At this time of year, it’s standard procedure to trot out some "Cannes Lions in numbers" statistics to show the impression that the annual beano to the south of France has on the global advertising business and the importance that is therefore put upon it. So here goes: in 2018, there were attendees from 95 countries and the Palais played host to 651 speakers from 41 different nations.
What started off as a predominately Anglo-centric celebration of TV and print advertising, while enjoying some nice weather, has become something that brings the creative world together (last year the winners came from 74 countries) to analyse and debate creativity, and then raise a glass of D’Ott to it. While enjoying some nice weather. And, much like the industry it represents, Cannes has been forced to adapt to changing conditions.
Of course, it’s by no means perfect – in 2017, it was rightly criticised for resembling more of a tech souk than a festival designed to celebrate commercial creativity in all its forms. Some accused its organisers of wanting to squeeze as much money out of the festival as possible; something, which to its credit, it took on board and streamlined into a shorter, more accessible event. This was too late for Publicis Groupe, which pulled out in 2018, as it delivered on its promise of putting the money it spent on awards into its Marcel platform – Publicis’ Arthur Sadoun hopes this will result in greater interconnectivity between its talent base and therefore better results for its clients. But the Cannes festival has yet to be bettered, despite its frustrations.
This frustration is nothing compared to that felt in many places at a political level. In the US, president Donald Trump shows no sign of changing course and remains a divisive force, while in the UK the Brexit farrago has hardly done much to unite a fractured nation. The recent European elections also revealed that in general the traditional centre-right European People’s Party group and the centre-left Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats group lost ground – and in the process their majority – to those parties that were previously on the fringes. The Greens-European Free Alliance further out on the left and the Europe of Freedom and Democracy and the Europe of Nations and Freedom on the nationalist and populist side were the beneficiaries. Such uncertainty.
So if our political culture is looking as if it’s reaching breaking point, where does that leave our creativity? Arguably in a far better state.
While some voters appear to be in the position that globalisation isn’t working for them on a personal level, in terms of creativity there are signs that the business is embracing internationalisation – and this is not just apparent among the young creatives from all over the world thronging the theatres of the Palais de Festival or draining the overpriced bars of the Rue d’Anglais.
At a local level, Campaign wrote last month of how the UK has become home to an array of South American talent such as Eduardo Mauri at Grey, Guillermo Vega at Saatchi & Saatchi and Ana and Hermeti Balarin at Mother, among others. McCann London chief executive Alex Lubar – half-American, half-French, and who has joint UK/US citizenship – has been promoted to president of McCann Worldgroup Asia-Pacific and is being replaced by Australian-born Sheryl Marjoram. Elsewhere, both PHD and Omnicom Media Group have united its EMEA and APAC geographical regions that were previously considered discrete under the leadership of Mike Cooper and Gerry Boyle respectively. A cost-saving exercise? Maybe, but also signs of the geographical shrinking of the ad world.
In the US, the cry has gone up: "The British are coming" (and not for the first time). VCCP put its flag down in the US in the same year that the UK voted to leave the EU; Adam & Eve/DDB set up shop in New York the following year and Lucky Generals’ US offshoot opened its doors in March. Whether these agencies put in a better show than the mixed performances received by some of their predecessors, we’ll have to wait and see – but at least this shows that in advertising there’s no retrenching or metaphorical walls being built.
If the politicians have failed us, then at least we can look to advertising as something that is doing a more progressive job of uniting us. The ultimate reason for this is that creativity makes culture and that advertising, at its best, is a proud part of this process.
In a world where culture is less and less about local nuance and more and more about international tribes, Cannes allows us a moment to wallow in the best contributions from the world of advertising to strengthening these tribes, away from the toxic political clouds at home. A bit like the sunshine of the Côte d’Azur, maybe advertising can play its part in burning these clouds away.