Ajay Gahlaut
Jun 22, 2020

Cannes Lions 2020: 'I have never seen advertising people move so fast'

A violent sneeze attack caused panic inside the Palais

The sneeze effect
The sneeze effect
After such a long lockdown back home, I rediscovered the joys of walking in Cannes. And I’m glad to report that the combination of exercise and reduced intake of the amber brew is already leading to a slight flattening of certain unsightly curves.  
A relaxed eight minute stroll from the apartment brought me to the familiar Palais entrance. People were milling around at a respectful social distance from each other. 
A combination of masks and shades made most people unrecognisable unless you were familiar with their particular gait or body shapes. 
I had a ten minute conversation with a man whom I confess I couldn’t place at all. I was hoping he would provide a hint to his identity during the course of the chat. But I realised he was equally clueless when he asked me, ‘So how are things back home in Yugoslavia?’  
At the bottom of the famous staircase to the basement where all the work is exhibited, there was a strange looking booth that everyone had to pass through. Upon enquiry I was told this was the Sanitising Booth. One stood there and was subjected to several rather ticklish jets of liquid spray on various parts of one’s anatomy. 
Inside, the usual contingent of germ-free admen oohed and aahed over the usual scam ads created by the usual agencies across the world. Computers where you could view the work were placed much further apart than usual. And the headphones attached to the computers were being sprayed with disinfectant by a jolly Frenchman. I picked up a pair of headphones unthinkingly and put them on. With a holler and a whoop, the said Frenchman came rushing up to me with much Gallic waving of hands and quivering of eyebrows. He whipped out his disinfectant and let loose a foul smelling spray in the general direction of my head, causing me to sneeze violently. 
It was like a bomb had gone off. I have never seen advertising people move so fast. There was a brief silence and suddenly the room emptied as if David Copperfield had waved his wand. It took 20 minutes before the now not-so-jolly Frenchman could soothe ruffled feathers and get people to come back. 
Shaken, I hurriedly slunk away and decided to attend talks and seminars instead. As I had dinner, I ruminated on what the talks had taught me. I realised how proud I was to be part of the world of brands, marketing and advertising. Far from being greedy profiteers as accused by some, we were instead a saintly bunch working tirelessly to save the world. 
I will sleep well tonight. 
(The author is chief creative officer and managing director, Publicis Worldwide India.)
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