In defence of Cannes: it’s more than superyachts and creative pats on the back

It’s the summer festival season in the south of France, with the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity coming hot on the heels of the Cannes Film Festival and the Formula One Grand Prix just up the coast at Monte Carlo. But the French Riviera isn’t just a micro-climate in meteorological terms. Its status as a playground of the rich and famous inevitably means it has a degree of insulation to the economic weathering that plagues more industrialised regions.

Cannes is a wonderland. From the beachfront loungers to the off-shore super yachts and five-star hotels along Promenade de la Croisette, the place is humming with activity all day, every day. And while the mega-rich may cut their company’s spending, they’re not as likely to cut their own and this economy is most certainly dependent upon tourism from Europe’s mega-rich.

The local commercial ecosystem is aided by trade festivals that bring the cream of their respective business communities to its outrageously accommodating facilities. The majority of the beach itself has been permanently taken over by hotel restaurants and cabanas where a seaside seat will cost anything from 20 Euros to a three course lunch.

Everything is available for hire at the right price, and if you want to make an impression Cannes is a great place to do it because just walking the streets is a surreal experience. The beach is central to the scene and at night the restaurants there morph into decadent open-air party venues with the help of small armies of trades-people and hotel staff who know how to massage the anxieties of their demanding clients. Watching the superyachts motor in and out of the harbour and rubbing sun-burnt shoulders with high society is a pastime in itself.

On the effects of the global financial crisis being felt here in Cannes, one local three-star hotelier said she had seen little evidence of it. When combined with last year’s Icelandic volcano explosion and current European uncertainty about Greece’s financial future, it merely means more French people are choosing to holiday in Cannes rather than abroad.

As for overseas visitors, the Cannes Lions aren’t going anywhere, and advertising agencies and their clients are certainly rekindling their belief in Cannes’ unique ability to bring businesses together.

This year it’s the internet companies’ turn to garner favour from advertisers, and Google, Facebook, Yahoo! and Microsoft have all held highly visible events on the beachfront for delegates. There has been notable emphasis on asking creative advertisers to make use of the ever-evolving technology coming out of Silicon Valley. The hope is that agencies, as a trusted contact point with clients, will gain further insights to enable them to encourage use of those tools and foster the propagation of the brands behind them.

Creative advertisers are obviously very excited about the boundless potential of new technologies to further their craft. Many of the 50-odd seminars have concentrated on creating frames of understanding and control around the use of technology and social media, to address the inherent fear that traditional advertisers have in giving their brand over to crowd-sourcing or exposing it to unwelcome social commentary.

The awards serve a very real purpose aside from the “pat on the back” that most outside of the industry see it as. Obviously they display the work and draw attention to the best ideas, they inspire further leaps in creativity, but they also create a currency for creative advertisers to inspire cooperation from their clients.

This year a new award, the Creative Effectiveness Lion, has been bestowed on a campaign that agencies around the world will now be able to point to in the boardroom and say “Yes, advertising is effective“. Of course advertising effectiveness awards are nothing new: we have our own version of the global Effie Awards in New Zealand.

The global Effie organisation is also feeling the need to ramp-up its self-promotion in the post-recession environment, and just announced its inaugural Effie Effectiveness Index in Cannes this week. It named Procter & Gamble the most effective advertiser, McDonald’s as the most effective brand, Omnicom the most effective advertising holding company and BBDO Worldwide the most effective advertising agency network.

US agency Wieden & Kennedy was named the most effective independent agency, due in no small part to its viral hit “The Man Your Man Could Smell Like”, which breathed new life into P&G’s Old Spice brand last year.

I’ve heard more than one creative this week talk about having to take advertisers along for the ride. Essentially that’s what the Cannes Lions are. At times a self-indulgent ride, but one that serves to reward creatives for making better business decisions and client companies for making better creative decisions.

  • Fairfax Media is the New Zealand Representative of the world’s largest advertising festival, the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity 2011 and sent journalist William Mace to report from France. This story originally appeared in BusinessDay.


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