Ad Industry Flocks To South Of France Seeking Inspiration, Innovation And Requisite Rose

As originally published in Forbes

Say “Cannes” in reference to a global event and most people will assume you’re talking about the Cannes International Film Festival. But to people in the advertising world, “Cannes” means something very different—but just as entertaining, inspiring and alluring.

At the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity, meetings happen over coffee and croissants, over glasses of rose, in beach cabanas, on docked yachts, in the halls of the Palais, on the Croisette, in the myriad hotels that overlook the Mediterranean, in million-dollar villas with million-dollar vistas, on the Carlton Terrace, at the Gutter Bar and in countless other alluring venues laced with Southern France sunlight and seductive breezes.

The week-long festival is a chance for ad executives, young professionals and students from all over the world—more than 11,000 this year—to gather and share best practices, hear from the people who are redefining advertising creativity, observe award-winning work, strike business relationships, and indulge in the grandeur of the ultimate off-campus location. Long the bastion of ad agency executives and wee-hours hobnobbing, it has in recent years evolved amid the parties, attracting ever-increasing numbers of CMOs from companies like Procter & GamblePG -0.55% and Coca-Cola KO -0.85%, as well as digital and technology game-changers such as Facebook FB -1.09%Google GOOG -1.77%, Twitter and Spotify. As Starcom MediaVest Group CEO Laura Desmond told me in a pre-Cannes interview, it has indeed become much more of a technology conference.

“The whole industry is moving away from being an art to a science,” said Matt Britton, CEO of Publicis agency MRY, in Cannes. “I want to be part of the shift. The way we work as an agency is, there’s not a good idea, only good results.”

So where does that leave the creative idea, the root of the Cannes Lions festival? “What’s remained constant is that you don’t win at Cannes unless you have an idea,” Britton said, adding that today, an idea is defined as “bringing two unexpected things together.”

Indeed, Ogilvy & Mather’s Grand Prix win for Coca-Cola work “demonstrates the business effectiveness of a great idea,” Ogilvy Worldwide Chairman and CEO Miles Young told me. One key Cannes lesson: “There is a paradox between the need to define creativity tightly versus the fact that creativity is morphing into other things,” he said.

At a time when other industry events such as CES, SXSW, Advertising Week, ANA Masters of Marketing—even procurement conferences—vie for premier status as The Conference That Matters For CMOs, Cannes holds sway as simultaneously delivering unmatched global representation and critical mass.

It was my first time at Cannes. I sat down with five CMOs—Coca-Cola Chief Marketing and Commercial Officer Joe Tripodi, Beam BEAM +0% Inc. Global CMO Kevin George, Adobe CMO Ann Lewnes, Visa V +0.1% CMO Kevin Burke and Facebook VP Carolyn Everson—to gain their perspective on advertising innovation and the value of Cannes. I met with agency heads and participated in two marketing-leadership discussions. I only scratched the surface, but I came away with some new insights and an appreciation for the industry celebration along that promenade by the sea.

Matt Britton