Matt Williams: eight sure-fire Cannes predictions

I was going to write a piece discussing the recent evolution of Cannes Lions, and the shifting perspectives and attitudes towards the festival. Then I read Tom Goodwin and John Owens’ articles on this very matter, and couldn’t have put it any better if I was given until Cannes 2025 to articulate my thoughts.

And I can’t write a column predicting which campaigns will win, because the Leo Burnett Cannes Prediction Reel is out, and that’s as conclusive a prediction list as you can get.

So instead I’m going to give you some other predictions. Themes or issues that I reckon will emerge from La Croisette next week. It’s not all cynicism and ego-bashing, I promise.

A campaign will win big that you still won’t have heard of

A press ad from Mexico, perhaps. Or a PR campaign from Cuba. We spend an inordinate amount of time trawling the very best creative websites on the planet for inspiration and a desire to find out what’s hot in the industry, yet still a Grand Prix winner comes along that’ll be a new one on you. This can be partly frustrating, partly delightful.

A campaign will win big that wouldn’t have even won bronze last year (and vice versa)

It’s a quirk of the judging panels at Cannes – each year a creative director gets picked to oversee a category, and outlines a manifesto that he expects the judges to work against. One year it might be a collective shunning of one-off executions, or a desire to look at craft as the defining factor. Either way, it results in inconsistencies that would see Grand Prix winners from previous years fail to make it past the first round, and others win big when previously they wouldn’t have come close. Witness for instance, the Scrabble ad that was awarded the Print Grand Prix by jurors in 2010, but stripped of its title when it emerged that the spot had already been entered once before in 2008. That year the ad had failed to even make the shortlist.

A campaign will win big, yet the agency will have already been dumped

Or at least, will about to be dumped. We all love a good moan about procurement, and in recent years we’ve had more ammunition than ever to do so. Some of the most fruitful, creatively stimulating agency-client relationships have been scribbled out by the ruthless pen of procurement. Never is this more obvious than during Cannes week, when a campaign wins Gold (or even a Grand Prix) before news emerges that the client has dropped the agency in the interim period. Perhaps the most high profile case last year was British Airways and OgilvyOne (below). They weren’t the first, and they won’t be the last.

An agency or network will make a big announcement. No one will care.

I can see why people do it. The festival is still the biggest event of our industry’s year, so why not save your big announcement for when all advertising eyes are directed to one place? But whilst it makes for a better excuse for a launch party, you’re going to have to really go some to have your big reveal generate headline news and be the talk of the Croisette. I know you think everyone’s going to be walking up to each other asking “have you heard!?” But really they’re going to be talking about who’s won what, who’s drunk what and where they’re going to be partying next.

A country will win its first ever Lion. And we’ll love them for it

Costa Rica. Vietnam. Lebanon. All won their first ever Lions recently. I remember covering the festival for Campaign in 2011 when Romania picked up its first ever Grand Prix (below). The delight shown by the creative team was remarkable. For many in the UK and US, the Cannes Lions spark cynicism, moaning about categories and arguing about costs. If you’re one of them, just head along to the Gutter Bar post-awards ceremony and witness the enthusiasm of inaugural Cannes winners. The enthusiasm is infectious.

The young people who go will be better for it

I’ll sound like a broken record on this one. It’s an approach I’ve been banging on about for years. Having spent many times chatting to various young creatives who have managed to score a ticket out to the festival, it’s clear just how enthused they become not just about the event itself, but the industry in general. Of course they’re going to drink everything in sight. Of course they’re going to have a bit too much fun. But they’re also going to immerse themselves in the work too. They travel out to Cannes with their eyes open, and they return to day-to-day agency life a week later with fresh ideas, fresh belief and a desire to not settle for crummy work. They’ll be all the better for it, and so will their agencies.

And the clients who go will be better off too

The story goes that after receiving one kicking too many for its lack of creativity, the P&G marketing chiefs sat their teams down and outlined a plan to reinvent its brand activity to help become ‘the most creatively renowned company in the world.’ Indeed it went semi-public with its plans in 2005. A decade on and said company is in line for more than a couple of Golds for its #LikeAGirl campaign, and has spent the last few years winning Lion after Lion – even being named Advertiser of the Year at one point. With more clients heading out every year and being surrounded by great work, ballsy brands and proud CMOs, it’s no surprise that we’re seeing other big organisations making similar promises to themselves. This can only be a good thing.

We’ll all take the awards far too seriously. And won’t take the rest of it seriously enough

Whatever wins will have detractors. And we’ll spend as much time sharing the work as we will questioning the reasons behind it winning. But whilst conversations around the awards’ place in the industry is genuinely important (and if you haven’t done so yet I strongly urge you to read the pieces mentioned at the top of this article), we also mustn’t ignore the other side of Cannes.

Not just the drinking and obscene lunch receipts, but the value that bringing the industry together provides. The value of sharing ideas, inspiration, knowledge, advice and contacts. The value of understanding where the industry’s future is heading. The value of promoting what’s great about what we do. Of encouraging debate. And constantly asking ‘what’s next?’ Sure, we might not be able to act upon it all right now, but Cannes still provides an excellent buzz of creativity that can carry well beyond the flight home. We may be an industry too obsessed with awards, but we can still be obsessed with creativity.

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