How Would a Shift to October Change the Nature of Cannes Lions?

Industry veterans say the festival's backup plan is wise but could result in much different event

A photo of a building in Cannes, France
Would Cannes Lions still feel like Cannes Lions in October? And would sponsors balk at a big Q4 expense? Getty Images

This could be the year Cannes Lions attendees finally have to pack something warmer than a backless cardigan or frayed Sonic Youth denim jacket. But that might be the least of the ways it proves to be different from years past.

The creative festival’s organizers announced today they have secured the city for an alternate week in October in case the global outbreak of COVID-19 threatens to extend into June. By April 15, the Ascential-owned event plans to decide whether to continue with its current plan for June 22-26 or switch to Oct. 26-30.

While the announcement was likely aimed primarily at giving festival sponsors and ticket buyers a sense of security that their investments wouldn’t be squandered if the event were canceled, it also served as a trial balloon of sorts as members of the agency and marketing worlds responded to the idea of a delayed Cannes.

Adweek spoke to several frequent Cannes attendees today about the festival’s decision to create a contingency plan for October and while all generally agreed it was a wise move, their perspectives varied quite a bit on how Cannes Lions will be different in 2020.

Literally chill

“Cannes in October will change the whole feel of the festival. It won’t be the usual kickoff to summer the London market sees it as. People will need to pack jackets for late night on yachts drinking rosé. Also, loads of people have booked non-refundable hotel rooms, so I still expect to see half the London market in Cannes on ‘planning away days.'”
—Andy Oakes, founder and managing director, Bluestripe Media (London)

A break from the boondoggle

“There’s always been the underlying conversation about the ‘boondoggleness’ of Cannes, a perception which can take a bit of the teeth out of Cannes as a pure celebration of marketing excellence. It’s a balance, and some years the Lions—and our industry—walks it better than others. Let’s face it, October in France is way less rosé-riffic. While it won’t yield as many envy-worthy Insta, it could swing the emphasis back solidly about the work.”
—Laura Fegley, chief creative officer, OKRP (Chicago)

Cannes Lions and prudence, together at last

“Given the uncertainties of our current global health situation, postponing major international events such as Cannes is the prudent decision. Of course, holding the largest industry event at the start of Q4 is not ideal but it is better to stay safe than to contribute to the spread of a global pandemic.”
—Grant Gudgel, svp of marketing, Teads North America

The potential quagmire of Q4

“Given the current climate, moving Cannes Lions to October is a good move. When we eventually come out of this current containment phase–and hopefully we will return to business as usual by early June–marketers and agencies will need to focus on rebuilding their businesses. If the organizers do decide to push the festival back, it will put a good amount of preparatory focus on the next year and Q4 results. The big question, however, will be whether it will really be possible to run Cannes Lions in Q4 this year, when many b-to-b sponsors will possibly curtail marketing spends to help recover a full year, rather than invest large sums right at the end of 2020.”
—Luke Judge, CEO U.K and U.S., Incubeta 

Time for a full system reboot

“Rather than postpone it, Cannes still has time to rethink the whole concept and audience of the festival, which is long overdue a reboot. Cut the physical costs and do it all remotely; slash the price of passes so the virtual sessions finally become accessible to the people who actually make the work; get Zoom to become their main sponsors; make it all more casual and inspiring. And if you feel like you must, you could always follow the whole thing while sipping from a (regularly priced) bottle of rosé.
—Ana Balarin, partner, Mother London

@griner David Griner is creative and innovation editor at Adweek and host of Adweek's podcast, "Yeah, That's Probably an Ad."
@zanger Doug Zanger is a senior editor, agencies at Adweek, focusing on creativity and agencies.