Industry reacts to Cannes Lions cancellation
In an unprecedented gesture, parent company Ascential has made the decision to cancel outright the Cannes Lions Festival of Creativity, raising questions on what impact this will have on an advertising ecosystem built around the Lions, not to mention the outlook for other industry events. There are also questions about the general look and feel of the festival when it returns in 2021.
The last straw for Cannes, which had been holding out for a late October 2020 date, came after holding companies and agencies cut award show costs and began pulling attendance and submissions for the Lions as financial pressures mounted during the coronavirus pandemic.
The next edition of Cannes Lions will be held from June 21-25, 2021. Registrants for the 2020 festival will have their passes deferred to 2021, and work already submitted will be moved automatically to the judging pool for that year, according to a Cannes spokesperson. When asked specifically if Cannes would offer refunds to people who may not want to attend the 2021 event, the spokesperson did not respond.
In a statement, the organizers say the “difficult decision follows in-depth consultations with our partners and customers and reflects the unprecedented societal, health and economic challenges currently facing the world, as well as our desire to remove any uncertainty about the running of the awards and event for our partners and customers.
“We realize that the creative community has other challenges to face, and simply isn’t in a position to put forward the work that will set the benchmark,” says Cannes Lions Chairman Philip Thomas. “The marketing and creative industries, in common with so many others, are currently in turmoil, and it’s clear that we can play our small part by removing all speculation about the festival this year.”
Simon Cook, managing director of Cannes Lions, says that the festival’s “recent call for inspirational creative stories from around the world has already garnered hundreds of accounts of our community uniting and showing progress in this crisis
“We believe firmly that the Lions continue to offer valuable recognition to that community and we look forward to celebrating and honoring the work in 2021, when the world will hopefully feel more stable, and our community can give their work the focus it deserves,” Cook adds.
Cannes Lions through the years
Inspired by the Cannes Film Festival, the first of what would become the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity was held in Venice, Italy, in 1954—the ancient bronze winged lion sculpture in the Piazza San Marco is the inspiration for the trophy. The festival didn’t make its way to the French Riviera until its third year and it wasn’t until 1984 that the Lions found a permanent home in Cannes, France—before that the festival alternated between Cannes and Venice.
Now, each June some 15,000 delegates from 90 countries descend on the beaches of Cannes for the creativity festival. R3 Co-Founder and Principal Greg Paull estimates that holding companies can spend from $20 to $30 million on Cannes each year “by the time you factor in flights, hotels, access passes and all those cocktails on La Croisette.”
After it made the announcement that Cannes 2020 was no more, shares of Ascential fell around 14 percent.
Ascential in 2019 generated about $174 million in revenue, or about one-third of the company’s overall revenue, from its Marketing segment, which includes the Cannes Lions awards, data venture WARC and strategic advisory firm MediaLink. Award entries account for the lion’s share of Cannes revenue. According to Ascential, Cannes Lions’ 2019 revenue came from three buckets: award entries (36 percent of Lions’ revenue); delegate passes (33 percent of revenue); and partnerships and digital (31 percent of revenue).
Jay Pattisall, principal analyst at Forrester, says the 2020 Cannes Lions cancellation will deal “an economic blow” to Ascential, “given that events represent 50 percent of revenues in their marketing segment.”
However, he sees “the biggest casualty of all” being “creativity itself.”
“Canceling Cannes is likely the tip of the spear of agencies suspending all awards and festivals for the foreseeable future,” Pattisall says. “The industry repeatedly invests in creativity least when it is needed most.”
Given the current environment, many creatives in the industry are praising Cannes’ decision to call it quits. Now it will remain to be seen whether other industry events follow suit. Several, like the Webby Awards and D&AD, say winners will be announced online this year—submissions for the D&AD awards have already begun despite holding companies like WPP and agencies like Wieden+Kennedy reportedly opting out of all award shows, physical or otherwise, to cut costs.
“I feel for anyone in the events business,” says FCB Global CEO Carter Murray. “It’s desperately hard.”
Murray says agencies are rightly focusing “on our people and clients” and there will be “event sacrifices” that will have to be made as a result. On Cannes, Murray says canceling “was the right decision” even though he thinks it will be a tough pill to swallow for creatives, especially rising ones that rely on Lions to build their resumes and “propel their careers.”
“Cannes has done absolutely the right thing,” says John Mescall, global executive creative director and global council president for McCann Worldgroup. “It’s important for us to do everything we can right now to get through this and keep our clients as successful as they can be. More than ever we need to recognize and promote our industry, and hopefully we come back to make 2021 the best Cannes ever.”
But what Cannes will look like in 2021 could change. “Is Cannes ever going to be the same again?” muses one agency exec who spoke on condition of anonymity.
The exec says “as sad as it is” that Cannes had to cancel this year, it might be time for organizers to pause and assess how to “do things a little bit different” going forward.
Cannes has often been criticized for ostentatiousness, with many execs pointing out that, especially at a moment when agencies are doing their best to save their people from layoffs, the time is right for the festival—with its yachts and beach takeovers—to come under further scrutiny.
Mescall says Cannes started out at as “a simple celebration of creativity,” but notes that it “maybe suffers from the optics a little. I don’t think Cannes is as glamorous as everyone thinks it is. In an Instagrammable world, it’s just the imagery that’s pushed out,” he says.
Murray says he’d like to see Cannes providing “a more digital experience where more people can participate remotely” next year. “I think we’re all going to come out of this period of isolation reevaluating how we work,” he says. “It would make a lot of sense to revisit how we’ve all changed from working remotely; and how [organizers] can evolve Cannes as a result of [the pandemic]. I hope they come out of this with learnings that make it an even stronger festival.”
Contributing: Bradley Johnson and E. J. Schultz