Jeremy Lee
Jeremy Lee
A view from Jeremy Lee

Pink plonk and monstrous egos: bring back Cannes

The vulgar exploits of the mega-rich in Monaco don't need to be mirrored in Cannes.

"A sunny place for shady people." That’s how Monaco – the small principality on the French Riviera an hour’s drive and an even shorter hop on a chopper down the coast from Cannes – was once famously described.

Currently the subject of a BBC Two documentary in a naked and self-confessed attempt to attract cash into its Monte Carlo casino coffers, as well as increase its profile from the likes of "new money" social influencers and vloggers (sound familiar?), Monaco shares other similarities with the annual International Festival of Creativity that normally takes place on the French Riviera this week.

Those missing the Mediterranean sun, the yachts, the overpriced pink plonk and the monstrous egos might find some comfort in the TV series chronicling the wealthy who have made Monaco their home. But there’s little doubt that most of the industry is missing Cannes this year, even if the circumstances are entirely understandable.

It became obvious within weeks of the pandemic hitting Europe that pressing ahead with the festival would look hopelessly out of touch, even if it took its organisers rather longer to reach the same conclusion. In fact, it was so long ago, we were still bingeing on Tiger King and Billie Joe Armstrong’s version of I Think We’re Alone Now was still a novelty.

Of course, it’s easy to laugh at the excesses of Cannes – there’s always so much of it on display (and I’ve been doing it for years) – but in reality the ad industry has only ever played at being like the Monégasque down the coast. Turning up annually with its hired yachts, penny loafers, expense accounts and a fig-leaf award entry of virtue to help justify the whole beano, before being shooed away by the Cannes authorities within a few days for the next industry vertical desperate to associate itself with some Rivieran "glamour" (see, I’m doing it again). 

But the principle of getting the world’s best creatives to come together to share ideas, to view and celebrate the best work from around the world (and also have some fun) remains an important one. In fact, maybe even more crucial than ever in a world that has many wounds it needs to find a way to heal.

Little surprise, then, that Publicis Groupe and WPP are marking the lack of a physical festival with their own internal online celebrations of creativity to complement the Lions Live streaming of events and talks, in a bid to share the transformational power of creativity around their networks. 

When the metaphorical sunny times return, will we collectively be heading back to Cannes? Probably. A period of introspection could mean that when the festival returns in 2021 it has more relevance than ever.

Jeremy Lee is consulting editor at Campaign

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