Time for Cannes to rethink its own purpose

I sat next to Boris Johnson's sister Rachel in Cannes last week. It was the morning after the Brexit vote.

Rachel had flown in to bang the drum for Remain and debate Katie Hopkins and Richard Littlejohn on the Daily Mail yacht.

At breakfast she looked shell-shocked. She told us that she hadn’t spoken to her brother, she didn’t know what to say to him. We sat together talking quietly, heads in hands, feeling slightly sick as the enormity of what had just happened in Britain sunk in.

How had it come to this? No-one had ever said the European Union was perfect, but surely the answer was to reform it from within rather than walk away.

There are serious criticisms levelled at the EU. It’s got too big, it costs too much money, it’s lost relevancy and meaning with everyday reality. The more that I sat and thought and looked at the crowds swarming the Croisette the more that I started to worry that Cannes was facing exactly the same set of issues.

Might the Cannes Lions be in danger of having its own Lions exit (Lexit??) moment? Unless the festival starts to really re-think it’s purpose and point I worry that this could happen.

I have always stood up in the face of Cannes-bashing. When told that it was out of touch, I said that it was a celebration of craft. When people said that it was too big I replied that was because it was global and when people accused the Cannes Lions of being anachronistic I pointed to the presence of the Innovation Lions and said how could it possibly be old-fashioned.

Might the Cannes Lions be in danger of having it’s own Lions exit (Lexit??) moment? Unless the festival starts to really re-think it’s purpose and point I worry that this could happen.

But this year I came away feeling different. The difference for me this year was how few people seemed to be interested in talking about the awarded work.

I remember heated debates about what won and what should have won and what ideas you wished that you had worked on. This year people talked about scam creativity - the I Sea app that was not actually live and not available in the app store and the sexist Brazilian ad for Aspirin that BBDO gave back their Lion over.

There was conversations about diversity, specifically the VeynerMedia "only attractive women and models" party, The Case for Creativity book given out to every delegate that did not feature any woman and the Unilever commitment to drop all sexist stereotypes of women from its ads.

But there weren’t conversations about the awarded work. That worries me. If we didn’t even talk about them, do we think people out in the real world care?

I spoke to a senior agency executive from South America now working in New York who was moaning about the fact that none of the junior creatives who she had brought with her even went into the Palais. "I’m not even sure if they know what is up for awards, they certainly don’t have an opinion on the work, because they’re not even interested enough to spend the time looking at it."

Cannes is confusing in its current configuration. Sometimes it feels that it should re-brand as a tradeshow. Sometimes it feels like TED lite, the arms-race of celebrity speakers continued with the likes of Will Smith, Gywyneth Paltrow and David Copperfield.

At other times it felt as though Cannes had become a poor man's SXSW – Google/YouTube, Snapchat, Facebook and Twitter were the kings of the Croisette not agencies.

I met incredibly creative people but on the fringes of the festival and none connected to any work. I met a woman who is a fashion technologist and biomedia/wearable tech designer, who has a incubator/factory working at the intersection of intelligent material and fashion.

I met a woman who advises the CTO in the White House on online hate and radicalisation and the chief creative officer of IBM iX who is rethinking cars and transportation.

They had no idea that an awards show was going on. We need global standards of creative excellence but when ads and apps that have never really run/launched, then what’s the point? Surely the ideas that win actually need have an impact on the world or on a clients business?

I met a woman who advises the CTO in the White House on online hate and radicalisation and the chief creative officer of IBM iX who is rethinking cars and transportation. They had no idea that an awards show was going on.

If no-one in the real world knows about the work that is being awarded, do the awards matter? What then becomes the purpose of Cannes, it can’t be an art exhibition of art. As culture shifts and technology leaps forward, we are forced to reimagine the business that we are in on a daily basis.

The awards as they currently exist take away from the new reality that we face in our businesses. Awards make us feel warm as an industry and give us the comfort blanket of league tables.

We are lucky to have a global event like the Cannes Lions but it is so obvious that they are in need of reform, otherwise they are in danger of losing relevancy and meaning and you only need to look at the mess we are in today to realise how important that is.

Amelia Torode is chief strategy officer at TBWA London

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