7 Marketing Predictions From the Chairman of Cannes Lions

Creativity and innovation are crushing it right now

an illustration of a telescope poiting at
Looking forward in an industry when it feels like that isn't exactly easy to do. Getty Images

We’ve been here before, except we haven’t. In 2009, delegates and award entries absolutely tanked. The global financial crisis smashed Cannes Lions like a freak wave, dumping us dazed and confused on the beach. At the time, I was convinced that nothing could be as bad again.

I’d have to check with the finance department, but I’m pretty sure Covid-19’s sucker punch really is as bad as it gets. We have revenues from other sources, particularly digital, but with the festival completely canceled this year, you don’t have to be an expert in event organization to realize that, in retrospect, the financial crisis of 2008 looks like nothing more than a slight inconvenience. So much for predicting the future.

It’s tempting at times like these to think, “I have no idea what’s going to happen.” Here’s what I’m hearing and seeing:

Google image search “people doing business,” “people having fun” or “people working”

What do you see? There is hardly a photo of someone on their own. Humans are social beings, and the idea that events and gatherings are dead is not going to happen. Humans can’t live without coming together. Why do restaurants, football stadiums or cities exist in the first place if that were the case? So it seems very likely that, in time, attending events will come back as a thing to do. As will hugging and kissing on both cheeks to say hello. People seem to like it too much.

Going digital with events is not good enough to replace the real thing

Every inbox is jammed with invitations to virtual “events.” But they’re not really virtual events, are they? It’s like saying food delivery is a “virtual restaurant.” Where is the service, the ambiance, the funky looking waiter? We hope to produce something great with our digital offering in June, but it won’t be the same thing online, mainly because that’s impossible.

Events will become a blend of the physical and not-physical

I don’t know what that will look like for a complex b-to-b event, but it’s got to be good news because it will democratize so many of them, including our own. It’s like the Covid-19 vaccine: There are too many smart people working on it for it not to become a reality.

International travel is going to be pricey and a pain

A friend recently returned home to Hong Kong from London. When he arrived, he was placed alone into a room for 12 hours and then given a bracelet to wear that would track his movements, lest he leaves his house for the next 14 days. Maybe we’ll all have to get used to that for a while.

Constraint drives creativity

There was an explosion of different types of amazing work post-recession, and all our analysis shows that there is no correlation between big budgets and great, lion-winning work. In fact, it’s the opposite. It hardly needs saying that human beings have always reacted to constraint and adversity with ingenuity and creativity, and this time you could imagine the scale of the crisis leading to an astonishing geyser of innovation.

The marketing and ad industry is really hurting

If you’re reading Adweek, you knew that already. The financial crisis, as seen through the lens of Cannes Lions, was followed by the arrival of the platforms and media owners at the Festival. There’s a belief that this meant that the agencies largely disappeared from the scene. But check who does the work and wins the Lions. Who is at the beating heart of everything? The agencies. They are the world’s creative engine, full of wonderful, crazy, buzzing, creative people. I don’t know what’s going to happen, but history tells us that the rumors of the death of the agency may be greatly exaggerated.

Keep a sense of perspective and remember what an incredible industry it is

I asked our partners at the United Nations what message they would like the creative community to hear right now. They pointed me to a speech the secretary-general gave early in the crisis: “We have a responsibility to ‘recover better,’” he said. “More than ever before, we need solidarity, hope and the political will to see this crisis through together.”

Solidarity, hope, political will, to which I would add: creativity.

@philthomas Philip Thomas is chairman at the Cannes Lions.