Matt Williams: it’s kick-off time at Cannes and this time it’s creativity versus football

The Cannes Lions has kicked off and we’ll be bringing you the best coverage, starting with our second preview post from Matt Williams.

This week won’t be all about all about Cannes, of course, because for most people it will be (non-Cannes) business as usual (including at MAA). But we hope you enjoy the Cannes stuff because it does help to set the agenda for the following year, hopefully with some interesting work.


So here we are, the 2014 Cannes Lions Festival of Creativity. As is the nature of these things, Cannes has its detractors. But what I love about the festival is that it is always the catalyst for the industry to start asking questions. And that’s important. No matter what, we always need to be constantly challenging and assessing the state of the game, and looking at how we can improve.

So what will the questions be that those on the Croissette are asking this year? Here are my top five predictions (plus a little bonus question too)…


Should there be so many categories?

A question that’s been asked for a few years now, and one that’s starting to pick up a further head of steam. Of course the reasons for lots of categories is clear – more chances of winning, more chances for the festival to make money, more opportunities for the less traditional pieces of work to find a home and be celebrated. But often now the winning campaigns are picking up Lions in numerous categories. It’s the integrated nature of campaigns. Where does a piece of work stop being digital and start becoming PR? Can’t every brand campaign in this day and age be considered ‘direct’? As ever, trying to pigeonhole agencies and campaigns is a tricky task.


What constitutes an award-winning piece of work?

With more categories come more pieces of work submitted to Cannes. And with disciplines blurring and brands being able to communicate with consumers in a variety of new ways, what is it that the judges are actually awarding? How can you compare the value of a single tweet that captures the imagination of a nation versus a beautifully crafted 3-minute online film that’s seen by 40,000? Both are eligible for the Cyber category, yet both are very different. It has resulted in more than one Grand Prix being awarded before, but even with that compromise it makes things a hell of a lot harder for the judges.


Where are the Brits?

The UK used to rule the roost at Cannes. So it comes as no surprise that with each passing year the trade press run more stories about the perceived decline of our industry, and the positive boom of the creative agencies coming from emerging markets in South America and Asia. And yes, this year the Grand Prix’s are just as likely to come from Colombia or Thailand as they are from the UK. So is the UK creative industry finished? Of course not. But there are plenty of reasons this question is being asked though. For one thing there’s the glut of awards being handed out – have UK award numbers declined that extensively, or are other nations just winning additional ones too? Then there’s the perceived bravery and opportunities available in other countries, compared to our own. You have to consider things like budgets, differing consumer types and attitudes, resources, censorship – so many things determine whether a great campaign idea lives or dies – should it put a downer on UK creative departments? One would like to think not.


Am I at the right party?

Away from the Festival hall, Cannes is a place that instills a fear of missing out like no other. Whatever party you’re at or beach you’re on, you’re always wondering whether you’re missing an even better event next door. Is that really Franz Ferdinand playing on the next beach along? Is it true that there are free cocktails being handed out over the road? The only way you can combat this is by going with the flow and forgetting about what you aren’t at. You’re in Cannes for goodness sake – whatever you end up doing you’re still going to be having a good time.


Shouldn’t we be doing this all year round?

No, I don’t mean Cannes itself. That might be a little too expensive (although if Engine wants to open an office on the beach in the south of France I’m more than happy to go out there to lend a hand)…and people’s livers wouldn’t take much more. But shouldn’t we be living the values of Cannes all year round? That is, celebrating creativity, being aware of branding brilliance from other countries, learning off and inspiring each other. Igniting the creative passions inside everyone who can still remember the first time they saw a great ad and realised that the communications industry was the only place they ever wanted to work in. Don’t just set aside the next seven days to do so, carry it on and make sure that creative passion and innovation runs like a stick of rock through your company’s culture. If you return home and get your head down again, creating campaigns that don’t inspire you and working with colleagues and clients that you’re not prepared to challenge, then you’ll prove the Cannes detractors right.


And finally, with all said and done, the most important question of all…

Where are you watching the football?

You might have noticed that the World Cup’s on. But don’t worry, being in Cannes won’t spoil your footballing fun. In fact, trying to watch a truly international tournament at a truly international festival can make things even more exciting. So my advice? Plan early about where you’re going to watch the England game – there’ll be plenty of people desperate to watch it and not every bar will have it on (you’ll be surprised to hear that some of the French aren’t as taken by England v Uruguay as we are). And then make some new friends from abroad and watch their home nation’s match with them. It’s nice to see that we’re not the only ones who are put through the wringer watching our team play.

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About Matt Williams

Matt Williams is head of content at Partners Andrews Aldridge.