Cannes 2024 - One glorious car crash of creativity

Shaun Branagan
By Shaun Branagan | 28 June 2024
Shaun Branagan.

Shaun Branagan, Group Creative Director, Ogilvy Sydney

The last time I went to Cannes it was in Venice. Ok, it wasn’t that long ago, but it’s been a while.

So, what’s changed? Everything and nothing. Still the same delirious victors and the disillusioned also-runs. Still the same seasoned players and the hapless neophytes; captains of industry and first timers. Celebs and nobodies. Clients alternatively enthralled and appalled by it all, but ultimately succumbing to Stockholm Syndrome and falling in love with their captors. Production companies schmoozing. People networking. The sublime, the ridiculous and everything in between.

Over the years there have been some significant shifts in the power base and the audience. Originally a festival for creatives, early history was defined by omnipresent ad agencies. A decade later clients joined in the fun. Now, it’s the media and holding companies that dominate the beachfront. The first time I came to Cannes there were a couple of tents on the beach for the final night party. Today, you can’t see the sand for the marquees. The entire beach along the Croisette is sectioned off with media companies’ tents, cheek by jowl jostling for attention. If you haven’t got a VIP invite forget it. Unless you like to queue. Not satisfied with a flimsy marquee, Amazon commandeered the entire port, building an entire shopfront and village - a kind of walled garden if you like.

It’s not surprising there are so many media outfits here because today there are a gazillion of media channels to choose from. T Mobile is a media channel. So is United airlines. Which has led to a proliferation of new award categories with the sheer volume of entries skyrocketing. Many of these new categories are multilayered which has led to a new phenomenon - the case study film and the award entry board necessary to explain the idea. This has spawned a whole new industry. Stroll through the exhibition and you’re confronted by hundreds and hundreds of award boards. And they’re just the shortlisted ones. Polished to perfection (sometimes polishing a turd) all vying for the judges’ attention. Pick me! Pick me! Which it can be argued mirrors the noisy real world attention economy.

As the week wears on a certain ennui sets in. Which then becomes an internal conflict between the profound and the frivolous that is Cannes. Elon Musk draws a huge crowd but much smaller, and arguably more important talk, comes from Noble Prize laureate, Maria A Ressa who gives a first-hand account of what it’s like to be trolled by an authoritarian government (she had to ask permission from the Supreme Court just to attend). Not surprisingly, Ressa is dismissive of Musk calling X a “social mob.” “Power corrupts, absolute power corrupts absolutely, hello Elon,” she says.

The Olympic flame relay comes down the main drag in a sponsored circus mid-week. Meanwhile, inside you can listen to a presentation from the IOC Refugee Committee’s Yusra Mardini who tells her personal story of swimming for her life to escape the war in Syria and the dramatic rise of refugees who now number 100 million worldwide. If you haven’t seen the BAFTA award winning Netflix film, The Swimmer, it’s worth a look.

Ultimately, everything at Cannes is new and old at once. A presentation on future trends and the impact of emerging tech reaffirms the importance of human interaction. Meaningful will still trump the machines. Les Binet used Chat GPT to check his work and affirm the power of brand adverting over performance adverting to drive profits. And Gut, a Brazilian agency say that DATA is good but TA-DA! is better. Whilst they get a rock star welcome, the older and more cynical in the audience see that their positioning is borrowed wholeheartedly from Saatchis circa 1990.

Plus ca change plus la meme chose, as the French say. So, what keeps people like Jacques Seguela, recipient of the Lion of St Mark award, coming back 47 times? Or Sir John Hegarty; 25 visits and myself; too long between visits? Simply, It’s the pulsating creative energy of the place; the thinkers, the challengers, the change-makers. Whilst the festival runs like a well-oiled machine, it’s still one, glorious mess. The Oscar winning production designers behind Poor Things perhaps encapsulated the whole festival in their presentation entitled the “messy middle”, talking about the chaos and uncertainty of the creative process that can lead to success. Cannes is one glorious car crash of creativity and you just can’t look away.

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