Cannes Lions— a vital learning experience or a complete waste of time and money?

By Jack McCormick

23rd June 2017

London, despite its very best efforts to mimic the intense heat of the south of France this week, is sadly still lacking in beaches and a cool sea breeze. And, while we drip sweat on the tube and bask in the exhaust fumes of the city’s buses, a chunk of the marketing and advertising industry has been drowning itself in rosé at the annual Cannes Lions Festival of Creativity.

But is the Boulevard de la Croisette a place for creative inspiration for the year ahead or an excuse for a piss-up on a grand scale? From personal experience it certainly leans towards the latter – Cannes Lions, for most, seems to be more about the parties and the Gutter Bar than the award-winning work on display.

Indeed, the dominance of technology companies with money to burn and the raft of seemingly irrelevant celebrities that descend on the festival suggest the week-long event has become an exercise in willy waving—a far cry from celebrating and learning from the best campaigns the industry has produced since last June.

Publicis Groupe has said it won’t take part in 2018, while the holding group WPP may follow suit after already cutting back on the amount it spends on flying employees out. Atomic London, a creative agency, announced it’s swapping Cannes for Canvey this year – using its time and money to inspire the next generation of Mad Men rather than engaging in a round of beachfront back slapping with the current cohort.

And Cannes Lions owner Ascential is clearly concerned, announcing today the launch of an advisory committee “to help shape the future of the festival” in response to the criticism it’s faced.

We’re hearing from clients they’re being priced out of it, too – especially with news this year that only those with festival passes can access the Croisette’s popular hotels. One of Cannes Lions’ most attractive aspects was that you could enjoy the raft of networking opportunities on offer on a shoestring budget (or a little black book).

A look at the agenda for this week does throw up what should be some fantastic opportunities for attendees – both hungry juniors and advertising veterans – to learn from the best in the business. There have been some huge brands and industry leaders tackling important issues such as diversity within the industry. Our client Getty Images, for example, looked at how imagery can influence perceptions of race, gender and sexuality.

Undoubtedly, those armed with a notebook and an inquisitive mind will reap the benefits of hearing from the likes of Sir John Hegarty, Sheryl Sandberg of Facebook, and Dollar Shave Club’s Alec Brownstein, and will return home brim-full with new ideas and insights. It’s just a shame there’s so much emphasis placed on who’s rented the biggest yacht.