Top Ten Takeaways from Cannes 2017


So Cannes is done for another year, and the restaurants along the Croisette must now revert to their out-of-season prices.

As ever, there was lot to enjoy, but since you’ve probably spent the past week being repulsed by the attendees’ social feeds, I’m going to focus on what there was to learn.

No mentions of those giant bottles of rosé, I promise.

1. Cannes Itself Continues To Evolve

The event continues to grow in scale, and to become more of a global media and technology festival than the European advertising festival it once was.

2. AI is this year’s VR

 In 2016, VR was all the rage at Cannes – Samsung had a heavy VR presence, and apps like Google Tilt Brush were earning rave reviews. This year, the conversation shifted to AI, chatbots, and the potential impact of machines in our lives and the industry. One of the most interesting talks I attended suggested that the opportunity with AI is to ‘collaborate’ with machines, delegating more repetitive tasks like aggregating data and analysing performance to them, but that creativity would likely remain the domain of humans. As my colleague Simon Kemp pointed out in our recent Vivid Ideas talk, our unique human trait of empathy should enable us to prevail over the machines.

3. China

With China Day featuring in the festival programme, there was a relatively strong presence from Tencent, owner of the world’s largest social platform, We Chat, and various other Chinese media groups – including We Are Social’s parent, Blue Focus.

4. Work for Good Dominates

 Arguably the two most remarkable and salient pieces of work at Cannes this year were Meet Graham:

and Fearless Girl:

Meet Graham was universally applauded, with Clemenger Melbourne being crowned Cannes Lions Agency of the Year. However, the controversy around McCann’s Fearless Girl re-surfaced, with debate raging around the work’s lack of branded cut-through, and whether unreasonable liberties were taken with the original piece of art, the Charging Bull. In my view, it was a great campaign and it wouldn’t have been as powerful if they weren’t subverting the original piece of art. But the larger question perhaps is whether agencies are focusing their agenda on these issues in order to win Lions, or is ‘work for good’ genuinely commercially aligned with our clients’ agendas? Discuss….

5. Gender Diversity – Move It Along, People

The gender diversity debate was huge again at this year’s festival, not only in the work, but in talks by the likes of Sheryl Sandberg. It’s great that the topic is firmly on the agenda, but in my view, disappointing that so much of the conversation continues to focus on the problem – pay gaps, etc. – rather than moving the dialogue on towards solutions.

6. The Power of Collaborations

Collaborations between brands and musicians, artists and filmmakers have been around for a long time, but they’re still ramping up. I saw Casey Neistat talk about his collaborations with both CNN and Samsung, and damn is he a credible ambassador. He is working with CNN to transform the way they do news for a new (younger) audience. In 2016, CNN bought Casey’s app, Beme, and they are now collaborating on a new daily show series, for which Casey has set the north star as ‘tell me something I don’t know’. Interestingly, Casey clutched his Samsung S8 throughout the talk and spontaneously advocated for the product and brand. He shared the 2016 Do What You Can’t film that he made with Samsung, and talked effusively about the support Samsung had provided and their belief in him. He reflected on how Samsung allowed him creative freedom to tell his story, rather than overwhelming his work with product messages, and it’s clear that this support has driven his vocal advocacy of the brand.

7. Culture Still Eating Strategy for Breakfast

Nick Law of R/GA talked in his presentation on Creating the Next Agency Model about the importance of giving brands a meaningful role in culture and how living comfortably in culture was an important way of doing this. It was interesting that Samsung and Adidas (both We Are Social clients) featured prominently at the festival. Both were also talking about what they’re doing to be relevant in culture, and the role collaborators play in this.

8. David Droga for PM

David Droga collected his 200th Lion and was awarded the Lion of St Mark, an accolade previously bestowed on the likes of Lee Clow, Dan Wieden, and John Hegarty. David was interviewed by Ascential Events (owner of the Cannes Lions) CEO, Philip Thomas, and was – as always – incredibly inspiring. His down to earth sincerity is so refreshingly rare for a man of his status, but seems to be one of the characteristics that have driven his success. The real revelation from the interview was that he has a genuine ambition to be Prime Minister of Australia one day! He would certainly get my vote.

9. Media Owners – The New Giants Of Cannes

The beachfronts and hospitality in Cannes are now totally dominated by the new school media owners. YouTube owned daytimes again with its beach club hosting casual talks, entertainment and daytime drinks; Spotify owned the beachfront parties with blockbuster gigs featuring Phoenix, Too Many DJs and Solange. Facebook hosted talks, showcased Oculus and other new technologies, while Twitter had a stream of talks and events. These guys have a unique relationship with the industry: both mega brand and media owner. Our clients are their clients and they’re really rolling out the red carpets to engage them. Although the hottest ticket of all was arguably News Corp’s exclusive shindig featuring Ed Sheeran and Fat Boy Slim in a hillside chateau.

10. Trump the Butt 

Many speakers made Donald Trump the butt of their jokes. David Remnick, editor of The New Yorker, recounted the observation first made in an Atlantic article that “the press takes him literally, but not seriously; yet his supporters take him seriously, but not literally.” It was an enlightening observation about perhaps why The Donald has come so far. And Ron Howard, (recently announced as the director of the next Star Wars film), said he hoped Trump’s presidency would be immortalised in a comedy musical on Broadway, rather than an apocalyptic thriller movie.

My final parting insight – apart from that I don’t know how or why the French live largely without contactless payment technology – is that it’s better to leave Cannes wanting more, not less. I could definitely have done with less of that rosé, for example. Whoops, broke my promise…