Publicis' Maurice Levy talks Viva Technology and why he didn't buy Cannes Lions, a festival which has become 'too dominated by tech'

Publicis chairman Maurice Levy

Publicis Groupe chairman Maurice Levy has stated that Viva Technology - the conference and exhibition he has led for the past two years in Paris - is not being set up as a direct competitor to Cannes Lions, an event which he revealed he could have bought before Ascential acquired it in 2004.

Speaking on the second day of Viva Technology - having hosted the likes of the French president Emmanuel Macron, Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales, Alphabet chairman Eric Schmidt, Buzzfeed founder Jonah Peretti and Facebook chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg, along with hundreds of international tech companies including Google exhibitioning their latest tech - Levy is clearly exhilarated by the response to the event when he meets with The Drum.

He is not convinced by the president's call for the event to become 'the new CES', believing it doesn't meet his vision for the future of the event which he believes is more serious in its bid to aid entrepreneurs, without the literal sideshows of Las Vegas surrounding it.

"I understand what he wants but I think it is not right for us to be the new CES of Europe. We have to be what we are: VivaTech, which has a unique combination which you don't see at CES. That is basically an exhibition with gambling," he explained adding that VivaTech was about hard work, conferences, events, co-operation between large corporates and startups and an exhibition of innovation.

"I want to protect that concept and I want to scale it up. Yes I want to build something that will be by far the number one in Europe and I believe that this year we will already be number one but I want to be by far the number one and that the very best people on Earth fight hard to be here."

He continued to say that he wanted more people from the advertising world to attend, not just from Publicis but said that other network professionals were also welcome and had been invited.

"There is a huge different from Dmexco and Mobile World Congress and that is something we will continue to work on for one or two more years, maybe more."

He added that he expected to make a small profit this year having lost "a small" amount of money during the first year which he wrote off as "investment" in the future of the event but was adamant it was not being set up as a rival to Cannes Lions, the annual advertising festival that kicks off this weekend (17 June).

"I don't want to compete against Cannes. Cannes has to be handled by people who are not part of the industry, it is very important that it is neutral," he stated.

Levy also revealed that he was once offered the chance to acquire Cannes from its original owners SAWA before Ascential acquired the festival in 2004, but believed the acquisition would led to issues with bias.

"I had an offer to acquire SAWA which was originally the association in charge of Cannes Lions and I decided not to do it because I thought that this would be a huge problem," he explained. "So Cannes is something which has to remain independent."

What's more, Levy believes the festival has lost its traditional advertising focus as it becomes increasingly dominated by tech companies.

"My problem with Cannes is that it is changing. It's becoming far too expensive and I am not sure that there is enough value for the advertising agencies and also there is another big problem; it is dominated by the tech companies. Is it a tech festival or an advertising festival. If it wants to be a tech organisation then that's fine but in that case we will need an advertising festival and it is very important that Cannes remains about advertising.

"It is about creativity, it is about the celebration of great work and about celebrating the creative people. It is about celebrating the marketing solutions and not the tech and that is something I am strong about. Cannes does not have the same meaning as it had and we should be e trembly mindful of what Cannes can bring and we should be cautious about that. Otherwise Cannes will not be good for the advertising agencies."

Levy stood down as chief executive of Publicis Groupe earlier this month to concentrate on the role of chairman of the business.

For more news from Cannes Lions follow the dedicated news stream on The Drum website

Stephen Lepitak

Stephen Lepitak is editor of The Drum, with responsibility for overseeing the day-to-day running of the content produced for the various platforms run by the publication. Over the years he has interviewed agency network bosses such as Sir Martin Sorrell, Maurice Lévy and Arthur Sadoun, as well as Cindy Gallop, Kim Kardashian, film directors James Cameron, Spike Jonze, Richard Curtis and Lord David Puttnam. With a keen interest in media and breaking news, Lepitak has been with The Drum since 2005 and is based across its UK, US and Asia operations.

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