Fresh eyes on the Cannes Lions

Sam Stuchbury, founder and executive creative director of Motion Sickness, was at the 2024 Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity, after a successful haul at the Global Agency of the Year Awards in London. One of a new generation of creative leaders in the industry, Stutchbury offers a first-timer’s perspective of the show for StopPress. This is part one of his two-part report. Read part two here.

Coachella for corporates. That was the phrase that stuck with me all week on my first visit to the Cannes Lions International Festival for Creativity. The bizarre streets of the city are not just paved with ideas and creative inspiration, they are paved with branded tote bags and techno. As the week went on, my inspiration from the work became clearer, yet my ability to see through the industry fluff became a little more cloudy. 

Throughout my career – and I suspect this is a view shared by many creatives – the perception has always been that the Cannes Lions top the awards podium. A show of almost biblical proportions where the advertising overlords go for creative enlightenment and glory. However, after seeing what all the fuss is about first-hand, some new perspectives now sit alongside my old ones.

Surrounding The Palais – the central conference centre for the awards – was a stretch of branded beaches and pop-ups from the tech elite, extending more than a kilometre. And these activities were of biblical proportions. Amazon had erected a Hippodrome-style building and stage, and flew over indie rock legends The National to play there for one night. American rapper Ludacris played on another stage. Meta claimed a whole beach club where, for the price of scanning a QR code, you could get a free ice block or enter their cinema – to watch movies shot in ‘Reels’ format. They were also still pushing the Meta glasses, hard – as you can see in the image below.

The Rayban Meta Smart Glasses

Even on the most prestigious steps in Cannes – the Palais Awards red carpet – it felt a little at odds to find a pop-up where you could get a free branded McFlurry de Cannes. The McFlurry was delicious, but maybe it was another chink in the romance of the Cannes armour.

As night fell on our first evening, the world seemed to morph into something less Coachella and more stag do (second marriage stag do). The evening light revealed a herd of stumbling older gentlemen, in matching branded T-shirts that read ‘Follow the Wolfpack’ and giant Cannes Lions lanyards swinging around their necks. It was time to go back to the hotel for a drink.

All of this said, the thing that remained untarnished by the excess was the work. I’ve seen heated debates on LinkedIn this week about the value, and legitimacy, of the work at Cannes. To avoid rehashing well-trodden ground, the simplest way to come to terms with it, in my opinion, is to view the work like couture fashion: it’s great, but often, conceptual. Sure, lots of the work is robust and effective – the effectiveness categories bear testament to this, for example – but, to me at least, lots of it was conceptual. Incredible ideas and blockbuster case-study videos (I suspect some had a bigger budget than our campaigns), but nevertheless conceptual. Which I think is okay. Couture fashion might not sell on the high street, but it should still be applauded on the runway.

We spent much of the week going to talks, heading to the Palais basement to see the work in person, and to hear from the judges, who meticulously comb through hundreds and hundreds of entries. This was valuable: having your finger on the pulse of the world of advertising was excellent, and hearing what you need to do to win in an undoubtedly hard show was interesting.

WGSN revealed trend forecasting for 2026, lessons we will bring home. Fox-owned streaming service Tubi spoke about how to manage global stakeholders on a Super Bowl ad, and how to create a campaign that is truly effective. They started with the question: “Can we make our biggest weakness our strength?” And what followed was a simple, but truly brilliant and bold, brief. As they put it: “There is a difference between reckless and risky.” Guinness shared how they had revived their brand by mining with social-listening tools. Using software’s social-listening tools enabled them to pull data from multiple sources, helping them uncover valuable live insights about their brand. They then tapped into new pub rituals and amplified them. Marketing intelligence agency WARC presented case studies suggesting the true value of advertising in a recession is not raising brand awareness, but rather increasing the brand’s elasticity to charge more. The speakers were great.

As for the work, it was inspiring. The types of creative that rose to the top often had a big brand name at the core. Not always, but often. It seems a big brand that is globally understood simply gets cut-through in the judging room. Most of the other work that shone had an incredibly pure concept – and craft at its centre. As all good advertising usually does.

The health and pharma work hit home for us, having a certain relevance to a lot of the behaviour-change work we do at Motion Sickness. Among them, fittingly, was a short doco created by Dramamine and FCB Chicago called The Last Barf Bag. It’s a campaign centred on a product rendered obsolete by Dramamine’s effectiveness in relieving motion sickness nausea: the barf bag. Having a pharma brand focus on something they are eliminating rather than curing was refreshing.

Want to know what else caught Sam Stutchbury’s eye and how he found the rest of his Cannes experience? Check back tomorrow for part 2.

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