Ian Bates of Prophecy: the chorus line of celebrities are the real enemies of Cannes, not the tech companies

Blaming tech companies for the current soul searching being undertaken by the Cannes festival owner Ascential has become a fashionable thing to do. But I think it’s rather unfair.

While the oft-quoted Snapchat ferris wheel might well be an example of the hubris of some of these companies that crowded the cabanas of the Croisette and dominated the harbour, they had as much right as any other company to be there. After all, while Cannes is supposed to be a celebration of creativity and ideas, such companies help us enhance how that idea is put into practice, or the experience that consumers subsequently feel for it.

Tech companies aren’t necessarily Cannes enemies and data does not diminish it – in most instances they are its enablers. No, the real enemies lay inside the Palais de Festival – the chorus line of celebrities who, through no fault of their own, were presumably supposed to delight and inspire us. There was very little there that couldn’t have been learned from staying at home and watching a simpering interview on the likes of Graham Norton.

The celebrity bandwagon has been rolling into Cannes for the ad festival for the past few years now, although their calibre has dropped a few notches and the reasons for their attendance have become more and more tenuous.

Lee Daniels, Soffi Tukker, Demi Lovato, Steven Gerrard (left), Dita von Teese, Kelly Clarkson all took their turns alongside bigger names Helen Mirren (below) and Sir Ian McKellen to give the assembled crowds the benefit of their wisdom. Never mind an ad festival, it got dangerously close to an episode of Pointless Celebrities.

Who briefed them? Who worked on the storylines and supplementary questions? I’m sure every one of them could have contributed something worth sharing with my colleagues back home, but nothing springs to mind, unlike some of the other set piece talks or smaller venue workshops. Take a bow Craig Inglis, Jeff Sparr and Julia Izmalkowa

A smattering of celebrity glitter and stardust is no bad thing but it perhaps has now reached the stage where the industry is consumed by the very idea of fame for fame’s sake (for example Haile Berry was booked to speak on the spending power of women, as if she in some way could speak for women of all income levels the world over), perhaps indicating an existential crisis at the onward march of those tech firms gathered at the gate?

While some celebrities bore a tangential relationship to the business, either through their content distribution or brand management, most were there just as window dressing and provided very little to those who had forked out for a Palais pass. It’s little wonder then that so many of the holding companies are looking hard at the cost. There was a great deal I can bring back to the agency, but sadly not from those celebrity sessions.

Cannes should be a celebration but it doesn’t have to exist in a parallel universe.

Ian Bates is creative director of Prophecy Unlimited.

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