Cannes is a magnificent car crash of creativity. This is my tenth visit and every time that car crash gets a little bigger and a little more spectacular.
I was lucky enough to be invited to judge this year. So, for the first few days I got to look at 5500 entries. That’s over 2500 ads a day. You are separated from the crowds and live in neon rooms with tiny biscuits for a while. So it is a bit of the shock to the senses to walk outside and see Kanye West, Jared Leto and the occasional Delorean. You are also confronted by about a million ridiculously stylish people in mirrored Ray-bans. They do this so they can look over your shoulder while they talk to you to see if there is anybody else more worthy of their attention. Add to this, enough finger food and Rose to feed every Kardashian for the rest of their lives and you get the reality show that is Cannes.
As shocking though as this all is, it is a sideshow compared to what is truly shocking for somebody who has been visiting for a decade. For me what is shocking is the fact that Cannes seems to be wrestling with itself trying to figure out what it is. And this is simply because of the sheer volume of disciplines and avenues that collide in the South of France.
Let me explain. While I am judging thousands of texting and driving press ads (it has to be the biggest problem facing humanity if you look at the amount of entries) outside you have celebs like Kanye West talking about content, talks from a man called Chris Dancy who is apparently the most digitally connected man on Earth, HBO giving clues to storytelling and a host of tech start ups peddling their wares. Facebook, Google, product design and mobile apps that link to drones that bring you a pizza and turn into an Oculus Rift so you can game while you check God knows what on the microchip that has been implanted in your brain (I am kidding, sort of). And everybody continuously drinks espressos and talks about how they are going to re-invent themselves by being braver than they were in the last 12 months. And that is before lunch.
So, it all might sound bewildering. And it is. Until you see the work. And then it all makes sense. Look at the Volvo trucks stuff. It is a simple idea. Harvey Nichols. An idea. And it isn’t hidden by anything. It is simple and staring you in the face. That is why it wins. In a sea of jargon, connectedness and puffery a great idea floats above it all. The truth is whether you are looking at an elegant press ad or a mobile technology that makes children in Cancer wards in South America feel less lonely they are just beautiful ideas. A lot of the noise and shiny things you see at Cannes happen after the idea. But in the beginning there is the idea. That hasn’t changed. And it never will.
When you remember this, things become simple. You stop being distracted by all the pretty wrapping paper and remember the gift. The reality is no matter how elaborate, big or clever the wrapping paper gets somebody has to have an idea. I think many people are forgetting this.
The difference today is once you have the idea it can travel in a million different directions. It can build, divide and live forever. The fact that an idea can do all this is exciting, powerful and valid. But, and this is a big fucking but, you have to have one in the first place. Bill Bernbach said 50 years ago if you can’t write your idea on the back of a business card it probably isn’t an idea. When you remember this, things are not so confusing, scary or overwhelming. They become very simple.