Wed, 25 Jun 2014 14:31:34 GMT
Cannes Lions Advertising Festival just keeps gets bigger and bigger – and blingier. As agencies compete to draw audiences to their seminars, a bizarre star-powered arms race emerged. A few years ago you’d be lucky to catch a glimpse of a well-meaning politico with a right-on agenda like Kofi Annand, Al Gore or Bob Geldof, but the 2014 line up at times felt like the MailOnline ‘Sidebar of Shame’ brought to life. That’s not to say that there weren’t loads of famous faces around with something interesting or inspiring to say – there most definitely were – but there were also plenty of agencies and media owners who seem to have forgotten that star wattage does not equal relevance.
Finding the right celebrity to add some glitter to your Cannes presence is a tricky balancing act to pull off. And it’s equally true that those predicted to wow the crowds don’t always live up to their promise while some of the underdogs can surprise audiences with their insight and eloquence. Courtney Love’s decades struggling with substance abuse and paparazzi voyeurism translated into a dignified, captivating conversation with Grey’s Tor Myhren. And Jared Leto proved to be more than a (very) pretty face as he discussed everything from the beauty of consuming music via radio rather than through streaming services to the need to take creative risks. When he praised good editors as ‘the best friends you’ll ever have’, he showed his understanding of the nitty-gritty of filmmaking.
I suspect that the secret to choosing a good guest speaker is understanding why you’re bringing them. Just scrabbling after the most famous person your budget can stretch to isn’t going to do your brand any favours in the long run. It’s just a little… try hard. Over the week I spoke with plenty of people who were less than complementary about the ‘pissing contest’ (their words, not mine) as they perceived it. Poor old SJP didn’t get much loving, despite the thousands thrown at providing several suites for her and her entourage at the Majestic. And Kanye? Well he certainly split opinion along generational lines and managed to generate a lot of conversation throughout the week with his (dis)missives on everyone from Annie Lebowitz to Alicia Keyes and Blackberry. But, really, what did his presence bring to the host agency other than ‘we could afford to bring Kanye’? To be fair to Yeezus, he did dispense his wisdom on brands, collaboration, courage and the trials of being a misunderstood creative genius, which surely struck a chord with an audience of frustrated wannabe ECDs. However, was it his educational appeal that drew in the crowds, or a chance to rubberneck and say ‘I saw Kanye’?
For me, the best star speakers were those that had been brought to Cannes with a clear reason in mind. Neil deGrasse Tyson spoke engagingly and with humour about the relationship between science and creativity. In an era where the creative industries are becoming obsessed with data, technology and science the relationship can seem one sided, so it was refreshing to hear a scientist speak with respect for creativity about the importance of art. Equally, when Lowe Campbell Ewald brought pioneering DJ Carl Craig to the stage, they did so because he was an integral part of the story they wanted to tell. Detroit: Reboot City was about the creative renaissance in the bankrupt city and Craig has been part of the music scene there for years, riding Motor City’s ups and downs.
And even the idea of ‘relevance’ doesn’t even have to be too strictly applied – my 2013 highlight was definitely the chance to see and then interview Dame Vivienne Westwood. She pretty much rejected the novelty and technology that characterises much of the industry and appealed to something deeper, richer and more creative. And it went down a storm with the assembled artists, writers, filmmakers and innovators who make up advertising and marketing.
And don’t get me wrong, I love a bit of pop culture. Actually I love a lot of pop culture. In fact, straight after the finale of Breaking Bad I sent a rather embarrassing email to Cannes’ Terry Savage to campaign for Vince Gilligan, Bryan Cranston and Aaron Paul to come to the Croisette. From comics to games to TV, I’m a bit of a fangirl. But, take a step back and I have to admit that if you don’t have the ‘why’ then there’s no point bringing your heroes and favourite celebs to Cannes. No matter how badly you want to meet them. (Having said that, crystal blue and ‘Better Call Saul’ are surely the best examples of fictional branding out there…)
I know, I know. I'm so cool.
So has Cannes become dazzled by the glamour of celebrity? Not necessarily. There were a few brilliant talks from famous faces and non-stars alike, but when the reflective glare of the collective stars become too bright the temptation is to squint. It becomes harder to focus on the issues at hand. I don’t think it’s happened yet, but one of these years someone is going to jump the Cannes shark. So. Who fancies bringing Henry Winkler in a pair of water skis to the Palais in 2015?