Cannes Is No Longer An Ad Festival

Did you go to the Cannes Lions ad festival? Lucky you. A week (or a couple of days) in some of the most opulent (and expensive!) hotels in Europe, or a well-appointed Airbnb, or perhaps just slumming it in an F1 Hotel (France’s answer to Motel 6). Regardless, being on the sunny French Riviera beats any day in the office.

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.

5 comments about "Cannes Is No Longer An Ad Festival ".
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  1. Barbara Lippert from, June 27, 2016 at 12:30 p.m.

    totally agree, Maarten. The tech part has completely engulfed all else. Maybe they should spin off the Lions and hold them during a different week. But they have so bloated all the tech categories that a win actually means less. 

  2. Paula Lynn from Who Else Unlimited, June 27, 2016 at 4:52 p.m.

    After the reading the headline, the first thought was for your to coordinate with Barbara Lippert, but of course, Barbara is quicker than quick and smarter than smart.

  3. xavier mantilla from Big Data solutions for companies, June 28, 2016 at 8:46 a.m.

    Tech has run over creative that was the reason Cannes came to be. We now use Cannes and CES, the MiXX and any possible advertising themed meeting to sell tech solutions. The issue is that most of these solutions are looking for funding, or just funded, with no business model and most have yet to become profitable, so in essence - not a real business (if you are not building anything, not selling enough to keep you afloat, but need funding - is this sound?) so we are shorting creative thinking for the flashing lights of companies that in a couple of cycles will no longer be around. 

  4. Larissa Faw from Mediapost, June 28, 2016 at 11:57 a.m.

    Great article but having just come back after my first year, I have to disagree with some of these points. Lions do matter. Clients expect - demand - that their agencies to win and if they don't, they will likely get dropped. I also attended many panels where both brands and agencies specifically commented about the importance of bringing creativity back as the centerpoint. 

  5. Jim Meskauskas from Media Darwin, Inc., June 28, 2016 at 5:02 p.m.

    I would love to see a list of clients who hired their agencies -- or chose not to fire them -- based onthe Lions they've won. Thanks!

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