The 5 story lines that will dominate the Cannes Lions

Digiday covers the latest from marketing and media at the annual Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity. More from the series →

The Cannes Lions is kicking off again next week, with 30,000 flocking to the Mediterranean for a weeklong series of panels, schmoozing, rosé, more schmoozing, followed by more rosé. Here’s what will dominate conversations, both on stages and over drinks on yachts.

The Cannes shakedown
Cannes bills itself as a festival of creativity. It is really a carnival of capitalism. Ascential, the owner of Cannes, has grown fabulously profitable on the back of this event morphing from a place for ad creative types to let loose in fedoras to a hub for media movers and shakers to make deals. Everyone in Cannes is selling something, and it is a safe place to do it completely shamelessly. But Ascential wants a piece of the action, which has moved from the Palais des Festivals to suites (and the terrace) at the Carlton and the ad tech marina. Expect more grumbling over new requirements for attendees to actually pay up at access yachts. For Ascential, of course, the move is less about a cash grab and more about ending over-the-top parties. More likely, it realized that well-funded ad tech companies aren’t likely to buy the cow when they get the milk for free.

Keeping brands safe
This is the age of the woke CMO. Marketers will use Cannes to preach the gospel of brand safety. It will be a key talking point in the aftermath of the YouTube ad “crisis” this spring. Some of this is obviously lip service, but there will be real discussions of how brands can take advantage of digital media’s scale without falling deeply into the internet’s crap trap. Needless to say, as everyone is selling something, expect many media companies to peddle this line, too.

Platform power plays
As recently as 2010, Microsoft was the biggest sponsor of Cannes, with its brand wrapped around the Palais and a giant beach. Those days are over. But platforms still loom large, of course, starting with Facebook. A parade of Facebook executives will speak during the week, headlined by COO Sheryl Sandberg. Facebook is setting up shop on its own beach again with a full slate of programming — and actor Ian McKellen and pro surfer Kelly Slater. Google is not to be outdone. It used to use Cannes to play nice with creative types, but now it’s gotten into sales mode, pushing YouTube hard with sessions at the Google beach and a main-stage session featuring YouTube chief Susan Wojcicki. The wild card: Snap. It has kept a lower profile the past few Cannes, other than CEO Evan Spiegel coming the past two years and a “secret villa.” Spiegel is expected to return to Cannes, along with top execs Imran Khan and Nick Bell.

WTF Trump
Americans will spend the week either murmuring resignedly or trying to put in perspective the new U.S. administration. The loss of American global leadership on issues like climate change and global security will be a reference point for many. Expect WPP’s Martin Sorrell to address what an America in seeming decline means while outgoing Publicis Groupe CEO Maurice Levy should have an interesting conversation with IMF chief Christine Lagarde. And for uneasy Americans, you can always claim to be Canadian if things get sticky. It’s pronounced “ah-boot.”

Gender equality
Two years have passed since Thrillist and VaynerMedia sent their “attractive females only” Cannes party invites. This year, expect many celebrations of female empowerment. Sandberg, who has become synonymous with the fight for gender equality, will continue to shine a light on the issue in several sessions. Cannes itself made a big push in this direction with the makeup of its awards juries, which are now 44 percent female. And the big winner everyone is expecting for awards: “Fearless Girl,” the Wall Street statue McCann created for State Street.

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