‘It’s probably going to be a little bit tempered’: What marketers expect from Cannes after two-year hiatus

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

After a two-year hiatus, the schmoozing and dealmaking usually found at the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity is back in-person. But it may look a little different this year. 

While there’s excitement, advertising agency execs and chief marketing officers expect the celebration to be more somber than in previous years, in light of the recent spike in Covid-19 cases, the impending economic recession and the war in Ukraine. 

“2022 will likely have two vibes happening,” Leslie Sims, U.S. chief creative officer at Deloitte Digital, said via email, “celebration since it is the first time back in-person in two years, and yet also a more reserved tone given the complicated issues the world is facing.”

Cannes has always been about relationship building.
Josh Golden, CMO, Quad

The festival is one of the industry’s most anticipated events, with wheeling and dealing often flanked by an endless supply of rosé, celebrity-studded entertainment and extravagant experiences (like Snapchat’s ferris wheel in 2017 and concerts at Spotify’s Beach). Two years ago, organizers put a pin in Cannes Lions as the pandemic shuttered in-person activity, opting for virtual events in 2020 and 2021. Since then, social unrest, war, economic crisis and the ever-present pandemic have cast a shadow over the happenstance meetups marketers are accustomed to and the serendipitous nature of the festival. 

“Cannes has always been about relationship building,” said Josh Golden, CMO at global marketing experience company Quad. But the pandemic and turbulence of the last two years have “created this weird space that has existed between marketers.” Relationships that sparked during in-person events that usually took place five or six times per year were boiled down to text message-based relationships or interactions over Zoom, he added. 

According to Jenny Rooney, managing director and co-founder at Black Glass CMO House consultancy, her team wrestled with the idea of attending Cannes this year, given the state of the world. Out of the 12-member team, two from Black Glass will travel to Cannes, heeding Covid-19 safety guidelines like mask wearing, social distancing and hand washing. 

“Overall, the tenor is going to be happy and grateful,” Rooney said. “But it’s probably going to be a little bit tempered with a real acknowledgement of the fact that it’s challenging times right now.”

Meanwhile, if someone does fall ill, ad tech company Infillion says it has a plan in place for medical care — including a medical concierge setup for quarantine, treatment and a travel plan to return to the states. It’s worth noting that the CDC on Friday lifted its requirement for travelers to test negative for Covid-19 before entering the US, making it easier for travelers to return to the country. That said, the move does increase the possibility of Cannes attendees spreading Covid-19.

I recognize I’m willing to take some risks, to go have the opportunity to meet with people in person.
Josh Golden

There’s a similar sentiment at Quad, who is sending a minimal “S.W.A.T. Team” of staff to this year’s event, according to Golden — especially as attendance is expected to be less than in years prior as travel budgets continue to climb toward pre-pandemic levels. 

To some, this year will be a test of the return of Cannes. “For us to jump in with two feet and have a large activation would be a little bit presumptuous perhaps,” Golden said, “not totally knowing who is going to be there [or] how big it’s going to be.”

If nothing else, the last two years have proven that remote work can be effective. And even in light of the current risks and societal turbulence, marketers say they still see value in an in-person reunion that can’t be recreated over video conference calls. 

“After two years have passed and us being at home and frankly, our whole work lives have been changed. I recognize I’m willing to take some risks, to go have the opportunity to meet with people in person,” Golden said.

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