Cannes Lions 2018: acts, not ads

Activism is beating advertising. That’s what we said about last year’s global advertising festival at Cannes, and when AML was there this year it seemed like our industry had got even more grown-up. Not just with eco-aware award winners like Palau Pledge and Trash Isles, but in the changing mood along the Croisette.

Last week the world’s leading advertising, media and marketing players met in Cannes for the annual Lions festival. The yachts were lined up along the quayside, helicopters buzzed the head honchos in and out of town, the beach parties were packed and the Domaine Ott flowed freely. But there’s a new seriousness in town – and we like it.

The biggest award winner (with three gold Lions) is the Palau Pledge. The world’s 13th smallest nation desperately needs tourism, but its beautiful ecosystem is fragile; so would-be visitors are encouraged to sign a pledge in their passport stamp that promises they will behave in an environmentally responsible way. Created by Host/Havas in Sydney it was described by the judges as ‘going beyond messaging’. It is an action, not just advertising, according to chairman Mark Tutssel – much like last year’s big winner, State Street’s Fearless Girl.

Both are pretty good work. And our favourite idea in the festival was also about environmental activism, the Trash Isles by LADBible and AMV. By demanding nation status from the United Nations for an area of plastic waste in the Pacific the size of France, the idea gets the attention of the world’s governments. Which could actually make a massive difference – genius. (Incidentally, LADBible also laid claim to the party of the week in the Contagious villa. Cops called three times, the works.)

But festival veterans say there’s a more serious mood along the Croisette this year. Duncan Painter, CEO of organisers Ascential, says there’s less of a “party emphasis” – it’s more about the work, about ideas and about serious discussion. Like John Hegarty being brilliant about the primacy of creativity at the FT lunch, or Martin Sorrell talking about his new venture’s emphasis on data and agility (in the service of creativity, obviously). Maybe it’s time they started an agency together?

The Cannes of legend hasn’t been lost altogether. An evening that starts in The Drum’s very own pub (with their drumming band making a fine racket outside), continues on the Carlton terrace and ends up in the Gutter Bar is still on the cards. We thoroughly enjoyed seeing old mates (thanks, Economist) and making new ones, on the FT’s roof terrace or WSJ’s megayacht. But the accountants are definitely coming – not just Sir Martin, but consulting firms like Deloitte, and Accenture winning their first Lion. Maybe that’s what’s sobering up Cannes?

It’s still easy to dismiss Cannes as a self-indulgent, self-regarding waste of time and other peoples’ money. But there’s plenty of people taking what we do seriously, and there’s no substitute for meeting face-to-face with leading thinkers from all over the world to inspire new ways of working or new ambitions. Most of all, everyone needs something to aspire to, a framework to be judged by. That’s why AML Group was there – and it’s why we’ll be back next year.