You’ve packed your toothbrush and the factor 50. You’ve RSVP’d to every party you’ve been invited to – and a few that you haven’t. You’ve circled the names of celebs you plan to ‘accidentally’ bump into and ask for a selfie. You’ve had a busy old week preparing for Cannes Lions 2019. Now it’s time to get your head in the game.
So what might be some of the topics and themes we might see play out over the week? Refreshingly, one thing that seems to be emerging from both organisers and attendees is that the hyperactive obsession with novelty might be on its way out, in favour of depth and consistency. Dismissing topics as ‘so last year’, it seems, is so last year.
Fede Garcia, global executive creative director of Huge, says, "This year I anticipate that Festival goers will notice a deepening of trends that started years before. Female empowerment, equality for race, gender, sexual orientation and people with disabilities, gun control, and toxic masculinity.”
A great example of this is all things #MeToo. Last year was the first post-#MeToo Cannes Lions and things still felt pretty tentative. Senior network leaders we spoke to had inoffensive canned responses or rather more off-the-record hand-wringing but there was little heft behind it. This year we’re on tenterhooks waiting to see what the badasses at Les Lionnes have planned and the #timeTo campaign is going to be unmissable.
That idea of cultivating ongoing conversations and asking ‘OK? So now what?’ is something that Cannes Lions MD Simon Cook is seeing too, in terms of the Palais content.
“There are the ones that are a continuation of things that have come up in the last few years, things like brand purpose. We’ve heard about brand purpose and brands doing good for quite some time now and this year we’ll see lots of conversations that go, ‘we’ve heard this thing for a while now but what about putting it into action? What does that mean?’” he says.
The tension between creative risk and the comfort of data is another thread that's certain to dominate. Storm Keys, director of European partnerships at MediaMonks also feels that for the marketers, who will be there in force this year, the question of navigating those two seemingly opposing imperatives will reach a new stage.
“Increasingly, CMOs are being measured against their performance and ROI on marketing spend. This often leads to less creative risk taking and an increase in safe bets that may appear less exciting. I think marketers will be talking about how to find a balance,” he says. “How can we create exceptional creative work that's measurable and informed by real data? Similarly, with more content and channels than ever before, how can brands ensure they're at the right place at the right time? In previous years many brands have chosen to ignore what's happening in digital. However, we're at a point where it's necessary to the survival of any business. I look forward to seeing how mindsets have shifted, and how brands are choosing to adapt in different ways.”
While past years have seen the industry flock from one new tech (oo! VR!) to another (ahhhh! AI!), the platform-hacking trend which emerged last year, was all about finding new ways of using old or existing media. For Fede at Huge, he sees that trend becoming even richer with the addition of data and technology. “The ”hack” path carved last year by Budweiser hacking Google Photos, as one example, will deepen with the use of data and technology. Even hacking without technology might win big, when you think about cases like "The Hidden Flag" (hacking Russia’s ban on LGBTQ flags during last year’s World Cup) or Coca Cola’s “Try not to hear this” (a print and poster ad that let’s you “hear” the sound of opening a bottle of Coke). Of course, I hope to see the juries awarding work that uses technology to solve users' needs and help businesses grow. For example, Purina’s billboards that analyze dog urine to detect health problems is a great example of this kind of work,” he says. “Overall the trend of finding new ways to use platforms and tools that we already know - to make brands smarter and more useful will bring home metal."
Fede’s colleague Jason Musante, who is Huge’s global CCO, feels that the fact that data is no longer a novelty will also lead to a more mature discussion. “Instead of one-off gimmicks that seemed to show up in years past, I'm excited to see how data is finally being taken seriously and put at the core of industry-defining creative. See Whopper Detour,” he says.
It's been a year that’s seen huge, gear-crunching shifts in the industry from a business model point of view. Accenture made their boldest play yet with the acquisition of Droga5, while holding companies underwent some huge re-organisations (particularly at WPP where grand old agency brands were smashed together, sometimes painfully). And then Sir Martin Sorrell’s S4C came into sharper focus too as he continues on his journey to turn MediaMonks into something new. So no doubt that beyond the dazzling tech presentations, industry leaders and budding entrepreneurs will be mulling over the nuts and bolts of the business of creativity – on stage and in panels, over lunch… head in hands at 4am outside the Gutter Bar… As someone who is all about the creative work and craft even I’m looking forward to the cross-industry debate on inhousing at the Palais on Thursday. And at the LBB Beach on Wednesday morning we’ll be tackling the core of everyone’s woes – the ever-increasing demands in the face of ever-shrinking budgets.
But it’s not just the agencies that have tough new realities to deal with. The social media and tech giants have certainly lost their lustre too. Conversations around data privacy and the role played by platforms like Facebook in distorting democracy have become more mainstream in Europe at least – egged on, perhaps by the introduction of GDPR last year. Add to that the slew of research detailing public distrust in advertising and their discomfort around certain aspects of online targeting (and there’s more research on the issue due to be published next week), and one wonders how blunt those conversations with what Sir Martin Sorrell used to call the industry’s ‘frenemies’ really will be.
There’s also a sense that this year will reveal what the ‘new normal’ of Cannes even is. Publicis Groupe is back in a big way after their very public awards hiatus. Last year was the year of bewildered rubber-necking as we waited to see if and how awards shows would survive (they did). Now we’ve got the whole gang back together, what will that new dynamic look like? Though some write off big ad festivals like Cannes as irrelevant, I suspect that this year’s festival will prove to be a useful temperature check for the industry. Or like mass group therapy.
Huge’s Jason Musante also feels this year’s festival will sketch out where things might be going. “I'm even more interested in how this Cannes may prove to be a prediction for our entire industry because I believe this year at Cannes promises to be a harbinger of things to come for the advertising industry itself.”