Matthew Charlton is the CEO of Brothers and Sisters. He was a founder of BETC London, has run agencies in London, Amsterdam and the US and has worked on brands including Johnnie Walker, PlayStation and Sony Ericsson.
Don't kill Cannes – the ad industry needs it
Poor Cannes Lions. It must have hurt like hell that right in middle of the prized week, on French soil, a Frenchman running a huge French holding company dropped a surprise atomic pétanque ball on its head. Publicis Groupe, French for loads of agencies, is pulling out of next year's awards.
Does that turn next year's festival into a Moscow Olympics-type situation where the winners will forever wonder if they would have really won had Publicis/Leo's/BBH etc been there? Probably not; in fact it's a great chance to shorten the odds for everyone else. Entries will probably go up. Never will it be easier to win some metal. That's the spirit of Cannes.
Of course the Publicis news brings out of the cupboard all the usual moaning and criticism of what Cannes has become. The failing dominance of networks, the growing dominance of Google and Facebook. The need to be more tech focused. It's full of cliches.
But what Cannes has become is a mirror of how our lives and industry have developed. It's gone from the singular narrative creative awards to multi-narrative. A giant, colourful melting pot of agendas, voices, ideas, chaos, fun, terrible mistakes, outrageous glory, creativity, friendship, tattoos, sunburn, celebs. The list could go on. That is a perfect mirror to the world we live in, one of overlapping agendas and frankly one that often appears confusing but yet addictive. And this creates a sense of nuclear fusion that is a force. You can feel it there.
The smart ones like Jonathan Mildenhall or Cindy Gallop understand that sense of nuclear fusion and harness that power to raise debates we should all be thinking more about. Part of the melting pot is to challenge people with uncomfortable truths.
Above all Cannes is outrageous fun. It paints the nuclear fusion I have described like a Basquiat painting. Just because people go there en masse for one week a year and dive into the melting pot, does not mean that for every single day of every other week of the year, probably including Christmas and their holidays, they are not worrying about how to commercially succeed. Trust me they are. But people in our industry need to feel they are part of a Basquiat painting.
Cannes is not a business conference. It's a giant exercise for everyone once a year to remember that their heroes are not Warren Buffet. Their heroes are rule-breakers. The square pegs in the round holes. Artists, musicians and actors. People who thrive living outside the lines of convention. Of course people in advertising don't actually live outside the lines of convention, but they don't want to live inside them either.
Cannes reminds everyone of this. Cannes makes people feel that the center of the advertising empire is still outside the lines of convention. Cannes frees people of all the reasons to say no for the rest of the year and lets them say yes. Of course that may be yes to another glass of rosé at 3am, but it can also be a yes to engaging on a debate about diversity or seeing some creative you would normally miss that can inspire you.
So let's love it for that and embrace it. Not kill it or deride it. Cannes is a 'yes' place. I know that because when I arrive at Nice Airport I hear everyone in the queue for passport control muttering 'yes' under their breath.
I am genuinely sad if Publicis choose to sacrifice this next year for their employees. I understand the objective, but I worry that it makes all of their employees feel just a little bit more inside the lines of convention and a little less outside the lines of convention.
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