Jane Austin: Cannes Lions 2016 – what did we learn?

Cannes Lions 2016 will be chiefly remembered as the backdrop to the mother of all hangovers, with the Brexit result puncturing the advertising bubble at the week’s end and giving the industry even fewer reasons to be cheerful. But, along with chronic exhaustion and a resolve to drink less and eat more fruit and vegetables, what else did Cannes leave us with this year?

The tech firms are coming

Cannes seems to get bigger every year but whether bigger is better for the industry is debatable. Tech firms came out such in force this year that we might as well rename the event the Cannes Lions International Festival of Technology. In the stampede to talk about that VR, AI and IoT, something important got lost – creativity. The buzz around futuristic gadgetry is putting this industry’s raison d’etre in the shade, where it will surely wither and die. More than ever before, we need reminding that tech is the medium not the message. As John Hegarty, the president of the Titanium jury this year, pointed out: “Principles remain but practices change. People don’t watch tech.”

It’s VR, not ER

The myriad talks on VR at Cannes did not live up to the hype surrounding the medium of the moment. This was because most of them had to rely on 2D visual effects and empty-sounding hyperbole (to quote from the Google VR session: “We are the builders of worlds”). Kevin Kelly, the founder of Wired, was one of the few to put VR in context and educate his audience rather than do the hard sell. Kelly warned that we are just at the beginning of the tech revolution and no one’s an expert yet, even if they purport to be. Great Guns founder Laura Gregory, the president of the Film Craft jury, also helped bring the VR evangelists down to earth, pointing out that the creators of VR film are technologists not storytellers. “Most of the VR I’ve seen is really lacking in craft,” she said.

Save us from brands saving the world

This year brands talked about how they were saving everything on the planet, from the human mind to the NHS. But, as the Lion of St Mark winner Marcello Serpa pointed out, if advertisers are saving the world, “who the fuck is destroying it?” Rory Sutherland echoed this sentiment by stating in an interview that Cannes can resemble a “liberal, worthy wankfest.” All the self-congratulatory saving-the-world stuff sticks in the throat, he said – and makes him hanker after a “nice campaign for the National Rifle Association once every two years.”

And the award goes to..old fashioned sexism

Championing diversity was a hot topic at Cannes this year and Unilever put the talk into action by announcing it will drop sexist stereotyping in its ads. However, there were also some unnerving signs that sexism is still alive and well in this industry. So well in fact, it is winning awards. AlmapBBDO in Brazil won a Bronze Lion for its ads making light of sexual violence against women. One of the poster executions said “Don’t worry babe, I’m not filming” above two boxes of aspirin (from Adweek with a tweet from Cindy Gallop below) and another said “Relax, it’s not like this is being recorded.mp3.” The ads, for Bayer, were later revealed to be scam ads. AlmapBBDO went on to win Cannes Lions Agency of the Year.


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