The last 5 years of Cannes Lions and the media

Arif Durrani, head of media at Campaign magazine, and editor of Media Week, takes a look back at five years of the Cannes Lions Festival and the pinnacle moments from each year.

The annual sojourn to the French Riviera means different things for different people.

For agencies of course, first and foremost, it means competition. From who has the best villa to who throws the best party, and who “wins” the social media buzz, to who has the most famous guest and, of course, who gets invited to the Campaign party. Oh yes, and there’s the the small matter of the roar of those industry defining, career-making Lions awards.

For a jobbing (and ageing) Campaign media hack like myself, Cannes is always a gloriously unpredictable but rabble-rousing affair. No two weeks are the same, but they always throw up a theme or two that helps sets the agenda for many months to come, both inside and, increasingly, outside the scheduled sessions within the Palais itself.

Below, I’ve put together some personal highlights of the beast that is Cannes Lions – Top Right Group’s undisputed jewel in the crown. The festival has set the bar in terms of ad industry events and that now captures the imagination of the world.

Cannes 2010 – Sorrell vs Weed – The showdown

downloadFor me, 2010 must go down as the year Sir Martin Sorrell, leader of the world’s biggest advertising group, met his match on stage with Unilever’s Keith Weed – the then newly appointed chief marketing officer of the world’s second biggest advertiser.

Weed had revealed he planned on doubling the conglomerate’s spend on digital over the next year, saying by way of explanation “we fish where the fishes are”.

He had memorably likened digital marketing to high school sex – “Everyone’s talking about it. Few people are doing it, and those that are doing it, aren’t doning it very well.”

Sorrell, for his part, remained dubious – especially when it came to the rise of social media led by Facebook. He likened it to “letter writing”.

He said: “It strikes me that social media is the modern form of letter writing writig in many cases. What we do is communicate with one anohter and express our preferences, likes and dislikes. It’s basically an editorial thing.”

Not to be deterred, Weed batted back Sorrell’s reservations and said a better comparison would be to liken social media to the “modern day equivalent of a pub of bar chat” – for him it was a case of “word of mouth on steriods”.

Writing this five years on, and with Facebook now generating almost $4 billion from ad revenue each quarter, I think wehave to conclude the FMCG marketer has been proved right on this one – as he so often is.



Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg also entertained the crowds in Cannes that year, noting the social media site was on track to pass 1 billion users that year.

Zuckerberg had also waxed lyrical about the benefits of personalisation before revealing development of a location-based app for the social networking site is nearing completion.

He said: “Almost any product is better when it is based around personalisation, and the internet is becoming more personalised and personalisable…

“Knowing where a person is, and being able to personalise to what’s around them and who’s around them, is a really important and valuable thing.”

Zuckerberg would go on to suggest that one day he could see Facebook floating on the stockmarket – just not anytime soon.

As we now know, Facebook would become a public company two years later on after the biggest IPO in technology and one of the biggest in Internet history, with a peak market capitalisation of more than $104 billion. After a shakey start, today its valuation is more than double that at $231 billion.

2010 should also be remembered that the term “advertising” was dropped from Cannes Lions in favour of “creativity” – the shift might have initially seemed purely semantic but it represented a signficant shift away from it being an event solely for ad agencies into something altgoether broader.

Of course, this step-change will continue to be lamented by those formative creative pioneers, but I’ll leave those gripes to those who were there, and only note – there is no turning back.

Cannes 2011 – the Year of Google at Cannes

download (2)2011 was the year tech giant Google cemented its place at the heart of advertsing’s biggest annual gathering. It was not just the takeover of the prime beach locations surrounding the Palais. Google’s executive chairman, Eric Schmidt, was named Media Person of the Year, and few people argued with the decision.

Speaking at the event, Schmidt also revealed Google had made a signficant U-turn in its thinking about brand advertising in general and traditional TV advertising in particular. At the internet giant he admitted they had even suprised themselves with the success of their own costly Super Bowl ad.
Having measured incremental search traffic following their TV activity Schmidt said they had to conclude, beyond a doubt, the powerful impact the ad had made.

“Hell has frozen over,” he said. “In the decade that I have been at the company, we would never have thought that there was value.”

The Google leader later told Campaign that the mobile phone “set to replace the browser as the next primary development artefact” – back in 2011 this was still news.

He said: “Historically, people have been primarily focused on mainframes and answeringmachones, personal computers and then browsers. The next generation of interesting apps will all be phone based.”

Meanwhile, shared his belief that “ad agencies are yesterday” – which went down well.

Long before he had become a household name in the UK with The Voice, The Black Eyed Peas front man had warned how the changing media climate and shifting consumer habits was having a profound impact on how brands could reach consumers.

Speaking as the creative innovation director at Intel, he told Campaign “we’re experiencing the birth of something”. The singer was referring to how millennials wanted to be informed and entertained. Few had been impressed, but his core observations about the rise of word of mouth and alternative means of brands reaching consumers in the social age were not that far wide of the mark.

Cannes 2012 – When we realised it’s ok to be good, helped by Bill Clinton

download (3)In 2012, the idea that adland, collecively, can be a force for good really reared its head and became mainstream outside of the usual awards won for non for profit causes.

With the backdrop of a global economy beginning its recovery from the worst financial downturn in living memory, there was a real sense that something had changed among the usual network squabbling and one upmanship along the Crosiette.

Fanning the fames was the rise of social media, enabling consumers to be connected and empowered like never before.

Leading the charge was Joseph Tripoli, executive vice-president and chief marketing officer of The Coca-Cola Company, who admitted his focus was no longer about pushing products, but more on how to become part of consumers’ lives in a meaningful way. He underlined the importance of partnerships with NGOs to drive cultural leadership, along with collaborations with retailers.

“Loyalty used to be the word at the top of the pyramid,” he said. “But now it’s advocacy. We can use this wired, global network to create advocates for our brand. Remaining relevant is the key.”

2012 was also the Olympic year of London 2012, and while we had no idea of just how great the summer would be for British atheltics, Locog chairman Lord Coe was on hand and singing from a similar hym sheet.

For him, major London 2012 sponsors Coke, along with McDonald’s and Lloyds TSB, were among those deserving of specific praise for their role in making London 2012 happen, including much of the positive legacy programmes for communities. Noting it was very easy to criticise Olympics sponsorships of fast-foods and soft-drinks, he said, “I’m a great believer of inputs and outputs frankly.”

Many different terms were bandied around in an attempt to identify largely the same group of upcoming consumers, but whether it’s Generation Y, the Millennials, or, my personal favourite, Generation Social, the message was the same: authenticity is key for brands today.

One multi-conglomerate undeniably consistent in its approach to adopting a more socially responsible and sustainable approach to the world is Unilever, the world’s second largest advertiser. The group’s momentum in this space continued in Cannes with the launch of Waterworks, a not-for-profit programme designed to provide safe, clean drinking water to communities who need it most.

Social media sits at the heart of the initiative, with a Facebook app that will potentially connect millions of people with water-poor communities and enable charitable donations. Announcing the launch, Unilever’s CMO Keith Weed said: “We believe that small, everyday actions can add up to a big difference; and that the power of social connections can drive real change around the world.”

Such a sea-change from clients demands a corresponding realisation from those behind the ads, and Amir Kassaei, DDB’s global chief creative officer and Omnicom’s own fire-starter, was suitably on message.

“We can’t get away with it any more,” he said. “We can’t go on selling bullshit products and fooling people… it is time to start delivering substantial, relevant touch-points that add real value to people’s lives.”

Kassaei suggested the new age of social creativity will mean “using our talent not to make funky ads, but to find or create the truth and deliver it in a fresh way”.

However, it was Bill Clinton, the 42nd President of the United States, who stole the show for me in Cannes that year. He made a plea to adland to “fill brains as well as hearts”.

Speaking in front of a packed-house of thousands, and despite it being 7pm in the evening and beach parties beckoning, Clinton reminded the international contingent that “some of you can make a good living” out of emphasising and focusing on human differences, and called for “honest, synthesised intelligence” instead.

The president believes hope lies in social networks of openness, diversity and dialogue, and asked those involved in creating commercial messages to “think about how you can both do well and do good”.

A common response to all of the above of course, is that such lofty ambitions are soon lost once a marketer’s commercial objectives begin to bite. But what was also notable this year was just how much of the critically acclaimed work and winning ads at Cannes reflected this new found sense of meaning and purpose.

Included among them was the Cannes Film Lions winner, Chipotle Mexican Grill ad, which also won the Branded Content & Entertainment Grand Prix too. The animated campaign promoted the company’s use of food from sustainable farming. It formed part of a wider initiative to support agriculture, family farming and culinary education.

Another company that has championed CSR for longer than most is Benetton, and the fashion brand scooped the Press Grand Prix this year for its Unhate ad, the one with US President Obama kissing China’s Hu Jintao – created by its own in-house agency Fabrica. The winning work supports Benetton’s Unhate Foundation, which has a remit to “organise concrete initiatives that contrast the culture of hatred and promote the arts as a means of dialogue and involving society and the younger generations”.

Note, I’ve purposefully dedicated signficant space to this theme as in 2015, with the IPA’s agenda set by Tom Knox, supported by the Advertising Association’s chairman, James Murphy, it’s a topic that feels more relevant than ever.

2012 was also the year ugly allegations of cheating among networks erupted into plain view – resulting in changes to the way the Media Lions would be judged in future.

Cannes 2013 – Big data and all its implications

download (4)With the phenomenal rise of social media and mobile phones, urgent questions began to be asked around data; what people can do with it, who owns it and where the new dangers lay.

Days before the event, The Guardian had revealed a top secret eavesdropping programme was providing the National Security Agency with direct access to the data captured by Silicon Valley’s largest companies.

WPP’s Martin Sorrell had been quick to note the implications of the Prism scandal, as it was then known, in which the UK and US governments have been found to be “legally compelling collection” of information from internet giants Google and Facebook, could change perceptions on privacy.

He told me presciently: “Issues of privacy, data privacy, data collection, opt-in and the nature of the opt-in and the basis on which it’s being made will become more important… Will young people be unfazed and still disseminate data, I doubt it.”

2013 was also the year for warnings from music legends about what the digital revolution had wrought to their industry. And it came as no surprise that one of the strongest contenders for most outspoken guest of the week was Bob Geldof.

Speaking to a packed Havas Café gathering, the Live Aid agitator had attacked Google (“Larry and David can go on about building a brave new world; I want no part of it”), the banks and financial services (“they have raped us”), governments (“they are guilty of treason”) and much more besides.

download (5)Arriving in the French Riviera on the back of a set at the Isle of Wight Festival, a croaky Geldof said Apple’s iTunes had “destroyed my business overnight”. He added: “There are 600,000 would-be rock stars in the UK. They would make from downloads this year, on average, $120. That’s it. They would make, as an annual income, £2,300. That’s it.”

A few hundred metres along La Croisette, another trailblazer, Lou Reed, called his pay from digital downloads “a pittance”, saying Apple pays him “about a 16th of a penny”. The Velvet Underground star attacked the industry for not valuing the fruit of its labours and accused “the likes of Spotify” for ensuring “starving artists stay starving”.

Geldof also tapped into the message of the previous year that brands really should be a force for good. Drawing on Havas’ “Meaningful Brands” positioning he said then chief executive, David Jones, had touched upon the underlying “revolutionary” situation societies are now dealing with.

“I think your man is on to something here,” he said. “If you’re an advertising group, you need to very quickly try to understand what’s going on, or else you’re out of business.”

Inside the Palais, Cannes 2013 also proved to be another good year for WPP – awarded network of the year.

A powerful example of how creativity in media can be about simple, collaborative ideas that use real-time insights in a different and more effective way was highted by Mindshare’s work for Kimberly-Clark. The Gold Lions winner had analysed search trends on Google to mesh key words relating to colds and flu with calls to government health helplines.

It was also the year John Lewis won its first Cannes Lions in its 149 year history for Creative Effectiveness for its ‘From Crying To Buying: How John Lewis Harnessed The Selling Power Of Emotion’ entered by Adam&Eve DDB London and Manning Gottlieb OMD London.

We were on hand to capture an emotional Craig Inglis, director of marketing at John Lewis, share his thoughts early the next morning in the Gutter bar.

Cannes 2014 – Failed POG merger – Don’t climb the backstairs

download (6)Last year was all about the failed merger between Publicis Groupe and Omnicom and thoughts of what might have been. It had been a marriage that many believed made sense in a world of tech giants and formation of data powerhouses.

Maurice Levy providing Campaign with an emotional explanation of events, noting: “Perhaps the main lesson to be learned is that of shared willpower: as is the case for love, only the converging will of two people can pave the way for something bigger.”

Mainardo de Nardis, chief executive of OMD Worldwide, helped reaffirm the direction of travel for Omnicom media network around harnessing innovation and creativity.

Not one to miss his moment, Sorrell had gleefully warned against “climbing the backstairs of the Calrton in Cannes – a reference to when the seeds of the doomed merger had initially been sown.

It was also the year we welcomed MediaCom’s Karen Blackett, OBE.

Meanwhile, as the media agency business continued to evolve to meet the changing landscape, IPG Mediabrand’s Matt Seiler, president of the Media Jury, noted: “there is no idea as powerful as one whose time has come, and the time come for automation in the media industry. It is not only the right thing to do, but it is inevitable.”

Oh, and there was something of an unseemly spat between MailOnline’s Martin Clarke and one of Rupert Murdoch’s disciples.

Cannes 2015 – Bring it on.

Arif Durrani is head of media at Campaign and editor of Media Week

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