Ah, Cannes, as in the advertising extravaganza held each June in the south of France. For many years it was called the Cannes Lions International Advertising Festival, but it now goes by a grander title, the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity.
Festivities actually begin on Friday with Lions Health, two days devoted to healthcare advertising. The main event starts on Sunday and continues through June 27, providing what the official Website describes as "an unmissable seven days of networking, celebration, inspiration and learning under the Riviera sun."
At least the folks who own and operate the festival acknowledge that the locale and its clime are big draws. (In marketing these days, that's known as transparency.) It probably wouldn't be the shindig it is if it were held in, say, Minneapolis in the wintertime -- though I must admit that on "The Mary Tyler Moore Show" the gang at WJM-TV sure had fun at the annual Teddy Awards.
The Cannes Lions is widely deemed the ad industry's most prestigious global event. It's a longtime go-to for creatives from European agencies, and they have been joined by phalanxes from American, Asian and Latin American shops. Cannes Lions may also be the industry's most posh event, what with lovely beaches; high-end hotels such as the Carlton, the Majestic and the Martinez; villas; yachts; and a marvelous main street, the Croisette that runs along the Mediterranean. Even the event space where the Cannes Lions is held has a la-di-da moniker, the Palais des Festivals.
The opulence of the surroundings is a major reason that many attendees head to Cannes in a defensive crouch. "For some, Cannes has always been an excuse to put down tools for a week and party in the sun," Robert Senior, worldwide chief executive officer of Saatchi & Saatchi, wrote in an article for Campaign. "And partying is fine -- especially if you are celebrating some fantastic work well done -- as long as that's not all you do," he continued, declaring that "learning and development is a key opportunity at Cannes."
Uh-HUH. Nothing says "learning and development" like dinner at a villa, a cocktail party on the deck of a yacht, drinks on the patio of a luxury hotel or libations at an after-hours hangout that festival-goers have nicknamed the Gutter Bar. The latter has to be experienced in person to be believed: Hundreds of industry types spilling out onto the Croisette each night at a time celebrated by Frank Sinatra as the wee small hours, behaving rowdily and raucously enough to bring the "Mad" back to Madison Avenue.
One time at the Gutter Bar, I saw people throw beer bottles at cars they believed were passing too close to them. It was difficult to decide who was in the right because the drivers were hard-pressed to navigate around everyone standing in the street. The curses in several languages mixed with the sounds of glass shattering and the wretching noises emanating from those who'd partied too heartily. It was a sad, sloppy, dispiriting mess that called the professionalism of the business into question -- and I'd go back again in two seconds.
Alas, I won't be in Cannes next week. In fact, I was only at the festival one time, in 2005. My former employer had a low opinion of the newsworthiness of the industry's penchant for patting itself on the back with an apparently infinite spate of awards shows. And the addition to the Cannes Lions agendas of some actually worthwhile elements -- such as events featuring marketer clients like Coca-Cola, Procter & Gamble and Unilever -- came around the time that newspapers' travel budgets were shrinking.
The upshot was that my sole visit to the festival came on my own time, and my own dime, while I was on vacation in France. I enjoyed myself tremendously, attending more parties than panels at the Palais, not to mention those trips to the Gutter Bar. There were some aspects of work to my visit -- if it had been the Cannes Lions Festival of Accounting, I wouldn't have gone -- but I've never kidded myself that it was anything more than a trip, for schmoozing and socializing, to one of the most beautiful places on earth as summer started.
So those who can, enjoy your week in Cannes. Just don't try to tell us it's something other than what it is. Save the selling job for the campaigns you create.
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