NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- Welcome to the new Cannes normal: modest attendance gains, more practical social gatherings and marketers becoming a greater part of the mix.
Attendance is edging up from last year and sponsors and agencies are back, though they've traded in glitzy beachfront parties for daytime sand castle contests and lavish dinners for modest luncheons. Fueling the rebound is a recovering economy, of course, but also festival organizers' ability to attract clients to the south of France—at least 10% of registered attendees are marketers.
Unilever, which will be honored as Advertiser of the Year, Procter & Gamble, McDonald's Corp., and AT&T are already Cannes stalwarts, and there will be first-timers such as Pernod Ricard and Hewlett-Packard. Execs are flying in from Nokia in China, Tim Hortons in Canada and Saudi Telecom.
"It's really a kickoff for us to create stronger relationships with the advertising/creative community," said an HP spokeswoman.
Where clients go, you'll find the agencies—though numbers are down compared to years past. About 40 TBWA execs are heading to the Cannes Lions festival, a big jump from fewer than 10 last year but far from the 150 or so that happily converged in the south of France during the ad industry's boom years. Over at JWT, the worldwide Cannes delegation will hit 100, up from about 30 in 2009. The U.S. delegation as a whole is expected to number 900, up from about 600 last year, and the festival keeps upping its estimates for attendance to 8,000. "A lot of agencies took a year off," said festival CEO Philip Thomas. "It's difficult to take two years off."
Since the global economic meltdown that crushed awards shows in 2009, agencies have bid adieu to their over-the-top soirees. Crispin Porter & Bogusky is having a 75-person cocktail party, DDB is trading in its Friday night bash with world-famous DJs for a Wednesday night cocktail party and McCann traded its party at the famous Hotel du Cap—a $70 cab ride away from Cannes—for a more sensible luncheon in town. And in a World Cup year, there's more interest in finding big screen TVs to watch soccer games than in going to parties, anyway.
Agencies are also being more selective about what they enter, choosing to focus on work that's performed well in other shows and submitting a broader range of categories as Cannes grows the number available to enter.
While entries are up 7% to 22,652 after a steep 20% slide last year, fewer TV and print ads are competing (and it's harder to pinpoint winners in those categories, see related story on P. 10).
A Crispin Porter & Bogusky exec says the agency is entering "a little less TV and a little more media" and "keeping our eye out for growing interactive shows." At DraftFCB, TV and print are giving way to direct, promo and digital entries, and "our offices are focusing more on 'effectiveness' shows," an exec said.
Those entry strategies are reflected at Cannes, where TV and outdoor entries are down by 7.5% and 15%, respectively, while newer categories are up by double digits. It's unclear whether rule-tightening done by some festivals last year to fight scam ads will affect entries.
"We learned last year that we can still be named Network of the Year at Cannes, winner of the Gunn Report and winner of The Big Won [for direct marketing] with much, much fewer entries," said a BBDO exec.
Other awards shows aren't as lucky. The U.K.'s most prestigious show, D&AD, saw entries drop a further 3.6% this year after a 17% fall last year; El Sol, catering to Spain and Latin America, was down another 9% in entries after plummeting 33% in 2009; and the Cannes Lions' own Middle East festival, the Dubai Lynx, saw entries drop almost 30%.
It's about shows, not money
"It's not about money, it's about identifying the shows that our creative teams and our clients respect," said a TBWA exec. "There are just too many shows."
Besides a still-shaky economy and more judicious awards-entering strategies, natural disasters and political turmoil have hit the awards circuit. Europe's volcanic ash cloud decimated attendance and the speaker roster at the Festival of Media in Valencia, Spain, and kept many judges from getting to London to judge D&AD.
Asia's big regional show, AdFest, always held in beachfront Pattaya, Thailand, was cancelled this year due to Thailand's political turmoil. AdFest tried to salvage the awards portion of the festival by doing the judging at a later date in Tokyo, but the festival's Thai organizers couldn't pick up their visas after Japan temporarily closed their embassy in Thailand.
In India, the winners at GoaFest were leaked in advance, and judges voted for their own work, prompting an outcry among the Indian agencies that weren't already boycotting the festival. After a thorough investigation, Ad Club Bombay President Bhaskar Das said in a statement, "The Club has discovered that this process breach has occurred in 29 instances involving multiple agencies." No prizes were rescinded, but a bunch of India's creatives are plotting to start a new ad club with its own awards. (Although, from their Facebook thread, the group is currently bogged down on what to name the club.)
And yet, new awards shows keep springing up. The Prague International Advertising Festival started this year. Although half its 385 entries are from the Czech Republic, the new show is trying to distinguish itself with Grand Prix awards for odd categories such as "Best Beer Ad."
The most bizarre effort may be one by events organizer Patrick Ferrara to create a new festival called the Global Advertising Awards held in, of all places, Thailand. Mr. Ferrara told a local Thai paper that he thinks his awards, which will be cheap to enter and judged by clients, could become the "world's most coveted."
That's not likely to rattle Cannes, where a tsunami-like storm washed away the man-made beaches in front of the Croisette Boulevard where festival goers spend most of their time at the luxury hotels, bars and the Palais des Festivals. More sand was trucked in to hastily rebuild the coastline before festival season.