Key Takeouts: WMG Post-Cannes Wrap Up

June 30, 2023

The World Media Group hosted a post-Cannes wrap event last night at The Adelphi in London, giving the audience a taste of what went on at the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity this year. The panel, chaired by Hannah Last, Sales Director UK at The Economist, included Mark Bembridge, CEO Smartology; Arif Durrani, Director, Reuters Global Content Studio; Massimo Marioni, Europe News Editor, Fortune; and Shula Sinclair, CSO, MSIX & Partners.

Last began by asking the panel to describe the event for those in the audience who had never been. Durrani, who has been going to Cannes since 2009, has watched the event evolve from its film festival roots to incorporate Media, meaning media planning and strategy and media owners to PR and Adtech. “Adtech has grown each year since then to become a much bigger part of the equation,” he says. “They own the marina, all the yachts; the money is there.”

Although official figures suggest there are about 10,000 paying delegates, Durrani suspects that you can times that by four once you account for all the unofficial visitors enjoying fringe events along the Croisette throughout the course of the week.

This year’s highlights

Marioni, ranked the Spotify concerts high on his list, but more importantly, Cannes gave him the opportunity to talk to “high-ranking Google executives” about the development dangers and issues around generative AI. While Fortune doesn’t report on Cannes itself, the event generates plenty of content and affords Marioni unparalleled access to top executives through panels, meetings and lunches.

Commercially important

For Smartology CEO; Mark Bembridge, Cannes is a serious business. “We’ve had more meetings than ever this year. It’s commercially important to us. You get all the key decision makers in one place and it’s an opportunity to sit down and thrash out real deals,” he says.

Sinclair agrees. “From an agency perspective, we talk about looking for inspiration from the best creative work, but make no mistake, we’re making deals.” Does she feel the festival’s moved too far from its creative routes? “It’s moved with the times,” she says. While Sinclair admits it’s quite a fractious relationship between creativity and new technologies like generative AI, she believes it’s all part of the essential ecosystem. Don’t assume that creativity is separate from business, she says.

The hot topic – generative AI

Every year, there’s a buzz around a new theme and this year, it was generative AI. Last asked the panel whether they thought the hype was justified.

Marioni doesn’t believe it’s been overhyped. While there remain lots of questions around how we use it responsibly, he believes it will be transformative for the industry and could reframe what intelligence or creativity is.

Bembridge believes AI’s still got a long way to evolve, but will do so quickly because of the huge uptake. One of the challenges, however, is scale – there aren’t enough people to programme and build the models required for it to move as quickly as we might like.

In the meantime, many marketers are using it in its current form. Reuters’ Content Studio is using programmes like ChatGPT for content and strategy ideation, for example, tapping into what Durrani describes as “Google search on steroids’. They are also working with a new Beta version of Photoshop that incorporates a new feature called Generative Fill that allows you to add to existing images using AI, allowing you to create credible mocks for pitches in seconds.

Other themes for 2023

Moving away from AI, Last asked the panel about their creative highlights. One of the highlights for her, she said, was seeing Apple win Creative Brand of the Year –surprisingly for the first time.

Sinclair cited Dove’s Grand Prix Award-winning ‘Turn Your Back ‘campaign encouraging people to turn their back on a TikTok filter, which she said felt “really defiant”. Sinclair also highlighted a clever, emotive use of Metaverse technology in Tuvalu’s campaign, ‘The Last Digital Nation’, which won a Titanium prize. The sinking island is being recreated in the Metaverse to preserve its history and culture before it finally disappears.

Marioni referred to Mastercard’s Priceless campaign, now in its 25th year. “LinkedIn told me an interesting anecdote – the data Mastercard had at the time was pointing them away from using the campaign,” he said. “But despite the data, the people in the room felt there was something about the line that could resonate. And they were right, so there’s hope for everyone!”

“At the core of every powerful idea there’s an innate human universal truth,” says Sinclair. “When I see that, the jealousy I feel is the mark of a brilliant campaign!”

More than just a jolly

With Cannes often being viewed from the outside as a ‘jolly’, Last asked the panel how they justified it to their bosses. Everyone agreed that if it wasn’t great fun, it wouldn’t attract the high-ranking attendees, from stars like Kevin Hart and, last year, Ryan Reynolds, to the senior executives from the industry’s most successful companies.

“It’s difficult from both a sustainability point of view and from a work justification point of view but it does deliver,” says Marioni

Bembridge agrees: “There are two parts – the deal-making and the networking. It’s the one touchpoint in the year where you meet people you haven’t seen for a while in real life. You share something together as an industry and that keeps those relationships going throughout the year.”

The Croisette and The Gutter

Part of the lure of Cannes is who you might meet walking down the Croisette. Sadly, this year, roadworks dominated the main thoroughfare, which, according to Durrani, was a major detraction. “It wasn’t just a terrible aesthetic, it actually changed the experience because it removed the serendipity of bumping into friends, colleagues, speakers and stars when you’re walking up and down the strip. That’s a big plus of Cannes and unfortunately it was totally prevented this year,” he said.

Thankfully, the roadworks didn’t stop people gathering in Cannes’ famous Gutter Bar, a small corner bar outside the Martinez Hotel but where hundreds spill out into the street in the early hours of each morning. Sinclair’s advice is to avoid The Gutter at all costs, but while Durrani understands the sentiment, he does see the reason it exists: “Cannes is increasingly restrictive – in the evening it’s all private dinners, wristbands and VIP groups. If you’ve just won an award, or have spent the day pitching clients, the Gutter is the one place where everyone can go to celebrate or just catchup.”

One final piece of advice

Finally, Last asked the panel to suggest their one tip for anyone attending for the first-time next year.

Bembridge says organisation is key: “Get really organised and really prep because there’s so many great things going on and so little time. Really organise your time well.”

Sinclair agrees but suggests giving yourself some flexibility: Plan but don’t be too rigid. Let serendipity happen. Running into people you haven’t seen for 20 years can open up an opportunity that you may never have expected.”

Prioritising is essential, according to Marioni: “Plan, prioritise, be open to possibilities, and remember, there are lots of invites but not everything’s going to be beneficial.”

Durrani’s advice? “Take advantage of the fact that there are so many different marketing and tech disciplines as inspiration for true creativity. It’s when you can mash 3 or 4 ideas, trends or connections together and come out with something completely different where the magic happens in terms of creative thinking. Cannes is great for that.”

You can watch the video of the WMG’s Cannes panel on what Generative AI means for trust and truth in marketing here.