This past week I attended the Cannes Lions, one of the advertising industry’s most prestigious and well attended events.
The premise of the event is to celebrate excellence in advertising, marketing and communications, but given it attracts more than 10,000 folks in a business which celebrates Don Draper as an icon, I think it’s fair to say that the Lions are as much about drinking and networking as they are about awards. According to hotel staff, the attendees of the Lions drink three times more than those wimps from Hollywood who come for the Film Festival earlier in the summer. (And, for whatever reason, the drink of choice is Rose. If I never see another pink glass of wine, I’ll be the better for it…)
This was my first Lions, though I’ve been asked to come for the past two. I thought I was being invited because of my role in the marketing world, but after four days in Cannes, I’ve come to realize that it might have just as much to do with my role in the Internet world. Because if there was one clear and consistent theme to this year’s Cannes Lions, it was this: the baton has been passed, and the show this year was pretty much driven by major digital brands.
Every major party, save one or two, was thrown by technology companies. And yes, the parties matter, a lot, in the culture of the Cannes Lions. Media companies set up elaborate stages, bars, and dance floors along the Croisette (the main beach promenade of Cannes). On any given day (and sometimes every single day) you’d see Microsoft, Yahoo, AOL, Vevo, Facebook and Google tents and/or parties. Even smaller and newer companies, like Twitter, Demand and Say Media were there in various configurations.
The event program also reflected a distinctly digital slant. The content ranged from inspiring to insipid, but it was dominated by discussion of our industry. My session, underwritten by Adobe, focused on digital content and its role in marketing, for example. Tim Armstrong and Arianna Huffington pitched their AOL turnaround story, Yahoo brought in Robert Redford, and just about every agency and major brand took a session, which they often focused in some way on digital (social, word of mouth, network exchange buying, etc).
Sure, there was a lot of content focused on creative work, which is the core of the Lions, but then again, most of the people I spoke to wanted, in the main, to talk about what creative really meant in a digital world.
Since this was my first time, I asked a number of folks who’d been coming for years what had changed. All of them mentioned how remarkable it was that the Lions, in just a year or two, had come to be dominated by digital companies and brands. And while a few hardy old school media companies made a showing (USA Today’s party on Thursday night is supposed to be a hot ticket, and Time Inc took a session in the program), the television industry, who one would think would take the prime real estate at the Lions, was pretty much absent.
Perhaps that’s because they don’t want to spend the money anymore (not that the TV industry is hurting), or perhaps they got out marketed by digital companies looking to outflank them. I’m not sure. But it’s worth noting nonetheless.