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Cannes Lions Advertising

Zen and the art of Cannes Lions

By Mark Borkowski

June 28, 2016 | 5 min read

“What is this festival anyway?” asked a bemused Dave Grohl to an audience of star struck advertising folk.

Dave Grohl

Dave Grohl attended Cannes Lions 2016

Few of the execs in the room ­who had spent the last few days pickling their vital organs in Rosé were in a fit state to respond. But, there are a few ways to answer Dave’s question.

Excess knows few limitations

For many the festival is a marathon piss-up, circa 1987. You'd think Maggie was still clinging onto power and the referendum on 23 June was a vote to leave the Common Market. All those who sold their agencies for mega bucks pour out ‘the true story’ at 3am. One friend I spoke to, an old Cannes veteran who has recently gone teetotal, remarked on his surprise to discover that there were seven days of talks from business leaders and inspirational public figures. Who knew?

Inevitably, those with most to learn do not go to any the Palais sessions. The only people who watch talks are the friends of the agencies who booked the slot. Sadly, not enough people listened to the wisdom of Madonna Badger and Brian Chesky. A major loss – real people with real stories to tell.


We all know Cannes is one big communications and marketing soup (no need to add salt). Yet there is still the cohort that takes the creativity part seriously. From the wares on display in this agency playground it seemed more than ever that creativity is the sum of your influences.

Although not surprising, I was once again struck how everything is different and everything is the same. Ultimately, process has out-manoeuvred originality (so- start planning for 2017 next week).

We talk of universal truths, but if it doesn’t resonate with an American exec then it isn’t working. UK creativity doesn’t count unless it’s part of a US mega-network.

There's still nothing else like it Lions is a rare place to engage and meet people from all over the globe. No other event brings together such a diverse set of minds to enjoy and celebrate the positives about the media soaked universe. In our field especially there is an urgent need for collective person-to-person experiences sans devices.

CEOs do not look good in the heat

This age-old wisdom does not prevent the 100 or so top level executives from getting into the spirit. I repeat, men of a certain age should never wear shorts, especially beige. Nor is it a good look to be talking to the person in front of you while constantly looking in the near distance for someone more important. Don’t bother busting the budge and bringing your beach party to life with a top rock band – no one is listening. Your guests’ aim is purely to talk loudly about themselves.

Try not to try

As Live Nation proved, to be really cool you don’t try, you just are. It is a formula that works. Book the very best property in Cannes. Take it out for a week so no one else can use it. Add a Foo Fighter performing an unplugged set. Only invite a handful of influencers before locking out the rest. Hey presto: you have an unforgettable experience for the jaded.

Do keep up

For a start, journalists know better than most that an invitation to an ‘intimate dinner’ is an oxymoron. Stoned execs still wearing their corporate branding diminishes the integrity of their employer. Bin the badge before hitting the bars. And by the way, Spotify and Facebook are not cool.

FOMA prevails

The photographic laminate adorned around your neck is never representative of the designated human. The camera does lie. As ever in corporate comms brands are burning to tell you how purposeful and humane they are. From this have emerged some genuinely positive steps such as the widespread call to end gender inequality and objectification of women in advertising. Yet there is always the awkward need to justify causes in terms of consumer engagement. Activism cannot be allowed to be a good in itself.

For many Californians Europe stretches from the Cote d’Azur to the Amalfi coast with a bit of Ibiza thrown in. We all know it but Cannes really does reinforce just how small the UK market place has become. Our global interdependence as communicators has never been more necessary – a fact that made last week's referendum result all the more troubling.

Mark Borkowski is the founder of He tweets @MarkBorkowski

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