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You can still find creative inspiration in Cannes – if you know where to look

By Matt Williams | Head of content

June 25, 2019 | 5 min read

Here’s a summary of my Twitter feed from last week: 45% of tweets came from people at Cannes, spouting what on the whole was (with a few notable exceptions) cliched, jargon-heavy soundbites masquerading as important insights.


Another 45% of tweets were from the people not at Cannes, calling out this bullshit and bluster and claiming you didn’t need to go all the way to the south of France to learn information you couldn’t pick up just by reading the trade press and, you know, talking to people.

(The other 10% of tweets were arguments over VAR, Jesse Lingard and the country’s inability to find a PM who isn’t completely useless. Some things don’t change.)

For the 90% of tweets last week, my take is that Cannes has drunk too much Kool-Aid and the festival has sacrificed a significant chunk of its mystique for vacuous corporate gloss.

The truth is that the insight sessions have always been slightly superfluous. Putting iconic creative directors up on the stage to talk about their craft = good. Putting an aging rapper up on stage to discuss their ‘brand’ = why?

Where Cannes used to be the real game-changer, was as the platform for reams of previously unseen amazing work from all around the world. I remember coming back from my first Cannes Lions enthusing about this new Australian job ad promoting Queensland. Not many of us had seen it before, but it won the Grand Prix and inspired a new benchmark for what was considered a great online campaign.

In the ensuing years we’d be celebrating Nike posters from Hong Kong, Teletransporters from Argentina and Romanian chocolate bars. It was new, it was provocative, and it felt like Cannes had provided the breakthrough moment.

Nowadays, the quality of work hasn’t necessarily diminished (although we’re seeing studies that suggests it has), but the impact it has at Cannes certainly feels less revolutionary.

The global industry has naturally become closer. The work has already been shared, celebrated and analysed. It may have already won Cannes last year for all we know; we don’t really have a concept of ‘campaign releases’ anymore.

For me, that’s been the real downfall. I still believe in Cannes if you approach it with a single-minded mission. It still is the only place where you can hold 15 meetings in three days with a bunch of people it usually takes six months to secure a meeting with in the ‘real world’. It’s still the only place you can try all the industry’s latest innovations under one roof. Or see Sir Martin Sorrell in a pub.

Meanwhile the specific Cannes courses, particularly those for younger generations who get five days of intense training with leaders they’d usually never have access to, are clearly invaluable.

I hate to be so rudimentary, but I bet those agencies who take their clients to the south of France for five days of rosé in a beautiful villa under the pretence of learning at a festival probably see the value in guaranteeing that retainer for another year too.

That’s pretty depressing, I know. So let’s end on a positive and try to reclaim some of the spirit I mention from yesteryear.

I found the most inspiring moments of this year’s festival was when creatives were asked what inspired them. And one such seminar saw Spotify’s head of cultural partnerships ask a panel of experts what podcasts they were listening to. Here’s what you should be downloading next.

You Must Remember This – Exploring the secret and/or forgotten histories of Hollywood’s first century.

Dope Labs – Billed as ‘science is for errybody’, the first winner of Spotify’s Sound Up programme combines trashy internet culture with scientific reasoning.

Ear Hustle – The daily realities of life inside prison shared by those living it, and stories from the outside, post-incarceration.

Hopefully there’s something new to put a spring back in your creative step.

Matt Williams is head of content at MSQ Partners

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