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As focus turns to creativity, Facebook, Google et al will have to rethink their Cannes activity

Google will be encouraged to prize creativity in its Cannes experience

The news of Cannes Lions’ ‘streamlined’ proposition has been largely welcomed by the belt-tightening creative community, who will enjoy both the greater amount of attention placed on their work and the cash-saving measures put in place. But it’s not just organiser Ascential that will be stepping up its creative game – sponsors, notably the tech brands and consultancies, will be expected to change how they activate on the Riviera too.

Big spenders at the festival, such as Google, Twitter and Facebook, will be actively encouraged to get more directly involved in Cannes Lions and its renewed focus on creativity. In the past few years, these (relatively) new marketing players have kept themselves at arm’s length from the festival itself: they’re known for purchasing expansive beach space but not entering awards; hosting exclusive, expensive parties but never throwing themselves at the speaker list.

Accenture Interactive was perhaps the first of the newbies to bridge the gap last year. It paired up with the festival to distribute ‘Cannes Connect’ wristbands – wearable business cards of sorts – and its managing director, Anatoly Roytman, hinted it would be entering the awards in 2018. But to placate any worries that the week in June is morphing into a technology conference, Ascential will be actively encouraging further creative engagement from the companies lining its pockets.

“In the last five to ten years the conversation has clearly become much richer, with many more different partners involved,” said Philip Thomas, chief executive of Ascential Events. “The idea of having a festival of creativity that’s about advertising, marketing, communications without those [technology] players … I don’t think anyone particularly wants that.

“[Attendees] want [tech brands] to show up in a creative way, though. They want them to be much more part of the festival. So we’re discussing with Facebook, with Google and with others, how we can integrate them more in the festival itself rather than them being adjacent to it.”

How the organiser will do this convincingly is unknown. It will no doubt be a particularly difficult conversation to have with Facebook and Snapchat, the two brands that – all Ferris wheels aside – are arguably most notorious for their inflexibly exclusive beaches and meetings when it comes to Cannes activity.

Jose Papa, the festival’s managing director, does not agree that the creative side of the festival was ever lost (“We have five Olympic swimming pools’ of work in the basement!”). But he does admit the focus of the business has drifted to attracting new sponsors, rather than evolving the way creative is displayed, in the past few years.

“We now need to balance [these goals] and see how we engage the sponsors in a more creative way,” he explained. “We need to instill in them the idea that they need to showcase more creativity when they are there. We have many elements of comparison: showcasing what a creative work is, analysing [their plans] and saying: ‘If you did such activation this way, it would be much more powerful’.

“We’re working closer to such clients for them to understand and embrace better work. If you are to showcase at Lions, for your own sake, it needs to be much more powerful.”

The sheer amount of changes, coupled with Publicis’ now rescinded 'break' from Cannes, is likely to affect the financial stability of the festival. How will the tech companies respond to the creativity focus, considering their mainstay event – Dmexco – also appears to be going through trying times? Will the 650 free Young Lions passes, price freezes, money-saving packages and fixed airport taxi rates be enough to weaken the hit on network agencies’ wallets? Will the cap of six award entries per campaign substantially upset the amount of money the awards can make?

Papa thinks any financial risk is worth a real return to creativity. He and his colleagues are adamant the changes were made not just for the benefit of Publicis and WPP (which has already pulled out of sister festival Eurobest and dangled the prospect of not returning to Cannes), but in response to feedback from all stakeholders – ‘marketers, independent agencies, holding company heads, sponsorship partners, and creative leaders from a large spread of organisations’.

“I think we need to make the change,” Papa said. “We know that whatever financial position we take in 2018, we set the tone for the next 10 years – we live for building a platform set for the next 65 years, even.

“So if this is a year of adjustment for us, we’re prepared. Because we’re looking at the long-term value of Cannes Lions.”

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