The reborn Cannes Lions Festival is well underway now with its raft of changes, key among them a shortened programme week and a condensed list of awards categories.
A lot, too, has stayed the same, including the awarding of fantastic work and the usual deal-making on yachts and in beach cabanas that goes along with it.
One key ingredient missing so far this year is angst. This suits Ascential Events chief executive Philip Thomas just fine after all the venting and second-guessing following the Publicis Groupe awards ban last year, which he feels was "slightly out of control" and at times ill-informed.
"This year it’s a lot more positive. It’s good," Thomas told Campaign. Still, organisers may be crossing their fingers knowing how the festival tends to sprout controversy and soul-searching.
"When you’re running a festival of this scale that’s so incredibly important to so many people, everybody has an opinion and everybody cares," Thomas said. "So I’m kind of comfortable with that because I’d rather they cared than didn’t care."
"We would like everybody here to feel like it’s their festival and that they’re proud to be in this industry and not angst-ridden about it."
CMOs speak out
One stakeholder group that appeared to gain more clout with organisers last year were the chief marketing officer clients, who have become more vocal about what they do or don’t want Cannes to be.
For Mars Pet Nutrition chief marketing officer Jane Wakely, competing in fewer categories this year means the pressure is off for Mars to replicate last year’s performance of winning 44 Lions to become the most awarded company at the Festival.
"This year, lucky for us, the rules have changed," she quipped, "so it’s not about the numbers, it’s about the quality of the work."
Wakely feels shortening the week was an important move and she welcomes the new limits on the numbers of categories a piece of work can enter this year since it means clients will get to see a wider selection of work.
She also appreciates Cannes’ move to separate the judging of non-governmental organisations from consumer brand work.
"I think it’s absolutely vital for the Cannes Lions Festival to recognise work that is not just done to win a Lion, but that truly drives business transformation and results," she said. "In that sense I feel it is important to separate the two categories." Both consumer and NGO work are trying to drive a reaction from consumers, but they’re different reactions and their effectiveness needs to be measured differently.
"Our ask of Cannes is that we continually push to link creativity with real business results," Wakely said. "We’re an evidence-based company and our belief fundamentally is that you measure results on behavioural change, not on attitudinal change, because behaviours do not always follow attitudes and we’d love to see more and more rigour"
Such rigour, Wakely explains, would go a long way to selling the importance of creativity in the C-suite.
"Why does my chief executive support me coming here? Because I can tangibly show the impact creativity has on our bottom line," said Wakely. "This is not just a party."
Cannes CMO Growth Council
Wakely is one of 20 to 25 chief marketing officers who are meeting with Thomas in Cannes today (20 June). While Wakely will bring her message for more effectiveness-driven awards, the Council, headed by Procter & Gamble’s Marc Pritchard, was not intended to advise organisers on the future direction of the Festival, but rather as a summit to discuss how to work together using creativity to their competitive advantage.
"What they feel passionate about is the same as we feel passionate about, which is that in this difficult low-growth world we live in, creativity is the differentiator," Thomas said.
Samsung chief marketing officer Younghee Lee, who will be attending the Council, told Campaign she’s not coming in with a fixed agenda but echoes Thomas’ sentiment. "People asked me about my wish for this Festival. I think we should focus on creatives. At the end of the day creative matters. Technology and data are important, but to cut through and break through is all about humanity and creativity. So if we can come back to that one agenda that’s good enough."
Alison Lewis, chief marketing officer of Johnson & Johnson consumer, will also be there. "The reason this is called the growth council, is that we are all healthier when the categories are growing," she told Campaign. "If you think about getting 20 to 25 chief marketing officers together that are all globally focused, what are the biggest problems that we face and what are sort of the biggest opportunities and nuts we can crack."
Wakely says modern marketers have to present themselves as growth architects who can predict future category trends and provide real guidance to their boards.
"As marketers we are more than just communicators leaders. We’re business leaders at Mars. So the reason I was passionate to sit on the [CMO] Growth Council is that I’ve been very much of the philosophy of trying to use the science and evidence to translate it into a competitive advantage."
Agencies not forgotten
While conspiracy theorists might view the Council as a kind of secret society manipulating the Festival’s future, Thomas notes that couldn’t be further from the truth. While the Festival consults with all stakeholders, he says the chief marketing officers are not the main drivers of change.
"When we talk to the chief marketing officers after Cannes, some of them have strong opinions but nearly all of them are [saying] ‘We don’t know what the problem is. Why is everyone complaining? We really love Cannes Lions.’"
Instead, Thomas insists this year’s changes were undertaken on behalf of the agencies, not clients.
"It’s the agencies really that enter, let’s be honest. They’re the ones that really support the Cannes Lions. They don’t get the credit they deserve," he said. "They deserve a lot of credit for what they do. They’re the ones that create the work and enter the work and inspire other people with their creativity. I think the agencies are the ones we want to listen to."
A version of this article was first published by Campaign Asia-Pacific