CANNES, France (AdAge.com) -- The Cannes Lions International Advertising Festival is rebounding from the global recession and emerging as an even more client-centric gathering focused more broadly on creativity and return on investment and less on narrow ad categories. So much so, in fact, that the event's organizers plotted the introduction of Cannes Lions effectiveness awards next year and floated the idea of changing the festival's name, likely dropping the word "advertising" to reflect the transition the festival, its attendees and the industry are going through.
Clients made up almost 15% of a total of around 8,000 attendees, as the number of marketer companies -- about 400 this year -- and the size of their delegations mushroomed. Most clients send between one and five executives, but Kraft was up to 20 people from five just three years ago, and there were newbies ranging from MasterCard to Russia's biggest bank, Sper Bank.
Several cited Procter & Gamble's decision to send "hundreds" of people to Cannes a few years ago as a real wake-up call that inspired them to make the trek. In fact, P&G hasn't sent more than about 50 people (and about 20 this year) but that perception shows the impact of the first big, high-level client delegation to Cannes. Last year's economic disaster derailed or downsized those plans for some marketers and this is the first year they're putting them into practice.
Marketers even ask the festival for seminar spots, further justifying their trips to Cannes. This year's seminars -- pairing speakers such as Ben Stiller and Jeff Goodby, and director Spike Jonze with Kraft -- so packed the 1,100-seat Debussy auditorium that some were transmitted to an overflow auditorium.
Martin Riley, the chief marketing officer of Pernod Ricard, made the trip with two of his colleagues and plans to send a larger Pernod team next year, a signal to agencies that creativity is valued and expected. "If you're going to be a good partner to your agency, and push your agency, you have to have a sense of what's possible and happening creatively, not just in your own category," he said.
David Jones, global CEO of Havas Worldwide, who counts Mr. Riley as a client, said it's a reflection of the importance of creativity in advertising. As marketers have moved from a world where messages were pushed through mass channels such as TV to one in which consumers pull in the messages that interest them, the bar for content is higher. "Being creative has become critical and essential to getting your message heard," he said.
Throughout the week Cannes-goers scouted for talent to hire and big-screen TVs to watch World Cup matches, and proved that clients and creatives can coexist, whether at a 9 a.m. seminar at the Palais des Festivals or at the late-night Gutter Bar, where everyone from senior marketers to the founder of cause-driven retailer Toms Shoes, Blake Mycoskie, to Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg were seen.
"It's good to embrace the client culture," said David Lubars, chairman-chief creative officer of BBDO North America, who was at Cannes with a whole alphabet of clients including AT&T, HP and J&J. Even Mars came. "Lots of old-guard creatives said, 'Oh, the clients took the show away from us,' but I like that clients come here and get the bug, and want to win."
The U.S. ended the week on a high note by winning three of Saturday's four Grand Prix awards, in the Film, Integrated, and Titanium categories, all for campaigns that have been big favorites. Wieden & Kennedy, Portland won both the Film and Integrated Grand Prix, for Nike's "Livestrong" and Old Spice's "The Man Your Man Could Smell Like" (Film). And Crispin Porter & Bogusky, Boulder, took the Titanium Grand Prix for Best Buy's "Twelpforce."
The jury awarded only one other Titanium Lion, for Ikea's Facebook showroom, by Forsman & Bodenfors, Gothenburg, Sweden. Gatorade's "Replay" by TBWA Chiat Day, already a big winner throughout the week, picked up an Integrated Gold.
Due to the blurring of lines, many entries won in multiple categories. JWT Italia's "Auditorium" effort for Heineken, in which soccer fans fear they'll have to sacrifice watching a big match to attend a classical music concert with their girlfriends, won prizes in five of the week's first six contests judged -- media, PR, promo, direct marketing and outdoor.
And at the Palais, a SapientNitro exec who was operating a vending machine with face-recognition software that offered free Unilever ice cream in return for a smile to be posted on Facebook, said proudly that his fancy machine scored a bronze Lion at the festival -- but couldn't remember in which category. They had entered it in five.
For next year, Festival Chairman Terry Savage said it's about "90% sure" that Cannes Lions for effectiveness will be introduced and that "clients will play some sort of role," possibly on the jury. To set the creative bar high, only work that was shortlisted or won at this year's festival will be eligible to compete for an effectiveness award in 2011. This year the festival shortlisted about 2,325 entries, or about 10% of total work entered.
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Contributing: Abbey Klaassen and Jack Neff
In its 57th year, the Cannes Lions International Advertising Festival has successfully managed to evolve from a boozy boondoggle into a must-attend event chock-full of top client executives and quality content, but it's also got plenty of room to improve.
Five reasons Cannes was better than ever
Diversity of attendees
It's not just creatives talking to other creatives anymore. The event has attracted more people from more countries -- and not just from agencies, but from clients and technology companies such as Foursquare, Facebook and the Big Four web players. One group that still seemed curiously absent? Big media and publishing companies.
Quality, engaging content
The seminars were better this year than they've been in the past, conceded many longtime Cannes-goers, with a lineup that included Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and major holding-company executives such as Martin Sorrell, Maurice Levy and Michael Roth engaging in a vibrant dialogue with blue-chip clients like Johnson & Johnson and Procter & Gamble. The sessions also starred famous creative minds Spike Jonze and Yoko Ono.
Social but sensible
The falloff in bass-thumping parties spun by world-famous DJs didn't seem to detract from the festival. Instead, attendees praised the more intimate gatherings. Smaller events allowed for more informal conversation and debate about the ad business. Even the comparatively glitzy bashes—like Y&R's beach party with a live indie band—were said to have maintained a strict invite list.
The World Cup
Where better to watch the World Cup than at an international gathering of executives from soccer-loving countries? Not surprisingly, there were a number of Cannes activities planned around games, such Brazilian trade publication Meio & Mensagem's gathering to watch the Brazil-Portugal match. Even U.S. interest grew as the American team performed well.
One common gripe at industry events is lack of Wi-Fi or spotty cellphone coverage, but that is really no issue in Cannes at this point. Mobile-phone coverage was consistent for most carriers and for those unable to use their home phones, mobile-phone rental is now very easy. Internet access—paid or not—was abundant and allowed people who didn't attend to follow the action through a constant stream of attendee Twittering.
Five things for the festival to address
Access for all
The good news: The improved seminar content meant fewer attendees blew them off to hang on the beach. The bad news: the rooms were crowded, and some delegates were miffed they shelled out several thousand dollars only to find there wasn't sitting room, or at times even standing room, to hear speakers. It seems the festival either needs to find a way to accommodate all who want to attend the daytime sessions, or put a cap on attendance.
It's disappointing to still see agencies brazenly try to bend festival rules. This year, the Press Grand Prix was meant to be given to Ogilvy Mexico, but once officials found out the winning Scrabble campaign it had created for its Matel client had been entered two years ago, it was stripped in favor of an Almap BBDO billboard campaign. In addition to the ethics issues it raised, it was also a reminder of just how arbitrary the judging process can be .
The over-sponsorship of Cannes
In a quest to reach Cannes-goers' pockets, some sponsors latched onto previously ad-free venues -- which had a few folks complaining about the commercial saturation (at an ad festival -- rich). While we could see their point, we bet they weren't refusing the free drinks those benefactors were underwriting.
You can board a flight with the swipe of a credit card, yet festival attendees were still made to wait in line for an hour or more to pick up their badges permitting entry into the Palais conference hall and bright blue delegate bag. It's absurd, and Cannes should seriously consider making registration less of a zoo and more efficient by using automated-ticketing machines.
Speaking of conference bags...
At an industry celebrating design, can we get a bag that we'd might possibly want to use again? We know ad people can design something better looking and more useful. C'mon, ad people, 2011 is right around the corner. At the design press conference, someone suggested next year's bag should be designed by a previous Cannes winner: Uniqlo.
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Contributing: Laurel Wentz