How the Ad Industry Responded to Publicis’ ‘Pause’ at Cannes

The festival had a renewed focus on creativity

Ad execs say Cannes felt 'less intense' this year. Marian Brannelly

Attendance may have been down—and not solely due to Publicis’ decision to (mostly) sit out the festival—but many at the Cannes International Festival of Creativity this year noticed a positive change.

PHD Media worldwide strategy and planning director Mark Holden told Adweek he thought it was good that Cannes was “a bit smaller this year,” with “a refocus on what’s really important, which is creativity.”

In recent years, Holden said, he felt the festival had become too large. “You felt that focus on creativity was getting quite marginalized,” he said and “that creative element was there but was just getting buried under everything else.”

Nathalie Haxby, CMO of GroupM’s Wavemaker, agreed with Holden.

“I think there’s a big emphasis on creativity … Finally, it’s coming back to creativity,” Haxby told Adweek.

She said because Cannes scaled back this year and there were not “crazy, crazy announcements” from holding companies pulling everyone’s attention away from the work (ahem, Publicis), the festival felt “less intense” for those who attended, leaving them able to “be inspired” and “focus on proper conversations” around creativity.

Holden noted that there was “a focus on the content” on Cannes Lions’ main stages this year. “After all, in marketing terms the best content in the world for the whole year is in that kind of main stage. And yet in years past the focus was moving from there to …other places,” he said. “Focusing on that content and creativity is what Cannes is about. If you lose that, you lose the whole purpose.”

Some see a connection between the Cannes Lions’ renewed focus on creativity and Publicis’ decision to not devote its own resources to awards shows while building up its Marcel platform.

While Publicis CEO Arthur Sadoun told Adweek they “don’t want to take any credit” for the shift, Sadoun said he had heard that Publicis’ decision to “pause” awards show submissions influenced the direction of the festival.

Publicis didn’t go unrepresented at Cannes, of course, as Sadoun and COO Nick Law attended the festival for a presentation on Marcel last Tuesday night in which they claimed “we demonstrated our commitment to reinventing our industry, with creativity at the core.”

Its client partners also submitted work on Publicis’ behalf and while its submissions were down to around 8 percent of total entires, it picked up several awards, including a Grand Prix in Media for Tesco, a Grand Prix in Film and a Titanium Lion for Saatchi & Saatchi New York’s “It’s a Tide Ad.”

In an internal memo released last week, Sadoun thanked clients for their “commitment to creativity.”

Whether or not Publicis’ influence impacted the focus on creativity, the holding company seems to have come away from the festival with a PR win.

“Publicis has the best story right now, of the holding companies—and I separate a story from reality,” said Brian Wieser, a senior research analyst with Pivotal Research Group at a Cannes Lions panel with Dentsu Aegis Network CEO, Americas Nick Brien, adding, “I think that WPP’s story is probably the worst right now and it will be bad for awhile.”

Asked by a member of the audience to define that narrative, he said, “The power of one. It’s just … it’s a simple story. They’re destroying those who may enjoy their Leo Burnett perception, whatever that meant, Saatchi & Saatchi, whatever that meant…”

“You can argue they’re destroying important brands, but if the brands didn’t resonate to the customer enough then see you later,” he added. “They simplified the offering.”

As far as its Marcel offering is concerned, even Sadoun admits Publicis has a ways to go until it is fully operational.

Holden said he helped PHD build up its own platform called Source. While it has taken years, he said Source has proven to be a success, with around 2,000 people on the platform weekly and 77,000 ideas generated last year.

“Publicis have one hell of a road ahead of them,” he said. “To wrap this thing up takes so much work.”

@ErikDOster Erik Oster is an agencies reporter for Adweek.
@kitten_mouse Lindsay Rittenhouse is a staff writer at Adweek, where she specializes in covering the world of agencies and their clients.
@PatrickCoffee Patrick Coffee is a senior editor for Adweek.