The sober guide to Cannes 2022

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

What could be better than a nice refreshing glass of rosé in the sunshine on the mediterranean coastline?

Well, how about a nice refreshing drink on the Côte d’Azur, without the hot flushes, guilt and next-day nausea? It’s entirely possible and — dare we say it — even more enjoyable than an alcoholic one. More and more ad execs are headed to the Cannes festival to focus on the festivities rather than the refreshments. 

“I feel the most important thing for organizers to embrace moving forward is options, so that we are all able to enjoy and maximize the unique Cannes experience safely, in a way that works for everyone,” said Fiona McKinnon, CEO of mental healthcare specialists The Moment Company. “I have experienced Cannes week as a drinker and a non-drinker, and I have to say my best experience was sober. It wasn’t easy the first time, the peer pressure is real, however, I took the week to fully immerse myself in being there — really there.” 

Here are a few recommendations for ways to have fun at the event — sober style. 

Mocktails for the win

If you’ve never asked for a mocktail in Cannes, try it, you’re in for a massive treat. The bartenders are all prepped and ready and usually have amazing tastes planned, said Tom Jenen, chief revenue officer at measurement platform Brand Metrics. He added: “I remember a Hawaiian blast at the RTL Beach and a classy drink on the Smart yacht.”

For those who want a cute response to the question “why aren’t you drinking?” look no further than these lowkey workarounds. If you want something that looks like rosé without close inspection, try half Pellegrino Blood Orange and half soda, suggested Jenen. Hopefully, however, it won’t get to the point where people feel compelled to know what you are and aren’t drinking — at least based on Jenen’s previous experience. “In my experience, nobody cares what’s in your glass, they just care that you came to have fun with old friends and make new connections,” he added. 

Stock up on fresh, local produce

Make sure that you stop off at some fruit vendors at the beginning of the week to stock up, advised Anthony Lamy, vp of client partners for VidMob’s EMEA business. The melons, strawberries and peaches are particularly excellent in Cannes at this time of year, he continued. Doing so saves you scrambling around each morning for something quick to eat. If you do have time then you could always start the day with a good coffee on a terrasse behind the croisette. There is plenty of shaded seating where you can take in the bustling morning atmosphere, said Lamy. 

There’s also more emphasis on ‘eating like a local’ among those execs who plan on having a sober Cannes. Cherries and apricots are in-season and make for an easy vitamin-packed snack to have while advancing those conversations, said Virginie Dremeaux,  vp of marketing and communications for FreeWheel’s international markets at FreeWheel. She added “And if you are keen to get involved in a discussion about mental wellbeing at work, look up FreeWheel’s schedule, as we’ll be hosting a dynamic conversation on the topic with SheRunsIt during the week.”

A sober Cannes, isn’t a boring Cannes

Far from it. Talk to any ad exec who has experienced Cannes sober and you’d be forgiven for thinking they were talking about somewhere else. The simple matter of waking up in the morning with a clear head seems to make the world of difference to those who’ve traded the cocktails for mocktails. Julia Linehan, founder and managing director of boutique PR agency The Digital Voice, is one such exec. Of the six times she’s been to Cannes, two have been booze free. Guess which was better? The sober one. Hands down, no  contest, said Linehan. “The atmosphere, the sun, the company, the networking, the food, the yachts, the villas, the incredible buzz are all the same,” she continued. “The only things missing are dehydration and headaches.”

Now more than ever it’s easier to enjoy the event in this way. Indeed, the world has changed since the last Cannes and organizers along the Croisette seem to have made a more concerted effort to make those execs who aren’t drinking feel welcomed. 

“Look out for the relaxing meditation sessions hosted by The Moment Company and pack in all the brilliant early morning sessions, such as Good Loop Pretty Green Lies,” advised Linehan.

Remember, water is your friend

Evenings are where things get tricky; the happy hours, yacht parties and liquid dinners mean the peer pressure to drink is never too far away. A top tip for Fiona McKinnon, CEO of mental healthcare specialists The Moment Company, is to carry a bottle of water with you as you head out. Having something in your hand already can be a security blanket, means you don’t have to head out the bar right away, and also makes it less likely you will be asked if you are drinking if you are already taking sips,” she explained. “I found this a huge help and, bonus, also meant I stayed hydrated.” 

Take advantage of a more mindful Cannes

There are more yoga, fitness and wellbeing sessions on the schedule this year. In fact, Outbrain has set up a wellness retreat at the Martinez where visitors can unwind during meditation or enjoy the Cannes sea by paddleboarding. Similarly, Amazon will be hosting morning workout and wellness sessions at its spot on the port throughout the week. If neither of those booze-free options are your thing then there are smoothies at sunrise on the Cognitive yacht for the first three days of the week. 

“This is my fourth time attending Cannes. But even in previous years, many attended bike rides, morning yoga, and other healthy activities,” said Michael Nevins, CMO at ad tech vendor Equativ (formerly Smart AdServer). “We’ve hosted healthy events in the past and had great attendance. But this doesn’t mean people still didn’t drink and dance until 3:00 AM. I drink a lot of water to stay hydrated and sober.”

Whisper it: think of Cannes’ more restorative qualities

This won’t be for everyone, but there’s something to be said about doing at least some prep. Book talks and workshops, with a view to embracing everything the festival has to offer, not just copious amounts of free flowing rosé and late boozy nights. It’s easier said than done, of course. That said, there are hacks to avoiding as many of those situations as possible. 

As McKinnon explained: “I avoided the long boozy lunches by scheduling early afternoon meetings and events, and reminded myself what a privilege it was to be able to hear from world class speakers.  In previous years I had used an afternoon session to enjoy a nap in a dark aircon room – I know I was not alone in this strategy.”

If you’re in need of an afternoon pick-me-up that isn’t an Aperol Spritz or want to avoid the festival’s rosé ice-lollies then why not take a walk into town for some gelato or even go shopping at one of the boutique stores on the Rue d’Antibes — a seven minute walk from the Croisette. No wonder Wavemaker’s global chief strategy and product officer Stuart Bowden goes there each year to break up the day.

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