The impotence of being earnest

Jeremy Lee
Jeremy Lee

Purpose is great, but sincerity is better.

There wasn’t much to see or do in Cannes last Friday. The branded beach bars and lighting rigs were already gone, the town awaiting the next industry vertical to roll in to take their place and spend their cash. A large contingent of the ad delegates was already heading home and the Palais itself resembled a largely empty end-of-term student union, the walls plastered with agency posters supporting various causes.

It was a powerful reminder of the ephemeral nature of the Lions beano. These few days in June are in danger of sitting in isolation; an otherworldly break in the sun involving conspicuous consumption and earnest conversation that’s separate from the rest of the working year. An annual convention where we pretend to wallow in the best work, but where its quality and veracity is sometimes questionable. It's an opportunity to be inspired, but many of the committee-created talks – in the confines of the Palais, at least – seemed to consist of a string of platitudes or a rehash of buzzwords of conferences past. Still, at least you can look like you care.

That’s not to say that the Cannes Lions festival is without its worth; if many of the panel sessions inside drew nothing more than a feeling of mild ennui or déjà vu, at least some of the unofficial talks outside the Palais building and inside those expensive beach huts or converted apartments could be of greater interest.

As for the UK’s performance – well, it was distinctly average. The overall haul was down by nearly a quarter and there were no Grands Prix. However credit is due to Abbott Mead Vickers BBDO and FCB Inferno for at least putting in an honourable performance and for creating award-winning work that defied the fashion for being virtuous. "Viva la vulva" rightly triumphed. As for last year’s Agency of the Year Adam & Eve/DDB, it won a couple of golds and a smattering of other metals. All rather average.

While awarding creativity that "does good" is a firmly established Cannes principle (and what jury could be expected to resist a short-term tug at the heartstrings in favour of something that – horror of horror – shifted product or changed behaviour), there was a certain irony to those attendees who applauded the Extinction Rebellion protestors without realising what they were really protesting about.

The whiff of bullshit lingered around the Palais – it's an industry whose messianic belief that it can change the world is undermined somewhat by the admission from Unilever chief executive Alan Jope that "woke-washing" is weakening trust

Stéphane Xiberras, president and chief creative officer at BETC Paris and head of Havas’ global creative council, put his contempt for "purpose" more passionately: "Stopping the bullshit is the most important thing to do right now. We have to be genuinely sincere – not just for three days a year in Cannes."

Jeremy Lee is contributing editor at Campaign

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