The prophets of doom have been circulating around Cannes ever since Publicis Groupe decided that it was pulling the plug last year. (Turns out that Publicis pushed the plug back in, but let’s not get caught up in all that.)
Cannes responded with a revamped, shorter week. So would it feel like a leaner, more focused, more creative Cannes? A Cannes festival that’s just done a 90-day Joe Wicks diet plan? Or would it be the same bloated, rose-soaked, Millennium Dome-style ad-tech trade fair we’ve become sadly accustomed to in recent years?
Could the changes to the submissions process produce more winning work that actually has a commercial objective, or indeed even a real brief attached to it? (Apart from the press section which is probably beyond saving, John Hegarty memorably naming it the ‘portfolio’ awards.) Would it feel more inclusive and, importantly, more diverse? And was it still going to be fun?
The big purge
The signs were promising, with entries down by a fifth. Spare a thought for the judges, sitting in the basement of the Palais for a week, watching endless case films featuring "The world’s first blah…blah… blah…!"
(It can be torturous. I still remember being stuck there until 4am one year, trying to sort out the winners. When we came to vote, I’m sure a couple of silvers were awarded accidentally, because people were so tired they didn’t put their hands down in time.)
The purge should also have meant that the genuine best work in each distinct discipline would shine through, rather than one "Dumb ways to die"-style campaign scooping every gold across the board.
If agencies continue to stay away, we could be left with the ad-tech yacht show
And as you walked down the Croisette, you got the sense that things were a bit quieter – in a good way. It just wasn’t as busy as previous years. If you measured the amount of time spent queuing at the Gutter Bar or waiting for a waiter at the Carlton terrace, then I’m sure it would reveal that this year’s waiting time was on the decrease.
So that’s all good.
But is it enough? Does it really address some of the major issues that have sprung up around Cannes in recent years? Losing a few pounds is a start, and the show does look leaner and fitter, but if agencies continue to stay away, then what are we left with? The ad-tech yacht show?
As rumours circulate about next year’s event (relocating to Amsterdam was doing the rounds strongly this week) it does feel like we’ve reached a tipping point with the Lions. They should be applauded for at least giving the categories a long overdue sorting-out, but with a revamped Guardian-sponsored D&AD festival relaunching next year, will it still be seen as the award to win? The lure of a shorter queue at 2am at the Gutter Bar may not be enough.
Which is a shame. There’s still magic to be found in Cannes – the friendships formed and reaffirmed are what makes it so unique. But if it is ever to reclaim its purpose of being a celebration of creativity then it has a long way to go.
Maybe all the way to the Netherlands?
John Treacy is the executive creative director of Proximity London