The conversation at Cannes: Reality vs hope

Industry leaders predict what will -- and should -- dominate chatter on the Croisette

The humidity. The vendors. The lawsuits. The rebates. That couple caught shagging on the red carpet last year. And oh yeah, the work! What we talk about at Cannes are not always the topics most worthy of our attention. But what are those topics, anyway? As we count down the days to the industry’s most beloved, and loathed, gathering, we asked agency execs for their predictions and wishes for this year’s Croisette conversation. Say what you will, we have a lot to talk about.

Leslie Sims
Chief Creative Officer
Y&R New York

I’m sure the length of the bathroom line at the Gutter Bar will get a lot of attention.

I hope not just one [subject].  We are in an increasingly complicated ecosystem. C-suite involvement in brands, diverse talent needs, procurement, jumpball assignments, talent retention, infinite media choices and finite media budgets. There’s a lot worth discussing.

Rob Norman
Global Chief Digital Officer, Chairman
GroupM North America

From the perspective of a media services company, it's likely that the ANA Transparency Report will dominate the agenda, or at the very least be a constant undercurrent. Simultaneously, we will wrestle with the fundamental issue of marketing communications in a world where the relationship between the advertiser and the consumer is challenged like never before.

From the perspective of a media services company (or indeed, anyone else) it should be about how creativity, the use of media and data change customer behavior, build brands and earnings, and above all how brands win the battle for consumer attention.

Jeff Kling
Chief Creative Officer
Fallon Worldwide

Rose. Rose. Self-celebration."Something something diversity." Let's absolutely meet for lunch or coffee.

As a recovering escapee of Catholicism, I have a very difficult time with the word should. Wherever it arises I advise people to start windmill punching until it stops or to run the other direction flinging salt. Nevertheless I can say with absolute conviction that the following topic should dominate industry conversation this year: Beyonce.

Andres Ordonez
Chief Creative Officer
Energy BBDO

  1. Who got drunk last night?
  2. Scam work vs Real work.
  3. FB, Snapchat and others becoming competitors.
  4. The decline of TV.

The focus should be on the debate of the art of advertising vs. science. We all love that advertising is inherently both. The real challenge today is utilizing the surplus of data available to us to help inform creative development and optimizations without losing the art of our work. True creative innovation is achieved with the proper balance of art and science. Data fuels, it helps provide guardrails. It does not dictate.

Tom Sacchi
Founding Partner

The obvious stuff: ad blockers, programmatic replacing our jobs, women in the industry, Erin Johnson. Transparency in media. Is this VR thing a huge bubble? Did you hear that Mondelez did an experiment?  Have you got any spare tickets to the Vice party? Has anyone seen Tor? Can I buy your ticket to the Vice party?


We’re speedo-clad, sunburnt and starting to look like that fifth bottle of rose — the perfect time to lose the egos and acknowledge the opportunity staring us in our Aloe-infused faces. The target audiences have gone NSA on our asses. They’re effectively avoiding the ads we love to make. There’s a medium, VR, that has little content, but a huge demand, creating an enormous opportunity to stand out. Quality content is marketing gold. We guarantee demand by creating good content. We have a chance to start from scratch in a new space and not fuck it up. We just need to be good at what we do to succeed. Together we can make advertising great again. Let’s fast-track VR in the industry. Speed up the skills, the visual language, everything. If all brands dedicate resources and apply self-regulation, there’s an opportunity to define this space. Oh, and I’ve heard Snapchat has some big announcement.  Who goes to  parties anymore? I just hang out at Tom’s table.

Dan Kelleher
Chief Creative Officer
Deutsch New York

What should be talked about: The great advertising being shown at Cannes. And the heroic people who sold it as well as the brave clients that bought it. Great work is a combination of creativity, commitment and guts.

The impact of the ANA report. Does this report unfairly tarnish the entire advertising industry?

Daniel Perez Pallares
Chief Creative Officer
Leo Burnett Mexico

I think we will see a duality between current, world-changing social issues like gender equality and international racism with concrete ideas based on the value of products themselves. For example, Coca-Cola has been placing products at the center of the conversation, and this is a trend that will return. I believe these two realms will create interesting creative tensions.

Great ideas industries renew themselves and adjust to current times. Movies and the audiovisual industries are having a historic reawakening. The advertisement industry today is acting like big record labels, without adjusting to change and trying to profit as much as possible before its demise. I believe the debate lies here. Bring ideas beyond the 'ad world' into the "world of ideas." The age we are living in is ideal for an industry that uses ideas as its central axis.

Damien Marchi
Global Head of Content
Havas Media Group

With the new Entertainment category, I expect to hear people speaking about the continuing celebritization of content. You can't set foot in any discussion about content without talking about the latest influencer or vloger. Yet we continue to work in silos. We cannot let this new category slip into becoming another silo within our industry. In order to produce truly outstanding work and elevate content into the cultural mainstream, brands, agencies and entertainment companies need to find much smarter and more integrated ways of working together.

With digital music sales now surpassing physical sales, the music market has a completely different face, and the opportunities for brands to get involved in are more numerous than ever. While today’s brands can sponsor and use audio pre-rolls, the meat really lies in the native. I'm looking forward to speaking about how brands can fund music creation, or DJ mixes in the same way they fund the digital audiovisual content that's become the norm in native advertising.

Mattias Ronge
Chief Executive Officer 
Edelman Deportivo

Conversations at Cannes are always dominated by the work and who won what and why. There’s always a lot of debate around people believing the wrong campaign won, and comparing winning campaigns to those that have won in the past. People are always interested in hearing how the case films were pulled together too — the craft in the case studies are sometimes comparable to Hollywood productions, and people always want to know if they were paid for by the agency or the client.

How we as agencies can help our clients reach their target groups in the ever-shifting digital landscape. The context is of course our ever-decreasing attention span when online, the rise of ad-free platforms such as Netflix, the threat from ad blockers and, more important, from interesting stuff in general, and how creativity can overcome these challenges. Are we as culturally relevant and as platform-independent as we need to be to earn the people’s precious time?

Tham Khai Meng
Worldwide Chief Creative Officer
Ogilvy & Mather

Transformation of the business model. Everybody and their dog will be talking about it, and that includes the two leopard ladies.

The idea is king; great work sells. These two subjects should dominate the issues this year. As our business gets more fragmented and we experience more pressure from activists investors, disrupters, social media and people's ever-changing tastes, more clients and agencies will find it more challenging and be even more fearful. But we cannot let up. We will have to be courageous, inventive, nimble. Let's take stock, reset our true north and remind ourselves why we got into this business in the first place — if it's not to do great mold-breaking work for the brands that we work for, then what are we doing? Our business will keep changing, but two things will never change: The Idea is king. Great work sells.

John Seifert
Ogilvy & Mather

The industry issue that might dominate the conversation is the fact that we have entered a new era, which Ogilvy describes as the "Era of Great Fragmentation." More products. More channels. More content. More data. More devices. More everything. The brands that pull it all together to create more personal relevance and real value for all their audiences will win.

I could not agree more with Khai that ideas will always be the most transformative potion for brand and marketing effectiveness, whatever the delivery channel, or content strategy, or desired audience. The world's most valuable brands are built on the foundation of great ideas brilliantly activated.

Steve Williams
Chief Executive Officer
Maxus Americas 

Aside from the expected conversations around data-infused creativity and effectiveness, and the impact of new technology on our work and our industry, I also expect that a fair amount of conversations will focus on the issues of diversity and equality in our industry. This is something that has been a priority for us at Maxus, and I look forward to sharing ideas with my peers, as well as hearing from other agencies about their initiatives and solutions toward addressing these incredibly important issues.

I hope the conversation will be about concrete steps or examples of how disciplines (i.e., media and creative agencies), tech and data platform, and brave clients have come together as a triumvirate to collaborate on ideas. We need to focus on taking meaningful and measurable steps toward positive change, and I believe hyper-collaboration is the key first step. The Cannes Lions should serve as a reminder that the level of creative democratization and cross-agency, cross-vendor collaboration need to continue to improve so we can continue to deliver the best and most impactful work together. 

Donald Chesnut
Global Chief Creative Officer


The Olympics is typically a huge driver of creative ideas and campaigns, and this year we have some interesting world topics to accompany it, including a media-centric US presidential election. But the hottest topic I expect will be the continued transformation and disruption of the Creative industry by technology, in general, but specifically, by data. Data continues to change our world, and provide creatives with new tools in their toolbox for how to bring to life great ideas, great executions, and quantifiable measurement. Quite simply, data has arrived.


The global creative industry still is faced with a significant diversity challenge. We see it in adjacent creative industries (look at the "Oscars So White" controversy), but the Cannes community has its own diversity obstacles. In a world that continues to become more diverse, our internal agency and client teams have not kept pace. It’s no longer acceptable for creative and technology industries to accept the status quo in teams that lack openness of people, perspectives and creative ideas.

Dan LaCivita
Chief Executive Officer


Diversity will continue to dominate the conversation at Cannes — both from a talent and work perspective. We’ve reached a point where there’s now a true dialogue around what we need to do as an industry to better reflect the audiences we serve.  If we do not make significant changes we cannot remain relevant to consumers — it’s that simple.

Not to downplay diversity, but we should also be talking about the convergence of the physical and digital worlds. There’s been a shift in focus toward big data and the intersection of creativity and technology, but the dollars are not following the pace of disruption. More brands need to follow market leaders like Taco Bell, with its order-ahead app, and Gatorade, which is developing a smart water bottle for personalized hydration, by investing in product innovation. These brands are providing real value to their consumers while creating new growth opportunities for their businesses’ future.

Mark Fitzloff
Executive Creative Director
Wieden + Kennedy Portland


Let’s face it, Cannes is no longer a festival for creativity. It's a marketing conference. So the conversations that will dominate will be subjects nearest and dearest to marketers' hearts. Technological innovation is always a hot topic. And "purpose-driven" seems to be the catch phrase of recent years. There will be no shortage of folks breathlessly declaring our business as purpose-driven and world-changing (for the better) as they rotate through their packed agenda of terrace meet-ups, clandestine lobby interviews and production company-financed seafood dinners up in the old town.

The conversation that should dominate Cannes this year is the many threats to creativity in advertising. We are no longer being tasked to come up with ideas, but rather "assets" that can be used across multiple channels, which forces us to find the lowest common-denominator format for our work. None of us got into this line of work because of our desire to come up with amazing assets!

Andreas Dahlqvist
Chief Creative Officer
Grey New York

I think what should and and will dominate the conversation potentially could be the same this year. The undercurrent of the conversations coming out of Cannes last year was that too many of the projects that won felt too niche or not commercial enough. I think that will be an active discussion in the jury rooms, and I think juries proactively will be looking to award great work for big brands that had real impact on our clients’ business and the world. Purpose-driven ideas that solve real problems for brands and people alike. Not either or.

Eric Springer
Chief Creative Officer

I’m hearing a lot of bottles of rose being opened once again this year for breakthrough technology ideas, particularly VR. It’s just too hard for us creative types not to want to own an idea that is more than an idea. Having something that people can interact with, have fun with, socialize with and use to ignore their loved ones for hours on end is just too shiny of an object for us to ignore. And we won’t let the fact that only 0.0000000098% of people have VR technology stop us.

What should dominate the Festival this year? Print. Yep, I said it. I think there will be print work that will make people go, "Shit, why didn’t we do that?" The way BMW Films woke us up to the "C" word: Content.

Susan Credle
Chief Creative Officer
FCB Global

Data and diversity. 

The dehumanization of marketing.

Linus Karlsson
Chief Creative Officer
Ming Utility Entertainment

How do we move past the past? Unlike Sundance and the Cannes Film Festival, Cannes Lions is a festival rewarding the past. It's feels old school that way. Why isn't it more a festival about things to come? How do we look forward, instead of rewarding things of the year past. I think it’s time to change some rules. It's just getting more and more predictable in the most excessive and self-congratulating way. Really, aren't we cooler and smarter than this? 

Euro Cup 2016. Is it an industry issue? No. But it will still dominate Cannes this year and take away focus from the Festival, so it is an issue, industry issue.

Cindy Gallop
Founder & CEO 

To both questions, one and the same: our industry's complete and total failure to acknowledge, understand and leverage in any way the universal consumer experience — sex. This issue should and will dominate the conversation because I'm going to make it dominate the conversation :) 

Jon Collins
President of Integrated Advertising, Worldwide

Building off of last year, which saw the first-ever Cannes Innovation Festival, I expect the intersection of creativity and technology to dominate the conversation, particularly with emerging tech like VR reaching the mass market in a much bigger way in 2016 following the release of high-end headsets. The Festival continues to resemble CES more each year, and that trend isn’t going to go away.

My hope is that more of that conversation will be steered toward how we, as an industry, can use this innovation boom as a call-to-action for a more collaborative approach to creative solutions for clients. As agencies, production companies and even clients begin to adopt each other’s capabilities, we must find a way to break down the traditional hierarchy. We can’t view one another as competitors, but rather, as partners who have different strengths to offer in support of both business objectives and furthering creativity.

Mark Wenneker
Chief Creative Officer
MullenLowe USA

I think Cannes will mimic what is happening in the world. We will see dozens of political ideas based on the race in the U.S. We will see controversial ideas around the Olympics and Brazil, a few Zika themes. We’ll see a transgender theme, and probably a lot of Human rights ideas based on the refuge crisis.

Based on all of these heavy subjects, I predict something funny wins big; it will feel so refreshing to the judges rowing through waves of deep and emotional work.

Sasha Savic
Chief Executive Officer
MediaCom USA

The marriage of creativity and data.

The agency-client relationship.

Chris Raih
Chief Executive Officer

Silicon Valley is stealing our talent, and they’re willingly leaving in droves. We need to talk about what the agency industry isn’t providing smart, inventive talent. First, we should all agree to stop letting technology for the sake of it dictate our ideas. Virtual reality isn’t an idea. If we put the tech cart before the idea horse, we’ll continue to send our best talent to Silicon Valley and threaten our own livelihood.

I think transparency and honesty. In our work. In our industry. As Gen Z starts to become the biggest consumer segment I think we will all be talking more and more about how we reach those who are used to being marketed to every day of their lives. The younger generation understands marketing and how it’s made more than ever before, which presents an interesting challenge to us all. In a way they already know how the magic trick is done. I think as an industry we almost need to begin to develop a new marketing language to speak to them. It should be inspiring to us as an industry how savvy and intelligent this new generation is proving to be. Now it’s up to us to keep up.

Ari Halper
Chief Creative Officer
FCB New York

At what point are we going to stop awarding ideas just done for shows, that have little or even a negative effect on client goals? Inherently shouldn’t great advertising only be great if it actually works? Otherwise it’s just a scam, isn’t it?

Spatial story telling will be huge. With the growing proliferation of VR and 360 video, agencies and advertisers alike will need to up their game on how they bring their messages to life in this new, immersive, go anywhere, look anywhere medium. Currently the story lines themselves are very basic and don’t truly take advantage of the technology in a meaningful way, but once they do, hold on to your hats.

Jason DeLand
Founding Partner

Having never been to Cannes, I cannot profess to be an expert about it. However as a student of the game, I expect there to be a general conversation about the forces of technology on creativity, the rise of ad blocking behavior, the difficulty in communicating to the ever elusive youth, and maybe even more prickly subjects like lack of transparency in media these days. All worthy subjects. But likely anesthetized by French wine and the usual glad-handing and self-promoting backslapping that accompanies many agency types in the south of France.

Agencies are caught in a trap. They know they must change, they know they must embrace the dynamics of technology, the incredible proliferation and fragmentation of media, and the rise of complex data. However the need for change is stuck against a hard reality - most do not have the talent nor the structure to even understand how to approach that change. And because awards shows are not typical venues to talk about weaknesses, I suspect these topics will largely go ignored. Ignored at the peril of the agencies and brands alike. Surely there will be a select few pushing the norms, but if history is any indicator, we can expect to hear about the health and vitality of the industry. ‘Congratulations’ however never spurred any change anywhere and now more than ever, this industry must change or risks further irrelevance.


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