At the end of the Cannes Lions Festival, as the crowds leave the Lumiere Theatre at the end of the final awards ceremony, I spot Sir Martin Sorrell, the CEO of WPP and one of the most powerful voices of the business, on the red carpet. Sorrell is busy giving TV interviews to the international media after WPP was awarded ‘holding company of the year’ at the ceremony, a few minutes back. I wait for my chance and move ahead to congratulate him.
“How has the week been for you,” he asks me and then proceeds to reply himself, “you look like you have been enjoying yourself”.
“You have stirred-up quite a storm,” I respond. He just gives me an expression that’s half-way between a smile and a chuckle. He knows what I am referring to.
“Look forward to seeing you next year at Cannes,” I tell him with a smile. He looks at me and says, “Maybe not. Let’s see,” and proceeds to close his fist and give me a gentle punch on my cheek.
Just a day before that, Sorrell had given a much harder knock to the future of the festival when he called for moving the Lions out of Cannes. Rival holding company, the French-headquartered Publicis Groupe, had already announced that it would not be present at Cannes next year and refocus its spend on internal investments. Other holding companies like IPG have also reportedly called for a change in the format of the festival.
Among the delegates attending this year's edition of Cannes Lions, there are opinions that support both sides. One viewpoint is that Cannes and Lions are inseparable much like Coca-Cola and its contour shaped bottle. Another side says that the festival moved from Venice to Cannes in the past. So, it might be time for the next big leap. It’s become too expensive and the party might not last too long, say some regulars. One Indian advertising CEO called it debauchery. Never mind that he and his team were in Cannes and part of the festival when he made that remark.
In the past, whatever Sorrell said has manifested itself –whether it be his comments on the Omnicom-Publicis merger or his observations on the YouTube boycott by Havas. On the Cannes Lions issue, one needs to watch what the recently instituted high-powered committee of marketers and agencies will have to say.
Outside the venue, and alongside the shoreline, several framed portraits of boxing legend Mohammed Ali are lined up on the promenade in an exhibition that showcases the life and times of the legend. It’s probably sheer coincidence, but one is tempted to ask, has the Cannes Lions become everyone’s punching bag?
(The writer is the managing editor of Campaign India. He can be reached on email@example.com)