Other than playing "Where's Waldo" with "Frenemies" author Ken Auletta (that guy was everywhere) in Cannes, it's hard to identify a unifying theme that encapsulated the totality of the week. Perhaps it's because Cannes has moved from being purely a creative celebration to a frenzy of anyone who touches marketing and media, or because we as an industry are more fractured than ever before.
To me, this year was a tale of three different experiences – in, out, and around the Palais.
Inside the Palais
When you're immersed in the work showcased in the Palais, it's clear that storytelling is going through a renaissance. Our industry went through an awkward phase for a few years, when we loved the novelty of new technologies (remember the pizza-ordering emoji?), but hadn't necessarily perfected the art of adapting our storytelling from 30-second spots to something more immersive that uses technology to enhance the experience and brand connection. This year was a watershed change. Whether it was the Aeronaut VR music video, the Apple HomePod spot, or Budweiser's Tagwords, technology is now a natural way for us to make and tell our stories.
Outside the Palais
Literally plastered on the outside façade of the Palais is IBM's sobering ad warning, "84% of CMOs fear their business may be threatened." While it's a strong message, it certainly doesn't evoke the spirit of unbridled passion, enthusiasm, or powerful ideas. Seeing IBM and Accenture's investment in huge billboards outside the Palais is an accurate sign of the times, but the copy in that IBM ad foreshadowing doom and gloom seemed unusually placed. Consultancies may be encroaching on the creative world, but this type of ad may not be a boon for their creative recruiting efforts.
Around the Palais
Along the Croisette and amidst all the networking, the official buzzword was not duopoly, transparency or safety. It was purpose. Yes, there were fewer people flocking to the Riviera, but I got more business accomplished in my 72 hours in Cannes than I have in the five years proceeding. And I wasn't alone. With all the buzz around scaled-back attendance, and the myriad distractions like offers of cruises and day trips, I was skeptical of attendance at sessions outside the usual ogling of celebrities, but I was thrilled to be wrong. The auditoriums were packed, with people sitting on the stairs in the aisles, and the sessions on the beaches along the Croissette had noticeably higher attendance than prior years.
Perhaps this year is our opportunity to press the reset button-- to remind us why we're here in the first place, which is to use our industry's creativity to solve business challenges and play a critical role in selling products. With all the talk of ROI and the value of Cannes, I can say with confidence that the festival plays an important role in the ongoing success of our businesses, in its current form more than ever. By investing our time in learning, meaningful purposeful connection, and adapting to all the changes by embracing technology and innovation, we can set ourselves and the industry up for long-term sustainable successes for many years to come.
Sarah Hofstetter is chairwoman of 360i