Shocker: Week in Southern France Not Bad Way to Make Living

Resisting (Almost) the Temptation to Complain About Cannes

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Credit: Kelsey Dake
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As I write this, the sun hasn't quite set on the final weekday of the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity. And I really wish it would. You'd think a Louisiana boy would be made of tougher stuff, but today the heat is finally getting to me.

And to think I just promised myself yesterday I wasn't going to complain about the hardships of covering a creative festival in the South of France. I worked for a summer as a carpenter's assistant in Louisiana. One of the jobs we did was tearing up rotting, spider-infested floorboards in 90-degree heat and 95% humidity. But at least that was in the shade. One of the other jobs we did was putting up a tin roof in 90-degree heat and 95% humidity. That was, obviously, not in the shade.

So, no complaining about the heat or the commotion or the rosé or the meetings.

I just wrapped up my last official meeting for the week, with Y&R Global CEO David Sable in the lobby of the Carlton hotel. It was a pleasant way to spend an afternoon.

And just this morning, I was in the midst of a video interview with WPP CEO Martin Sorrell in the penthouse suite of a villa when we learned that U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron had announced his resignation in the wake of the Brexit vote.

Earlier this week, on the way to a dinner in Mougins with Bartle Bogle Hegarty founder John Hegarty and other members of his team, the cab driver got lost and the GPS conked out. After the driver asked a few people for directions, two elderly Frenchwomen hopped into the front seat and gave him step-by-step directions.

There are other stories, some involving boat rides -- one involving a boat driven by CP&B London U.K. and International CEO Richard Pinder -- as well as dinners, meetings, panels, parties and, yes, lots of rosé.

If all of this sounds a little wide-eyed, there's a reason for that. Despite over a decade and a half at Advertising Age, this was my first trip to Cannes. So I was basically on the same footing as Dieste creative pair Nicholas Ross and Nicole Hamilton, who won our cover contest. They created the VR cover we ran last issue. Their prize? We flew them to Cannes for the week, where, among other things, they found themselves on the Grand Hotel lawn being toasted by Omnicom President-CEO John Wren, Dieste CEO Greg Knipp and 1,000 or so of Ad Age's closest friends.

But it wasn't all merrymaking and celebrating. I did manage to attend and cover the press conference for the Print Lions, as well as a presentation by Condé Nast Artistic Director Anna Wintour, a discussion of creativity in the U.S. political race and the gathering onstage of five rival holding company chiefs -- Mr. Sorrell, Mr. Wren, Publicis Chairman-CEO Maurice Levy, Interpublic Group of Companies Chairman-CEO Michael Roth and Havas Chairman-CEO Yannick Bolloré. They'd been summoned by U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to promote sustainability goals, they behaved themselves, much to my disappointment.

Mr. Levy didn't even poke WPP for being the company responsible for tackling the gender equality portion of the goals, a potential opening for mischief given a gender-related lawsuit against WPP's J. Walter Thompson.

But gender equality did pop up throughout the week, and not just on a number of panels. If there were a Grand Prix for marketing during Cannes, the honor might have gone to Cindy Gallop. While some in the industry have managed to tune out the former ad exec's ongoing Twitter crusade during other parts of the year, her tweeting during Cannes made its mark at least twice. The first was when she got hold of an invite to the party hosted by VaynerMedia and Thrillist.

That particular invitation was seeking "attractive females and models." It read, in part, "Ladies, if you are interested in attending, please send us recent unretouched photos of you and Instagram or Facebook links for you and each of your additional female guests." The ensuing firestorm was the talk of the Croisette for a hot moment -- and supposedly had nothing to do with the nine blow-up dolls in "Object" T-shirts that the "#WomenNotObjects" campaign subsequently tethered to lampposts between the Martinez and Carlton hotels.

Ms. Gallop drew blood again later in the week when she called out as sexist an outdoor campaign from AlmapBBDO Sao Paulo for Bayer aspirin. "Don't use this to sell aspirin, male-dominated ad industry, & don't award it, male-dominated juries," she tweeted.

To the chagrin of Bayer and Cannes, the campaign had been awarded a Bronze Lion, making the marketer, the jury and the industry as a whole look clueless. The agency later returned the award.

There was also talk throughout the week of the rise of the ad-tech companies at Cannes. It's not their first rodeo, mind you, but they did seem to be everywhere, particularly yacht row.

I get that Cannes is a place to do business. But this doesn't strike me as similar to the marketer clients showing up. If nothing else, the marketers can claim that they're here seeing where their money is going and, yes, to be inspired by creativity.But the ad-tech folks were here to sell. And some of them seemed here to put agencies out of work. So if creative shops get a little defensive, I get it.

It's sort of like throwing an engagement party. On the evening of your joyous celebration, you find your front lawn littered with DJs, bands and caterers, hounding you for business and promising that they'll not only make your wedding awesome, but your entire marriage. And that one over there on the corner of the lawn even insinuates you won't need your spouse after signing on for his (or her) particular service.

However, some of the grousing about tech vendors and meetings seemed almost like some people were annoyed that they actually had to do some work during this weeklong party.

The industry, of course, is perfectly capable of working and playing at the same time.

But toward the end of the week, I heard a particularly odd rumor: that people were drinking less this year.

I'd say that was crazy, but here it is Friday night and I haven't been to the infamous Gutter Bar even once.