Cannes Lions Takes Place in Time of Change for Ad World

Tim Dams

The ad industry gathers June 17-21 for its annual celebration of commercials, marketing and creativity, the Cannes Lions in the French Riviera.

It does so against a backdrop of ongoing and profound upheaval within the world of advertising. The share prices of all the major ad groups, such as WPP, Publicis and Omnicom, are down significantly over the past 12 months amid clients’ complaints that the big shops are no longer set up to help brands reach consumers in a fragmented online world.

Related stories

Branded Content Campaigns Help Ads Cut Through Clutter

Listen: Cannes Lions Preview with MediaLink's Michael Kassan

Will the U.S. Break Up Big Tech? Don't Hold Your Breath

Many brands are creating their ads more cheaply in-house for use on Facebook or Google. “Not every bit of advertising needs to be epic,” noted Unilever’s chief marketing officer Keith Weed at last year’s Cannes Lions. Other brands are turning to consultancies including Accenture Interactive and Deloitte Digital, specialists in data management and analytics, to help them reach consumers more effectively. Or they are experimenting with branded content in a bid to stand out.

So this year’s Cannes Lions is all about how to inject purpose, pleasure and, of course, profit back into the ad world. Here’s what to look out for:

TALENT: The Cannes Lions is awash with so many executives and stars from the worlds of TV and film, you’d be forgiven for thinking you were actually at the Cannes Film Festival or Mipcom. Producer Shonda Rhimes, director Alfonso Cuaron and actor Jeff Goldblum are all taking part in panels, while Jeffrey Katzenberg is being honored as Media Person of the Year, and “Saturday Night Live” creator Lorne Michaels will receive the Cannes Lions’ first Entertainment Person of the Year Award. As advertising needs to be more creative to stand out, agencies are hoping to learn a thing or two from them about storytelling and showmanship.

APPLE IN THE SPOTLIGHT: Cannes Lions has named Apple as its Creative Marketer of the Year, a prize that’s previously been won by Coca-Cola, Google and Heineken. It follows a remarkable showing for the brand at last year’s Cannes Lions, with the Spike Jonze-directed “Welcome Home” film winning a Grand Prix.

DIVERSITY: As with the wider creative industries, advertising has a diversity problem. There’s a raft of sessions on the subject, while the jury members are, says the Cannes Lions organizers, the most diverse roster to date. Jurors from more than 50 countries will be judging entrants’ work. Some 48% of 2019’s jurors are female, up from 40% in 2016.

PRIZE WINNERS: The Cannes Lions honors remain highly fought over. Last year, the fest simplified its awards structure, cutting the number of prizes as part of an overhaul to address criticism that the Cannes Lions had become too expensive and unwieldy, and had lost sight of creativity.

Sign up for Variety’s Newsletter. For the latest news, follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.