The world’s pre-eminent creative festival has transfigured along with the industry.
My first visit to what was then known as the International Advertising Film Festival was in 1982 to present a student movie called “30 Seconds To Dream”, an ambitious attempt to describe the history of French advertising. We were disappointed that our cocktail soirée was not the biggest event of the night because we had to compete with an advertising agency party!
At the time, Cannes was not so different from its movie industry counterpart: creatives and film directors would happily bump into each other on the Croisette and huddle on the Carlton terrace to cook up their latest campaigns. Clients and the media were elsewhere in those days.
When I returned to Cannes in 2000, after many years away from the advertising industry, I found it to be a totally different event. Its name had now been shortened to the International Advertising Festival, and early internet players were already competing with agencies and production companies to get their names in front of what they all called The Bunker – also known as the Palais des Festivals. We were at the heart of the dotcom bubble and the creative industry looked askance at interlopers like myself who thought we could tell a story on an internet banner.
AdForum brought me back in 2008 to what would soon become The International Festival of Creativity. Once again, in my absence the event had taken on a different form and dimension. Cannes no longer awards mere advertising: it has become the preeminent event in the field of creative innovation. Over the years I’ve seen it tackle and embrace every evolutionary twist of our industry and the society it mirrors: digital, social, mobile, content, artificial intelligence, diversity and – perhaps this year’s big subject – discontent.
Although the Saturday night awards ceremony is still a highlight, many other prize-giving events throughout the week are of equal or even higher importance, depending on your area of expertise. Alongside the presentation of the iconic Lions are the many talks and workshops, which enable creative exchange and inspire attendees of every stripe: from budding creative tyros to clients looking for ways to ensure that their brands can stand out in a cluttered landscape. Yes, clients have been present at Cannes for many years now. Not to mention the media. In fact, the need for branded content has meant that the border between advertising agencies and media owners has become blurred into near inexistence. You’ll even come across the occasional celebrity or two, as the worlds of entertainment, pop music and commercial messaging run headlong into one another and form an alliance.
Talking of alliances, AdForum is a long-time partner of the Festival (we were even its technical partner in the late 90s) and the Lions has been an active supporter of ACT Responsible, the initiative we launched after 9/11 to promote advertising for good causes around the globe. ACT will once again this year again hold its exhibition of the best social responsibility campaigns in the Debussy hall at the Palais.
We are proud of being a Cannes media partner and it is our pleasure to participate directly in the event every year by interviewing between 25 and 40 VIPs, trend setters, executives and creatives. We’re fortunate in that most of them come to us – we’ve found that chasing them along the seafront with a camera and a sound boom is somewhat challenging.
In fact, covering the event has become a challenge for all the press at the festival. There are so many conferences, events and parties that you’d need a team of about 100 to report on everything. Fortunately, since the entire world’s press seems to fill the media centre, they effectively work together to decrypt the trends underpinning the festival and explain once again why every year more than 40,000 delegates gather in this small French town to reinvent the future (perhaps over a glass or two of rosé).