Marketers are used to being the sideshow to the main event, whether it’s ads in a magazine, tents at a music festival or commercials during the Super Bowl. So imagine a conference where marketing is the star and pretty much everyone who attends specializes in attention-getting. Toss in the French Riviera and you have what is known as the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity Awards.
The annual Cannes Lions, established in the 1950s to honor the best in marketing, attracts executives from the world’s biggest brands and advertising agencies, as well as the top players from technology, entertainment and media. (It’s unrelated to the city’s famous film festival.) Their presence transformed the beachfront here last week, giving a first-timer like me the sense that I was walking through the internet in real life — or IRL in web parlance.
Stretches of sand were renamed #TwitterBeach, Facebook Beach and Pinterest Pier. The pavement was painted teal, brought to attendees by Waze. Promotions for Shazam, the song-recognition app, and Oath, the newly named tie-up of AOL and Yahoo, dominated the entryways of five-star hotels to somewhat garish effect. Not enough? There was also a Spotify House and an Oracle Deck.
When I marveled over the setup to another attendee, he asked, “Have you seen the yachts yet?” I hadn’t. Sure enough, there was a long line of luxurious boats nearby that were festooned with banners for brands like Nielsen, the TV ratings company, and the accounting firm PwC. Music thrummed from them well into the early hours of the morning, and the drinking and dancing seemed to be made safer by the fact that people had to take their shoes off to board.
At times, though, the lavish displays felt strangely disconnected from what some of the companies face in the real world. Snap, whose stock plummeted after its first earnings report last month, erected a massive Snapchat-branded Ferris wheel and had its own event space, inspiring a popular guessing game as to how much it all cost.