by Jarred Cinman (@jarredcinman) CANNES, FRANCE: Ok, at the time of writing, I’d been at Cannes Lions for around 36 hours and I’m here to report that certain clichés are true — and others are even more true.

There is indeed rosé (and other beverages of an alcoholic persuasion) on tap. You have to be an idiot, or a reforming alcoholic, not to be moderately to severely drunk all the time. There are parties on yachts, parties on the beach, parties in apartments with lovely views. The Killers played somewhere the other night. Conan O’Brien was on stage Wednesday. And there were rumours that Duran Duran were playing last night.


And that’s what this place is all about: rumours. Have you heard about this person giving this talk at this time in this venue? Apparently, it’ll be amazing. Or was amazing. Or might be amazing. Let’s queue for 45 mins to try and get in. Oh, it’s full. Bugger. Let’s try this other talk which looks good but only has five people in the audience. Oh no, we are such losers.

When people talk Cannes, they mean the festival that happens at the Palais — a kind of condensed Sun City — right on the shoreline of a small French town which is actually called Cannes. The town itself is a mixture of old, quaint European alleyways and squares, and a lot of overpriced tourist trap restaurants. Also a LOT of pharmacies. Lord knows why they need so many or why they all sport the same green animated LED cross outside. I promise you if you need a band aid while you’re here, you can get one.

Wandering around the town is cool, and the beach is clean and appealing. The water is warm and yachts (and their matching helicopters) are expensive.


But, of course, that’s not what I am here for. So, let’s talk a bit about the content.

There are essentially three kinds of content on offer here: talks, awards and other. Under “other” go private lunches, private dinners, networking events and the like. Being invited to as many “others” is important because it means you’re wanted and, if there’s any place in the world that’s more about external validation, I haven’t met it yet.

The talks are a mixed bag. There’s a lot of people stating the obvious in the hopes that they will be credited with a profound insight. “Creativity is key”. Or “Brands need to be courageous”. (I think that’s both unfair and entirely accurate.)

The good talks are great talks. The Unilever session was fantastic and, although I was off at an “other” event and missed it, apparently Conan O’Brien and Shaquille O’Neill were also excellent. The insights on offer here, when they’re worthwhile, are from the top leaders in the advertising and marketing industry and are thus essential listening.


The awards shows are plentiful: one every night and packed to the brim with exceptional work. They have made the bizarre decision this year to announce the Bronzes and Silvers in a kind of screensaver pre-roll while people are filing into the auditorium. There’s nothing like winning one of the most-coveted trophies on earth while clambering over someone to find a seat.

That said, the Golds are (from what I can tell) really deserving and there’s not a more-inspiring way to spend two hours of your life (if you’re inspired by ads and their ilk). I am leaving here with a lot of thoughts about the South African ad industry.

South Africa has had a good, if not great, showing thus far. TBWA richly deserved its Golds the first two nights, as did Ogilvy its Grand Prix.

Causes and clevers

The two big themes I am taking away are: causes and clevers. The cause-marketing thing is huge; I would guess about 60-70% of the winning work is at least having a go at making the world a better place. I don’t know how cynical to be about these efforts but we’ve definitely progressed from the days when agencies helped clients sell cocaine to children as a gum tincture.

The big causes this year include plastics in the ocean, artificial limbs, Down syndrome, spousal abuse, colour blindness — any many, many more.

Clevers are what I’m calling the work that gives your mind the kind of buzz usually reserved for gum tinctures. When this industry is smart, it’s really smart and there are ideas on show that are exceptional. Some of the technological interventions are amazing — like Intel’s drone displays at the Olympics. And some ideas — like Lacoste stitching endangered animals into its shirts instead of crocodiles, and then making the number of shirts to match the number of remaining individuals — are crafted to perfection. It’s beyond inspiring both as a member of the industry and as a consumer.

The talk about privacy, AR, VR, “the” blockchain is, of course, here and, if you want to hear third-rate futurists guessing about how this stuff affects advertising, you’re able to find them. For me, it’s more impressive to hear about what people have done than to speculate on what they might do.

Is it worth it?

This is an expensive undertaking, make no mistake. Despite being plied with free wine and snacks, the cost of the travel, the accommodation and the festival pass is serious cash. It’s hard to argue that you can’t get this content elsewhere but what is hard to substitute is seeing the work and meeting the people. You have to be a fairly gregarious sort but this is the centre of the advertising universe and so it’s worth doing, at least once.

  • Don’t say: Hey, Facebook, all your users are abandoning the platform and those that are staying won’t let you use their first names to send them a personalised email. Now what?
  • Do say: Do you have a spare wristband for the Google Party on the yacht at 11pm tonight where Alicia Keys is apparently playing solo with a mandolin?


Jarred Cinman. Credit: Chris Saunders ( Cinman (@jarredcinman) is the CEO of VML South Africa, part of one of the leading digital agency networks in the world. He sits on the Loeries Committee, was a board member of SAARF and the Creative Circle, and is a board member of DALRO and, in his spare time, answers his email.

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