“The French Riviera. A sunny place for shady people.”
When it comes to Cannes and advertising, people often start with what’s wrong with it. I don’t want to do that after a million zoom calls over the last couple of years. I would rather write about the joy of Cannes. And the joy comes from those mad people you see so fleetingly in a little back lane every couple of years or so. People.
So, if you don’t mind, I would like to start in another lane full of people. To be specific, Brick Lane in London.
In the middle of a mile-long market I found a beret-wearing cigar-smoking man who could have been from a variety of European countries, playing chess against all comers. He was doing it for free. He was doing it because it made him happy. He reminded me how important it is to do things simply because they are fun.
There was a small crowd that began to grow as he played a young woman who had evidently been there the weekend before. She had been practicing all week and in a beautiful twist she beat our possibly French hero. There was applause and laughter. There was clapping of hands. Grumpy Londoners were delighted to be there. There was joy.
Joy. For a few years we were trapped in our own worlds. And then we were all in the same one.
There is a beautiful line in the Lawrence Kasdan 1991 movie Grand Canyon which is, “Never go to the Grand Canyon alone”. Perhaps, this is what Cannes was about this year. The festival was great but being with all those crazy people you hadn’t seen for years was really special. The tribe found itself. And then we carry on for another year.
Cannes is not perfect by any means. I have been going for more than a decade. It has made me very angry and very happy and probably everything else. There is work that wins that I believe shouldn’t. There is work I have done that I think should have done better. And I am sure every creative in the world feels that way. With at least 30,000 entries that will never change.
Cannes has also become massive. It is now a festival that encompasses a multitude of industries and channels. I hear gaming will be introduced next year. So if you think it’s big now, hold onto your hats. This is of course the problem. If advertising is everything and everywhere, how do you have a finite festival for it? Where is the centre of creativity? Maybe a topic for another blog.
More than a few people have said to me it’s lost its centre or soul. People complain about the size of the boats, how much rosé is consumed and the kind of work that wins. This kind of criticism has happened ever since I first landed on that scary runway in Nice 15 years ago. All of this may or may not be true depending on your point of view. The truth is, each time I go I either have a brilliant time or a terrible time. There is no in between. Over the years, I have come to the conclusion that it has far more to do with me and where I am at in my career than the place itself. Cannes is a strange mirror. It is always just what is happening right now. Good and bad.
So what did the mirror show me this time? It showed me that despite technology there is simply no substitute for being there. It showed me there is no substitute for seeing all those crazy people that make advertising fantastic. Something we should be way prouder of than we are. The people are the place.
Like that cheering crowd in Brick Lane watching chess. It didn’t make sense but it made sense to us. Isn’t that what living is? People were excited again. Just because we were there. It made us happy because it was fun.
I saw junior teams in Cannes who were there for the first time with wide eyes and wider smiles. They were inspired. They realised how big their universe truly was. You could see nothing was going to stop them. I don’t think there is a value or price you can put on that feeling. Our industry should not take it for granted. Especially if you are trying to do difficult things.
Perhaps I, like many of us, have become a little jaded by the passing parade over the years. But this Cannes I remembered what it felt like the first time I went to the South of France. I loved the ideas. I loved the adventure of it all. I loved the people. I saw the potential.
I was a creative not a critic.
This year, after a two year winter the sun came out. I think we all needed this. It felt like normality again. It felt like life and living. The world felt open again. And that felt joyous.
My shady people had found their sunny place once again.