Cannes: the festival that became a carnival but never changed
A view from Peter Hubbell

Cannes: the festival that became a carnival but never changed

Creativity endures, and always will, says the CEO of BoomAgers.

Cannes may still be an international festival of creativity, but it’s become more popular to write about what’s changed. To lament the fact that this annual summer escape to celebrate creativity with gaiety has become (omg) another big, busy business conference. Hey, there’s no doubt that Cannes has taken on a commercial appearance, its Croissette now looking more like a carnival boardwalk than an esplanade. You can’t miss it (look for the Ferris Wheel) as it courses through the center of the event, hosting barkers housed in rows of tents, all peddling their latest attractions. Step right up.  

As gaudy as this may seem to those accustomed to attending the earlier festivals of fascinating creativity, rest assured that what matters most has not changed. As the French themselves would say, plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose, i.e. the more it changes, the more it is the same thing. Far from the madding crowd of the carnival, juries still judge creativity in dark rooms, creativity is still an intangible, and improbably, the submissions get better every year.

Here are 5 reasons why the business carnival at Cannes is still a festival of creativity:

It still has creativity at its core: While the reason that many people now go to Cannes has changed, the reason that the world’s best creativity also goes there has not. It goes there to be celebrated so we can honor the brilliant minds capable of conceiving the world’s best ideas. As artificial intelligence makes its inroads to marketing, creativity is still the province of human imagination. Recognition will always be what motivates humans to be their best, and no one does recognition better than Cannes. Leaving the carnival with an armful of prizes never gets old.

The bar keeps getting higher: In the pre-carnival days, a cynic could say that Cannes was simply a frivolous measure of creativity by and for creatives. But now that the clients who approve and fund the work have "bought in" to Cannes, the bar now matters, with more marketers wanting to be measured by the Cannes standard. What’s more, the number and array of awards categories have simultaneously expanded, creating still more bars that are increasing the standard of global creativity like compounded interest.

The boundaries have gone away: When Cannes was the International Advertising Festival, creativity was hemmed in by the definition of advertising and the borders of pages and screens. How inspiring is it that ideas like "Fearless Girl" and "Meet Graham" are all the rage this year? Sculptures winning Lions? What would Rodin think?

Fads are fading faster: Creativity is fundamentally about doing new things in new ways, which makes it prone to fads. But, the high stakes at Cannes penalizes and purges the familiarity of fads. Experiments and stunts are still in play, but this year many more of them have upped their game by serving a higher calling, e.g. Heineken’s opportunistic political ad - "Worlds Apart" - and its ambition to open people’s minds.

So while we’re on the topic of fads, everyone at Cannes is asking what’s next? I just consulted Madame Zola – the best palm reader on the boardwalk – and she told me it would be truth, honesty and authenticity to help create equilibrium in a world of fake news. If she’s right – and I hope she is – don’t expect the House of Mirrors to be back at Cannes next year.

More is being done on purpose: The Grand Prix for Good is a good thing. The Dalai Lama once said that our prime purpose in life is to help others. It’s heartening to see Cannes’ growing commitment to cause related efforts, especially those that are altruistically (vs. commercially) motivated. Some of these efforts are ambitious, but for the most creative minds in the world, worthy, lofty ambitions should be well within reach. As we set our minds to pressing topics like climate change, human rights and gender equality, let’s not forget about ageism. The world is aging at an unprecedented rate, so it’s time to get real about media, marketing and entertainment that’s truly "age-nostic."

So there’s good news in all of this: the carnival at Cannes is still a festival. Yes, it’s bigger now, but the bright side of big says there’s now more room for the revelry and merrymaking that serves a purpose that is uniquely Cannes – to truly celebrate creativity, one of the greatest expressions of human enthusiasm. Leave it to that whiz Einstein to remind us that creativity is what happens when we let intelligence have some fun. Never forget that this festival is still the best in the world at inspiring the ideas that gives marketing a purpose to be proud of. 

Peter Hubbell is the CEO and Founder of BoomAgers, an agency and consultancy dedicated to aging consumers.