solve the industry’s problems together.
Of course commercial competitiveness will be rampant in Cannes, but if the festival didn’t exist it would need to be invented. Creativity of all kinds is at the heart of our business and it’s what we do best. A week of responsible profligacy in the long-term interests of the entire global industry seems a reasonable price to pay, even if the hoteliers of Cannes top up their annual profits from their captive audience.
Nick Manning is the co-founder of Manning Gottlieb OMD and was CSO at Ebiquity for over a decade. He now owns a mentoring business, Encyclomedia, offering strategic advice to companies in the media and advertising industry. He writes for Mediatel each month.