NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- For anyone wondering how global recession will affect the Cannes Lions International Advertising Festival this year, listen up: DDB Worldwide is scrapping the Friday-night beach bash that has been a Cannes staple for a decade.
"You'd have to be tone-deaf to throw a big party this year at Cannes," said DDB Worldwide CEO Chuck Brymer. "It's not the right time, and it's not the right signal. We're going to put it on ice."
DDB's Cannes fete has been the festival's signature party since 1999, with tickets scalped on eBay and crowds of 1,000 or more. This year, as some global networks say they will cut attendance at the festival as much as 50%, Mr. Brymer will host what he hopes will be a hot ticket of a different kind: a Friday-morning festival seminar with David Plouffe, President Barack Obama's campaign manager, followed by an invitation-only luncheon.
In short, Cannes 2009 is shaping up to be more about sober education than inebriated entertainment. "The tone will be very different," said Richard Pinder, chief operating officer of Publicis Worldwide. "Entirely focused on learning and improving."
Mr. Pinder said Publicis will send half as many people as usual to Cannes this year, cutting out the internal meetings networks often hold during the festival, and instead just pay for the creative teams that have done the best work and execs involved in the festival's seminar program. He said Publicis won't cut back on entering work that could win a Lion, but there will be fewer "vanity" entries "that a CEO agrees to in a country to keep their creative director happy and which, at best, drive shortlist numbers."
Oh, and Publicis' Thursday-night party? Canceled. Leo Burnett isn't likely to do its Friday-night beach party either, and Havas will not hold its Havas Café by the beach.
Another global network that is slashing outlays on the festival this year estimated it spent $1.5 million last year to send some 300 delegates, including registration, airfare, hotels and meals.
Susan Lilley, marketing manager-Cannes Lions at U.S. festival representative USA Today, estimates that the U.S. contingent of about 750 people last year could drop about one-third in 2009 as agencies and marketers continue to send senior people, but middle management stays home.
"A lot of people are waiting to see what second quarter budgets are going to be like," she said.
The Cannes festival is focusing on packing the week starting June 21 with 52 big-name seminars at the Palais des Festivals that will justify a trip to the French Riviera. "It's about high-quality thought leadership," said festival CEO Phil Thomas.
The CMOs of Procter & Gamble, McDonald's Corp. and Kraft Foods will form a panel moderated by WPP Group Chief Executive Martin Sorrell. Together, the three account for $13 billion in marketing dollars, Mr. Thomas said.
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Contributing: Jeremy Mullman