Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity 2012

When BBH founding partner, Sir John Hegarty, was asked by a journalist if he thought the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity had changed over the years, his answer was that fundamentally, it had not. The festival has always been a celebration of creativity, whatever shape or form it may take. Of course, what Sir Hegarty went on to say was that the Cannes Lions had clearly evolved—as anyone in the industry would agree.

By Deborah Abraham, BBH

Being a Cannes rookie, I found this somewhat comforting: that as I walked the renowned Croisette, met my peers from across the world and sipped rosé on the Carlton Terrace, I would be basking in the exact same  Cannes spirit that advertising veterans had enjoyed for years. Every June since 1984 (although the festival
dates back to as early as the 1940s), the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity—now considered the world’s premier advertising event—is held in Cannes, one of the most glorious and glitziest stretches of the French Riviera. 
This year the festival hit a record high, with more than 11,000 participants from more than 90 countries. All were eager to see which of the 34,000 entries—the highest figure ever—would rise above the rest. Aside from the awards, the festival crams a whirlwind of seminars, master classes, workshops, late night beach parties and
general schmoozing into its seven days.
One of the more significant changes to the festival was the presence and influence of marketers. This year, VIP tents lining the Croisette were dominated by brands such as Google, Microsoft and Yahoo!. Companies such as Unilever, Procter & Gamble, Johnson & Johnson, Kraft, Nike and Coca-Cola were also among the corporate giants that took centre stage alongside the advertising, PR, mobile, digital, gaming, social network and music industries. 
Cannes Lions CEO Philip Thomas said many of the world’s marketers come to the festival to see the industry’s best work. Once purely the domain of advertising’s elite, close to 25% of the registered delegates this year were marketers, making Cannes a place where brands now attend to distinguish themselves as innovative and inspiring.
Brands and agencies also compete to bring in top-billing speakers. One of them this year was an enigmatic—and carb-free—Bill Clinton, who addressed a full house on how advertising can help build a better world. His key message? Today, more than ever, consumers have the power to effect change, and advertisers “have a major role to influence a world obsessed with the trivial, fleeting and shallow.”
Clinton joined the ranks of other celebrity speakers, including legendary singer-songwriter Debbie Harry, Arianna Huffington of the Huffington Post and Golden Globe-winning Sex and the City creator Michael Patrick King. However, it was the youngest celebrity, the actress, singer and Bieber belle Selena Gomez, who sparked the largest avalanche of Twitter chatter when she aptly joined a panel discussing ‘Millennials’ and their influence on the business of creativity.
But the high point for me was ‘30 Years of Creative Chaos,’ a joint presentation by two of the world’s most iconic advertising mavericks and rivals, Dan Wieden and Sir Hegarty. The admen founded their elite agencies exactly three decades ago, and now, well into their 60s, they took the time to discuss each other’s work with charm, respect and sometimes brutal sincerity.
Laughter and tears filled the theatre as they spoke. Sir Hegarty coined a new term, ‘vomit factor,’ which I fear will now be used by creative directors the world over. He was referring to Wieden+Kennedy’s Best Job Olympic film for Procter & Gamble. “The vomit factor was high… but the directing really worked,” he said. 
Wieden, on the other hand, described his similar hatred for the BBH Xbox film, Life’s Too Short. The commercial depicts a baby shooting out of its mother’s womb, gradually transforming mid-flight into an old man who eventually crashes straight into a tombstone. It ended up going viral due to its “perfect execution.”
So who took home some of the coveted Grand Prix? Chipotle Mexican Grill was an unassuming candidate for the Grand Prix Film Lion, but the American sustainable fast food company had judges singing praises of the excellent craft and simple storytelling in the animated film, Back to the Start, by Creative Artists Agency. 
French broadcaster Canal Plus won over the Grand Prix Film Craft judges for their funny and spectacular film starring a bear rug protagonist, The Bear by BETC. Axe Angels, a brand turnaround story by BBH UK, in which angels literally fall from grace, earned a Grand Prix for Creative Effectiveness, a new award now in its
second year.
On the last day of the festival, the final awards tally occupied the agenda of every agency and marketer. Some agency folk argue that the Cannes Lions is more akin to war than a celebration of creativity, where agencies, networks and brands go headto-head in a fight for recognition. Creative directors I spoke to agreed that it was easy to lose sight of why they were at Cannes to begin with.
I am certain Sir Hegarty didn’t mean to burst everyone’s Cannes bubble, but if there’s one thing I would take away from this year’s festival, it would be his simple and direct advice: “The industry needs to make the work better if it’s to survive and thrive. Make the bloody work better!”