It's easy to mock the Cannes Lions Festival of Creativity. The name alone does a lot of the work for you. While there are many things to deeply love about our business, its deep need for self-congratulations is not among them. And there's no place where this need is expressed more strongly than at Cannes.
The most spot-on complaints from the detractors include:
- You travel thousands of miles to meet with companies who would happily come to your home office tomorrow if you just asked nicely.
- You stand a better chance of winning a Lion if you do a good job promoting a noble cause people naturally care deeply about than if you do a good job prompting a common product people naturally care little about. The latter is 1000 times harder and the core task of our business, yet it's more scarcely represented among the "the best work."
- As we face ever greater obligations for being responsible stewards of our clients' marketing investments, we revel in rosé-soaked meetings on yachts in the South of France.
Fair. But before joining me in a collective eye roll, remember Oscar Wilde's remark about cynics: They know the price of everything and the value of nothing. So while it's easy to poke fun at the false glamor of the posers who cavort along the Croisette, it risks overlooking its fundamental substance.
Here are a few strategies for finding the substance of Cannes.
Cross some borders
Because it's roughly equidistant from Asia and the Americas, Cannes is one of the few places where the industry comes together on a global level. Despite the efforts of Brexit and Trump to stem the tides, our economic and cultural waves increasingly splash across borders. That makes Cannes a critical place for assessing the cross currents of ideas.
It's a shame how many people run about without studying the work on display in the Palais. Don't be one of those people. Take time to see the work on display. Even better, use one of the kiosks that allow for more efficient searching. I particularly recommend exploring work from the Nordics, Singapore, and India for ideas, as their audiences and markets tend to inspire fresh perspectives.
While Cannes has been an industry mainstay for several decades, it has changed considerably in the last few years. The festival has pushed the industry to move beyond "the ad" as the pre-eminent expression of our craft. They deserve credit for expanding the awards into interesting new categories. Its influence is in the right direction even if sometimes done in a faddish way.
Audition your next partner
Much has been made of ad tech's rise in the Cannes hierarchy. The names on the beachfront properties have changed, but it's less about figuring out who's on top than understanding how all the pieces fit together. Because marketing is becoming less about pure communications and more about the full customer experience, it requires a richer partner network to pull it all off. The Cannes community embraces a broad diversity of players across content, media, data, and technology. To be clear, it's nowhere near as broad as the CES start-up roster, but that's the point. These are companies squarely focused on marketers. To get a sense of the type of partners you should start thinking about, visit the Discovery Zone in Lion Innovations.
The common theme through all these suggestions is to use Cannes to plug yourself into a broader network than you encounter in your day-to-day world. At least this cynic would have to admit that it's impossible to leave the festival without the impression that the business of creativity is not an isolated pursuit, but fueled by the competition and collaboration that Cannes puts on full and gaudy display.