As some of the world’s most senior marketers joined advertising executives on the French Riviera to attend last week’s Cannes International Advertising Festival, others stayed at home and sniped about the event.
The advertising world’s annual get-together and premier awards ceremony divides opinion. Many agencies would cherish a Cannes Lion, awarded to the most creatively lauded ads from around the world. In the event, the Grand Prix was awarded to an Ogilvy Toronto ad for Dove entitled Evolution, originally made for the internet and later shown on TV.
But there are those in the advertising industry who see the occasion as a futile and self-indulgent spectacle. Agencies throw lavish parties and offer hospitality to clients, staff – especially creatives – and journalists for a week of unbridled luxury. Ad men moor yachts in the marina and the champagne flows. Exquisite food can be sampled at agency parties or at the splendid Colombe d’Or restaurant.
Some see the festival as a necessary exercise in networking between advertising people and clients. Others condemn it as profligate and self-congratulatory and likely to give the advertising industry a bad name.
“It’s like the last days of Rome – it is excessive and I am uneasy about it,” complains one top advertising executive in London. Another claims that the advertising industry is damaging its reputation by splashing money on Cannes parties. “In an industry that is making people redundant, spending hundreds of thousands of pounds on parties at Cannes is the height of decadence,” he says.
Just last week, Saatchi & Saatchi announced it was making 20 redundancies, although the agency did not throw a party at Cannes.
Its sister shop Publicis has also been through a round of about 50 redundancies at its London office this year.
Publicis Worldwide threw a Cannes party, but chief operating officer Richard Pinder says it was far from opulent and alcohol was supplied by clients.
He says that the festival is hard work for advertising bosses, who spend much time meeting with top clients from companies such as Procter & Gamble, Citibank and Renault.
“Where else in the world can agency and client sit down and go through all the work in their category? These clients wouldn’t waste their money on something opulent and wasteful,” he says.
According to Marc Bresseel, regional sales director EMEA for Microsoft Digital Advertising Solutions, it is an excellent networking opportunity.
“Cannes is a big celebration,” he says. “Part of that celebration may be a bit over the top in terms of money spent. The value doesn’t necessarily sit in the seminars or awards. It is about making connections with people and sharing creative work. Creative people get excited about coming here and it gives them energy for the rest of the year.” It has been reported that Microsoft sent more than 400 people to Cannes and entertained on a yacht hired for the whole week. It is understood that Nestlé sent more than 130 people to Cannes.
Advertising agency Fallon hired a villa for the Festival, and planning partner Laurence Green says: “I am on a journey from being an arch Cannes sceptic to being persuaded. It looks indulgent because it is in the south of France and attaches itself to villas and pool parties, but many clients go and treat it properly, engaging with all the content.
“It is not beyond criticism. There are corners of it that are pure opulence, but there are also corners of genuine hard work. All of human life is there – some of it noble, some of it less so,” he adds.