The votes have all been counted and the last set of awards will be handed out at Le Palais in Cannes on Friday night.
It’s been the usual mix of hard graft, interesting content, presentations and sessions, networking, chance encounters, parties and exhaustion - but, most importantly, inspiration.
It’s what the week is really all about. Unlike some previous years there was no one campaign that dominated the proceedings, such as Always #LikeaGirl or Dumb Ways to Die.
But it’s well worth immersing yourself in the work while you are in Cannes, whether by attending the awards ceremonies (which seems to be anathema to some people who are more interested in yacht parties and the Carlton Terrace), checking out The Work area live in person and listening to/watching the case studies, or – if you’re not lucky enough to be in Cannes – go to The Work area of the Cannes website (there’s a charge for that… of course).
Another thing worth doing is heading to the some of the live judging sessions. Where else can you see Procter & Gamble’s chief brand officer Marc Pritchard pitching his work to a roomful of agency people, rather than the other way round, followed by a super-creative account executive at the other end of the spectrum?
And, rather than checking out the main stages and celebrities such as Jeff Goldblum, search out the more fringe but interesting stuff in the smaller halls. Try the Female Quotient Lounge or the Inkwell Beach, which represented a rare dose of true diversity in Cannes.
Let’s put aside the traditional soul searching by PR firms about their lack of success in their "own" category, the PR Lions.
It’s true that there was scant return on investment for some of the big firms in this category. But there were bright spots in Golin’s Gold and Silver Lion idea creation awards for its Big Mac 50th Anniversary MacCoin activation, which also won two gongs at the PRWeek U.S. Awards in March.
Weber Shandwick/3PM got a Gold Lion PR credit for its contribution to AB InBev’s Wind Never Felt Better activation for Budweiser, where the idea creation went to David, Miami.
And the general consensus was that the PR Lions Grand Prix winner, The Tampon Book: A Book Against Tax Discrimination by German firm Scholtz & Partners was a worthy winner of the top prize. Scholtz started out as an advertising agency but has some well-developed public affairs chops and PR jury chair Michelle Hutton described the firm as the epitome of a "modern communications agency."
I was less excited by some of the other Gold Lions winners. The Second Chances campaign for Donate Life California by Casanova/McCann Costa Mesa revolved around letting off drivers for speeding tickets if they were organ donors. A nice idea on the face of it, and it was a humorous video to accompany the case study, but is it really a good idea to be rewarding people in this way for breaking the speed limit?
Similarly, the Harmless Guns activation for Dagoma by TBWA Paris, which involved people 3D printing guns with parts that didn’t fit together, also seemed a little off color to me. And while I was delighted for the Peruvian PR community that it saw success in Cannes, the Perussian Prices campaign for Plaza Vea by Fahrenheit DDB in Lima was also lost on me.
I would have preferred to have seen the elevation to gold of campaigns such as Aflac and Carol Cone on Purpose’s My Special Aflac Duck work, which won two Silver Lions instead, or IHOP’s IHOB: The Day IHOP Flipped the Script by Droga 5 with PR credit to DeVries Global, which also won silver.
As PR Lions jury chair Michelle Hutton said in her interview with PRWeek prior to Cannes and reiterated at the winners press conference and on stage at the awards ceremony, PR is a craft and not a channel, and that was the philosophy the judges abided by during their deliberations.
However, there were some who wondered how new this philosophy was and commented that they have always seen PR as a craft and that this positioning was framing the profession in a slightly old-fashioned way.
Just as in Davos, purpose was ubiquitous on the streets of Cannes this week, though there was genuine and useful debate about the importance of avoiding purpose-washing, or "woke-washing" as Unilever CEO Alan Jope described it in a main stage session.
Michelle Hutton’s jury were careful to only award Lions to purpose-based activations that had authenticity at their core and genuinely reflected the branding and positioning of the organizations involved, best epitomized by the Grand Prix-winning Tampon Book campaign.
A Terrace Stage session with Procter & Gamble’s chief brand officer Marc Pritchard – a ubiquitous figure during Cannes week – broadcaster Katie Couric and actor Justin Baldoni picked up on the theme of masculinity and the impact that marketing has on men’s self-image and aspirations. It led to the trio calling for a #SeeHim movement to emerge to mirror the #SeeHer.
Another session picking up on this theme featured Bonobos’ CEO Micky Onvural and Observatory founder Jae Goodman describing the clothing brand’s #EvolvetheDefinition masculinity campaign, which reflected on the old-fashioned definition of the word "masculinity" that is still in dictionaries and how modern men reacted to it.
In her session, Couric had commented that "a lot of those men would not be receptive to conversations and even entertain them" and that view was vindicated by some of the reactions to the Bonobos campaign by men on social media. Brands have to prepare for the inevitable backlash to bold work such as this, just as Gillette did with its The Best Men Can Be activation in January.
Bonobos’ activation didn’t make much of a splash in Cannes, though personally I thought it was a more nuanced execution than Gillette. Apparently the Gillette entry skipped over the ad and concentrated on the reaction afterwards on social media and conversation that generated and the juries considered one such campaign on the Lions list was enough.
Overall, the trend is the next stage in the conversation around gender that was sparked by the #MeToo movement, and shows the role marketing can play in advancing these important discussions.
But Couric’s warning that these aren’t easy conversations is well taken, as the aggressive reaction to both campaigns on social media generated, with some folks from the brands even receiving death threats.
As Couric put it: "How do you lay the groundwork to chip away at some of these defenses that have been formed since the time they [men] were born?"
Cannes is often criticized because the campaigns that win skew heavily toward CSR, and there were many winning campaigns in that category this year. But well-regarded creative and Cannes veteran PJ Pereira, who chaired the jury for the second year of the Social & Influencer Lions, said it best when he talked about the Wendy’s Keeping Fortnite Fresh Grand Prix winner in his category:
"This idea made us smile and stood out, not only because of its unpretentious sense of humor (something very refreshing in this world of brands taking themselves so seriously), but also because it made us all realize we still have so much to learn."
We got more thoughts from Pereira in a podcast where he discussed the merging of the marketing disciplines and his view that most of the work now exists in one homogenous lump that is judged by juries from different disciplines, all of which look at it through their own specific lens.
Golin’s McDonald’s Big Mac work; Droga 5 and DeVries’ IHOP/IHOB activation; Wendy’s Keeping Fortnite Fresh including VMLY&R and Ketchum; and Burger King’s The Whopper Detour by FCB New York and Alison Brod Marketing + Communications ensured Cannes had a chunky burger theme and backed up PJ Pereira’s view about the fun returning to Cannes.
All of these brands have featured heavily in PRWeek over the past couple of years and the burger wars are certainly serving up some interesting and groundbreaking marketing, communications and social media activations.
SMOKING FOR GOOD
I still find it astonishing that tobacco giant Philip Morris International was allowed to be a sponsor of the Cannes Good Track, alongside Greenpeace, UNWomen, World Food Programme and Sesame Street. That seemed incongruous at best, egregious at worst. I tried to talk to the Cannes organizers about the decision to embrace PMI as a festival partner, but they weren’t able to make anyone available.
PMI also sponsored a week-long content track at the Open Mic Beach Lounge, hosted by Bonin Bough and including participants such as Cindy Gallop, Rose McGowan and Erin Johnson. Panelists on the published program (full disclosure: I didn’t attend these sessions so can’t vouch for final speaker appearances) included executives from IBM, Intel, Puma, AARP, Viacom, Accenture, and even a representative from the famously anti-tobacco PR behemoth Edelman.
A Terrace Stage activation titled Facts, Fads and a Fugee: Creating a Smoke Free Future, featured Wyclef Jean, Bough and PMI’s VP of scientific and public communications, Moira Gilchrist.
And finally, on Thursday evening, advertising trade publication Ad Age hosted a Future of Creativity Conversation with PMI and Loeb.nyc at the Open Mic lounge to round out the cigarette manufacturer’s presence during the week.
Amid all the talk of "doing good being good business" and "purpose-led marketing," I was astonished there wasn’t more pushback on this element of the festival.
Finally, here are links to all of PRWeek’s top Cannes content from the week:
WPP's Mark Read
Weber Shandwick's Andy Polansky