Canceling Cannes Lions 2020 Puts It on the ‘Right Side of History’

Judy Lee, Pinterest’s global head of industry and experiential marketing, calls it the correct thing to do

Pinterest Beach at Cannes Lions in 2019 Pinterest
Headshot of Diana Pearl

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This is shaping up to be a year different than nearly all the ones that came before it. And that’s true for marketers as well, who are facing a year without the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity, the advertising industry’s biggest event of the year.

The announcement of Cannes’ cancellation came earlier this month, two weeks after the festival had initially been postponed until October of this year. The organizers said in a statement: “As the impact from COVID-19 continues to be felt across the world on consumers and our customers across the marketing, creative and media industries, it has become clear to us our customers’ priorities have shifted to the need to protect people, to serve consumers with essential items and to focus on preserving companies, society and economies.”

For the brands that make Cannes Lions a major part of their calendar, activating on beaches, hosting events and sending large chunks of their staff to the event, news of the cancellation is a necessary difficulty, said Judy Lee, Pinterest’s global head of industry and experiential marketing.

“I respect the Cannes Lions organization for making the difficult decision early rather than delaying the decision much longer,” she said. “We all want to be on the right side of history with the decisions we make this year.”

Pinterest has increasingly had a major presence at Cannes. Last year, the brand operated Pinterest Beach, a weeklong activation with a sensory experience for guests. Lee said as of now, it’s still to be revealed how exactly the cancellation of Cannes will impact its business overall.

“We’re only beginning to understand the effect of the global pandemic and how it will impact all of us,” she said. “Cannes is one part of that equation. We’ll definitely miss the opportunity to meet with our partners from around the world, and nothing can replace that.”

However, Lee anticipates this year’s cancellation will make Cannes Lions in 2021 even more relevant for the industry. After a year off, the advertising industry will be eager to get back to its most-anticipated playing field and in-person networking.

What happens in Cannes in particular is hard to replicate, she said, simply due to the sheer volume of attendees from companies across industries, including tech, telecommunications, food service and more.

“Inspiration comes in so many forms at the festival, from a talk that shows the possibilities of what you can accomplish in new ways to a piece of creative that gives you chills to late-night conversations with brilliant minds,” she said. “Cannes is one of the best places to network and recruit some of the industry’s top talent around the world. Outside of the obvious award-winning teams that brands may want to poach, I can’t think of a single company that doesn’t send their top teams to work on Cannes, including marketing, communications, experiential and creative, to name a few.”

She added: “When you combine the fresh sea air with outstanding creativity, magic happens.”

@dianapearl_ Diana is the deputy brands editor at Adweek and managing editor of Brandweek.