Cannes Lions is now a media fest but creativity somehow hangs in there

To the Cannes Lions then – and apologies to all of you who are fed up with it – but it was a fairly stunning reflection of a dramatically changed industry.

The scale of it all now is strange to behold. It’s not just agencies, production companies and a few clients but a huge media fest too with media agencies, broadcasters and media-related tech companies (which they just about all are) grabbing a bigger and bigger share. The latter even had bloody great billboards outside the posh hotels, doubtless to the bemusement of the well-heeled ladies with lapdogs who still seem to live there. As well as bigger boats than most of the agencies.

A couple of City analysts (yes, they were there too) agreed that the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas and Cannes were now the two unmissable events on the media circuit. Never expected that.

Traditional media owners were there in force too. Cheek by jowl we had the Daily Mail group, who seemed to be putting on entertainments every evening including sweaty half-naked male hip hop dancers on one occasion (the kind of show to bring most Mail executives out in a rash) and The&Partnership’s bulging vessel which played host to News UK’s thrash. This featured Take That and Fatboy Slim no less, which led to some space pressures. Fortunately for admiral Johnny Hornby property developer Nick Candy had parked his even bigger boat alongside.

Back in the day Candy used to toil for Hornby at CDP before deciding he could do better flogging primme bits of London real estate to Qataris. So Candy, whose guests had a better view of Take That than we did, nobly obliged by taking on boarders. The Party Grand Prix went to Hornby and News UK. Do such legacy media companies get value from the zillions they spend? They obviously think they do. And if you’re going to do it you may as well be be bigger and flasher than your rivals..

The UK’s ‘Brexit’ vote proved a spectacular dampener from Friday morning onwards. Many delegates looked shell shocked. That day saw the bosses of the big holding companies pledge their support for UN-sponsored good works but no-one was talking about that. Commercial reality gazumped good works – not before time as far as many people are concerned. Will a Britain out of the EU really consign the old country to the knackers’ yard as many fear? I don’t think so even though I voted Remain. Being in Cannes can be a reminder of how bureaucratic and somehow out of date France has become. And France is the archetypal EU country, even though Germany calls the shots.

Even the drinking was a surprise. The sort of people who now look askance at a bottle of wine over lunch were knocking it back as though the supply was finite. At breakfast in a cafe one morning four Brits arrived from an all-nighter – two middle-aged, two younger – and proceeded to order rounds of beers. They can’t have been enjoying them surely. What was the point? The Gutter Bar was what it said on the tin.

But was there much creativity in all of this? Actually there was and the organisers made sure we didn’t forget it, with reminders everywhere. The Lions winners weren’t as daft as they might have been although judges still seem far too easily persuaded by gimmicky ideas. There wasn’t a great ad – much less a great campaign – as far as I could see although adam&eveDDB’s ‘Shoplifters’ for Harvey Nichols deserved its Grand Prix for being different and formidably well executed. The Brits, I’d guess, didn’t perform that strongly overall but maybe that’s inevitable as the Lions become ever more global.

Has Cannes become too big and bloated for its own good? I reckon it will get even bigger and it will be media and tech driving it.

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About Stephen Foster

Stephen is a former editor of Marketing Week and London Evening Standard advertising columnist. He wrote City Republic for Brand Republic and is a partner in communications consultancy The Editorial Partnership.