After Cannes, Agency Professionals Are Optimistic (but Also Realistic) About the Industry

Creatives, strategists, executives and more weigh in

Many praise the renewed focus on inclusivity, equity and gender issues; many also wonder if it's all talk. Cannes Lions

Whether you were walking up and down the Croisette or watching from afar, you probably noticed a decidedly different feel to this year’s Cannes Lions. The industry got past Publicis’ well-documented pullout (though people are still talking about it), and in its place came a level of inspiration that some said had been missing among the platforms and ad-tech yachts that previously dominated the landscape.

Though there was some grumbling that the awards part of Cannes (why it was started in the first place) didn’t get the attention it deserved, there were new award categories as well as bubbling action around diversity, inclusion, equality and accessibility.

To get a feel for where heads were after a week in the South of France, Adweek asked industry professionals if they emerged from Cannes Lions more optimistic, pessimistic or realistic. While there was a great deal of optimism, there was also a dose of reality for the broader marketing ecosystem.

The optimists

Ben Jones, creative director, Google:
[It felt] gloomy going in, but [I felt] inspired leaving. [There were] sincere explorations of how to do and be better.

Marques Gartrell, vp, creative director, Deutsch:
Even in the last 20 years or so, the industry has seen swings in what was deemed best in creative—from years where it was pure entertainment, to years it was ads no one could even verify, to ideas that appropriate social causes purely for the purpose of success. It felt like this year’s [winners] struck an encouraging balance of creative that was responsible in cause marketing and how it authentically connects with consumers (Nike), ads that connected with consumers in clever yet functional ways (Burger King) and ads that know we should entertain consumers (HBO).

Eric Moore, CEO, Elephant:
I’m always optimistic, but this year at Cannes it is clear that the shift is finally taking place and the most interesting conversations, and panels were produced, led and participated in by women and women of color.

"What I am utterly bored with about Cannes as a whole is the completely irrelevant crowd and companies that are just there to snap a photo on a boat and pretend like they had something to do with something.”
Mandana Mellano, head of marketing, Thinknear by Telnav

Leigh Browne, creative director, GSD&M:
It’s always inspiring to see so much great work from around the world. So that makes me optimistic. But I’m realistic about the challenges advertising is facing. We still have a lot of work to do around diversity and equality, but we’ve come so far in the last few years. I feel like we’re making real progress. I mean, to see an entire campaign about vulvas? Amazing.

Mandana Mellano, head of marketing, Thinknear by Telnav:
At the heart of Cannes is something very simple: Creativity. And creativity is always inspiring and exciting. Despite all the challenges facing the industry, great ideas still prevail and brave brands who step out of the “safe” zone, still win. [However], what I am utterly bored with about Cannes as a whole is the completely irrelevant crowd and companies that are just there to snap a photo on a boat and pretend like they had something to do with something.

Leeann Leahy, CEO, The VIA Agency:
It seems that we’ve finally turned a corner from talking about the demise of advertising and have shifted to a more optimistic outlook that’s centered around creative partnerships and collaboration.

Pete Kim, CEO, MightyHive:
Following four days of nonstop meetings, at the most senior levels, the need and desire for industry change is crystal clear. This is no longer something that is “around the corner” or “maybe next year.” The time is now.

Scott Harkey, co-founder and managing partner, OH Partners:
My biggest takeaway from this year’s Cannes is that creativity is alive, and agencies are more valued than ever by brands who get it. I feel more motivated and encouraged than ever to do great work in this industry.

Kiran Smith, CEO, Arnold Worldwide:
There is a renewed focus on brand storytelling—and I know there is a lot of debate in the industry about the word “storytelling.” Fine. Call it what you want. What we are talking about is finding creative solutions to deliver messaging to consumers in meaningful ways. I’m optimistic that there is a renewed focus on the importance of creativity in our business.

“I like to think that Cannes is evolving from a rather seedy, greedy and unappetizing cocktail of [the industry] at its worst, to a place of real debate and positive change."
Aimee Luther, managing director, Fortnight Collective

@zanger Doug Zanger is a senior editor, agencies at Adweek, focusing on creativity and agencies.