My conclusion is that Cannes is an ad festival by tradition only anymore. What it has turned into is a tech-deal-makers meet, agency-deal-makers swap meet.
Don’t get me wrong. Deal-making is really important. And to have a large number of buyers, sellers and middle men in one place is convenient, allowing for meeting after meeting after meeting in search of a deal. But it has very little to do anymore with celebrating great creative work.
In fact, I would go so far as to say that even for the agencies, the awards, across their myriad, ever-expanding categories, are becoming less and less of a trophy. I get that it is a needed source of income for the Cannes festival, but I can’t recall a recent pitch (and I am in quite a few) where an agency proudly presented its haul of Lions or any other creative awards. The ad awards claim usually sit on an agency’s Web site as a collection of logos.
This was very different 20 or so years ago. Back then, award-winning creative work set you apart, and the festival gave other creative types from all over the world the opportunity to see truly ground-breaking ideas to sell peanut butter, insurance or cars. Today, we have seen all those ads online the minute they come out and catch fire.
When I was a young whipper-snapper, I worked with a junior creative director who ultimately became one of those guys who just could not stop winning awards. Cannes Lions, festivals in NY, Amsterdam, Berlin -- if there was an awards ceremony, he would inevitably win something. He is now a Hall of Famer and owns his own agency.
I saw an interview with him from Cannes. What got him excited about being there? Meeting junior creative directors like he once was, and showing them work that inspired him. From everything I have seen and read about Cannes last week, I believe he was one of the very few that actually took the time to see creative work.
Most everyone else I spoke to was in meetings, was being feted by an ad-tech company on a yacht, or was feting people on behalf of an ad-tech company on a yacht. There were so many tech-company-occupied yachts that at least one trade pub was offering a helpful map on who was on what yacht.
Smart agencies today don’t need those awards anymore. They set themselves apart by thinking — along with clients — about consumer journeys, data analytics and integration, and consumer connect-and-feedback loops. They compete by offering ideas to connect with consumers online and offline, bringing online into stores or restaurants.
Is there creative work being made in agencies today? Absolutely, and sometimes really good work, too. But it is no longer the main selling argument in selecting an agency. So perhaps it is time to reframe the Cannes Lions festival, and rethink how to evaluate and celebrate what good advertising is today.