Vinita Bhatia
Jun 18, 2024

Cannes Lions Diary: Updates from the French Riviera

An inside view of industry happenings at Cannes Lions 2024, from the lens of a newbie.

Getty Images
Getty Images

Day 3: June 19

The early bird gets a lot done, while at Cannes. I met Léoda Esteve, managing director of Marcel (part of Publicis Groupe) for an early morning meeting, where she spoke about some of the changes she has made in the company since she was elevated to this position eight months ago. And she is just getting started.

Watch this space for her exclusive interview.

One of the most anticipated sessions for the day was WPP CEO Mark Read’s fireside chat with maverick entrepreneur Elon Musk. And here’s a glimpse of people queuing up to get into Lumiere Theatre to catch the two leaders in action. It was the only time I saw people at Cannes deviate from the politeness that you come to expect from them, and jostle, hustle and tussle to get into the Lumiere Theatre.

WPP I Exploring the new frontiers of innovation


Lumiere Theatre:

If there is one thing you can expect from Elon Musk is his ability to give some unfiltered statements. Like his interview with CNBC last year, when he said, “If somebody’s going to try to blackmail me with advertising? Blackmail me with money? Go f--- yourself. Go. F---. Yourself. Is that clear?” This did not sit well with many in the advertising community. While X’s CEO Linda Yaccarino tried to do some damage control, bringing advertisers back to the social media platform following Musk’s takeover of the company in 2022 has proven to be an uphill task.

Musk’s appearance at Cannes Lions was a peace offering of sorts where he could speak to the people making all the marketing decisions. And it came through in his uncharacteristically measured remarks.

Clarifying his infamous expletive-laden statement, after being prodded by Read, he said, "First of all, it wasn't to advertisers as a whole. It was with respect to freedom of speech. It is important to have a global free speech platform where people with a wide range of opinions can voice their views. In some cases, there were advertisers who were insisting on censorship."

During the 40-minute conversation, he reiterated couple of times that advertisers have a right to appear next to content that they find compatible with their brands. "What is not cool is insisting that there can be no content they disagree with on the platform," he also maintained, holding his ground on his belief about the need for free speech.

If you want to know about what Musk and Read spoke about, check out Campaign UK’s Lucy Shelley report here.
The climate in Cannes was a lot like a temperamental Parisian artist. Hot one day, cloudy the next, and threatening to pour down the day after. And all the walking up and down the Croisette for attending sessions and meetings, can leave one parched. The only way to power through the day is chug, chug, and chug. More H2O i.e.
“What if?” These two words can act as a segue for many a powerful discourse and thereby, decision. That is what Tik Tok has discovered.
The social media platform asked some tough questions including what if beauty tutorials could start a movement to reduce the gender pay gap or what if powered by a simple idea, businesses and agencies could unlock positive, meaningful and lasting change? This introspection was driven by survey findings where 83% of Tik Tok users said that they cared about social cause issues and wanted to see positive change in the world.
Thus, the TikTok for Good Launchpad was developed;  to help brands leverage the platform for social good. Denny Handlin, who leads global business marketing at TikTok AUNZ, discussed how TBWA's acclaimed 'Classify Consent' campaign for Consent Labs highlighted various instances of consent. This campaign sparked ongoing conversations with the Australian Classification Board, showcasing how innovative concepts on TikTok can shape societal standards and regulations.
Handlin then moderated a panel discussion that had Australian former wheelchair tennis and basketball player Dylan Martin Alcott, AO along with Loren Bradley, executive producer of The Finch Company, Dan Paris, chief product and growth officer-APac of Dentsu Creative and Kalpesh Patankar, chief creative officer of Leo Burnett UAE. Each of them shared their experiences of how the social media platform helped them push forward a collective narrative of social good.
Alcott offered his perspectives on diversity, accessibility, and inclusion, highlighting the critical need to incorporate people with disabilities into economic discussions. His project, Shift 20, strives to boost the presence of disabled individuals in the advertising sector from a mere 1% to 20%, reflecting their proportion in the Australian population. Alcott also elaborated on how TikTok emerged as a key medium for elevating voices in the disability community, enabling them to authentically represent themselves without fear of misrepresentation.
Dentsu Creative’s Paris explained how the 'Face of Courage' initiative for The Foundation for Media Alternatives leveraged deep fake and AI technology to tackle the often unreported domestic violence issues in the Philippines. By pixelating the voices and faces of the victims, it gives them a chance to narrate their stories without fear of being recognised and judged, thereby working towards dismantling the unfortunate culture of silence that surrounds domestic abuse. Though not technically flawless, the campaign has managed to engage over 36 million people with only four posts, showcasing TikTok’s remarkable potential for widespread reach.
Bradley spoke about 'The Reluctant Shanty', a project by BMF and TikTok for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, aimed at sharing the stories of refugees and boat people in Australia. Leveraging the sea shanty trend that was already popular on TikTok, this initiative provided a platform for refugees to express themselves. Designed with a ‘mobile first’ strategy, it effectively utilised TikTok’s features to bring these stories to life, showing the everday struggles of the refugees in their quest for a better life.
Patanker elaborated about the 'Makeup for the Pay Gap' campaign, which was developed for ItsHerWay, a network for female entrepreneurs in the UAE. This initiative used makeup tutorials to spotlight the gender pay gap, encouraging women to use makeup to add a moustache or stubble and demand that they get the same pay as their male counterparts. By engaging with the makeup tutorial community on TikTok, the campaign successfully increased awareness about this issue, leveraging the platform’s strength in reaching niche, targeted audiences.
Asia is finally having its moment. And the region is in a sweet spot to build enduring brands.

Harjot Singh, global chief strategy officer of McCann Worldgroup spoke about the company’s approach to deep globality, which helps brands to successfully create a framework that is built on consistency, earn their way into local culture while retaining their global identity and inspire creativity that transcends boundaries.

McCann Worldgroup also offered a sneak peek into its latest Truth Central study, ‘The truth about ascending Asia’. Set to be released across Asia later this year, this comprehensive survey delves into how innovative ideas from Asia, which is a cauldron of diversity, can shape the marketing and creativity strategies of global brands.

Atifa Silk, managing director of Campaign Asia moderated the opening panel, titled ‘Meet the Culture Shapers’, which featured Andy Del Rosario, associate creative director at McCann Worldgroup Philippines; Sea Yen Ong, head of channel revenue partnerships for Southeast Asia at TikTok; and Partha Sinha, president of The Times of India Group.

Andy Del Rosario, associate creative director at McCann Worldgroup Philippines; Partha Sinha, president of The Times of India Group, Sea Yen Ong, head of channel revenue partnerships for Southeast Asia at TikTok; and Atifa Silk, MD of Campaign Asia.

Shilpa Sinha, McCann Worldgroup’s APAC chief strategy officer, then presented key insights from study. She even dressed the part in a Japanese kimono and used haikus to sum up the significant findings of the study.

Sinha highlighted how the region continues to set high standards in economic success and technological innovation, even amid significant social challenges.For instance, 86% of respondents believe brands play a crucial role in uniting society. 68% think Asian brands should collaborate more to effectively solve problems, compared to 32% who prefer competition to drive productivity and innovation.

Sinha expressed her enthusiasm about the event's reception, noting, “I’m thrilled by the positive response to our global preview. With Asia housing 60% of the world’s population and youth, it’s a hotbed for radical creativity influencing global brands.”

Shilpa Sinha, McCann Worldgroup’s APAC chief strategy officer

In today’s interconnected world, the lines between global and Asian issues are blurring. The top three concerns for Asians are climate change, new conflicts, and growing economic inequality. Asians are calling on brands to foster unity and cooperation.  

Another defining trait of the region is its rich culture. While 67% of Asians consider Asia to be ‘A culture’, only 43% of Europeans feel the same about Europe.

Beyond economic success, the region cherishes a deeper sense of prosperity: cultural affluence. An impressive 92% believe that cultural diversity is Asia’s greatest asset and deserves more celebration. From food and tradition to music, history, and hospitality, the diverse cultural treasures of Asia are a source of immense pride.

Asmita Dubey, chief digital and marketing officer at L'Oréal Groupe, Prasoon Joshi, APAC chairman of McCann Worldgroup and Valerie Madon, APAC chief creative officer, McCann Worldgroup.

The event wrapped up with a talk titled ‘Building enduring global brands’, featuring Asmita Dubey, chief digital and marketing officer at L'Oréal Groupe, and Prasoon Joshi, APAC chairman of McCann Worldgroup. Moderated by Valerie Madon, APAC chief creative officer at McCann Worldgroup, the discussion focused on leveraging Asian insights to bolster global brand platforms and sustain cultural, category, and community relevance.

Joshi emphasised the event’s themes, stating, "Asia's diversity and collective values, along with its unique approach to innovation, are noteworthy. Beyond material wealth, Asia’s role as a cultural exporter highlights the need to understand this complex region."

Work hard, party harder

Cannes Lions can be a lot of work. But then the night comes along, and people let their hair down. And the best party in town is the one that Campaign organises. That is not me beig immodest but this was told to me by many people who lined up to enter the Carlton Beach Club and have a blast with their peers. 

Here's a dekko of the Campaign party:

Day 2: June 18

All excited for my first experience of Cannes Lions, I headed to the Palais Des Festivals, where all the action is. I was impressed by the scale of the festival. It is easy to get lost while trying to locate the sessions you want to attend, though the organisers have deployed several people to point you in the right direction.

I headed to the press room and it was impressive to see so many media journalists from all over the world working away diligently. But then again, this is Cannes Lions after all; the hotbed for getting the latest buzz in the business from the best in the business.

One unexpected bonus was the opportunity to see the Olympic torch at the red steps of the Palais des Festivals as it made its way to the Paris for the summer games. Sporting the 2024 edition of the Torch Relay uniform, actor Halle Berry lit the torch before passing it to three-time Olympic gold medalist Shaun White.

AB InBev: Going For Gold
Lumiere Theatre

If you want to grow your business, grow your entire product category, not just your own. That was what Marcel Marcondes, global chief marketing officer at AB InBev recommended while sharing insights on how the beverage company approaches marketing.

It starts by putting people first and finding ways to build consumer intimacy. Ergo, every person in a leadership role at AB InBev has to spend 30 hours a year having in-person interactions with consumers. This often gives them a ‘Aha’ moment where they get a glimpse of nuances that customers notice and brands might unwittingly miss.

While sharing snapshots of some of the brand’s striking and well-performing campaigns, Marcondes also explained about why and how the company went about creating its Megabrand project. While AB InBev has 500 brands in its portfolio, with around 20 chipping in $1 billion in revenue, only five of them are strong growth-drivers.

The Megabrand project was created to give a growth fillip to those iconic brands in its collection that it believed the world would miss if they ceased to exist. He gave the example of Corona Cero, the first-ever beer to be globally sponsored in the Olympics. The non-alcoholic beer will be part of the upcoming Paris 2024 Summer games and the association will continue till Los Angeles 2028 Summer games.

Keep reading Campaign India to see a detailed report about how AB InBev has used creativity differently to achieve its overall business goals. Coming up soon.

VML: Ready to laugh again | The return of comedy

The Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity's decision to introduce a humour category for this year's awards elicited mixed reactions. While there are those that believe it is has always been a mainstay in advertising, several believe that it would challenge brands and agencies to revisit how they can create impactful creatives, with a chuckle thrown in.

And who better than Keenan Thompson to talk about this topic. The comedian and Saturday Night Live (SNL) veteran said that he has seen it play out with the near-50-year-old show, which is “constantly changing” its format to stay in sync with changing times. And through it all, humor is the lynchpin on which the comedy show pivots.

Thompson cited examples of occasions when he impersonated OJ Simpson on a date and Bill Cosby in jail for SNL. “Even though the humor was a little dark, I still tried to have fun with it. If we can laugh about something, it’s one step closer to healing,” he said.

Later, he joined Chris Symmes, head of marketing for dressings and condiments for Unilever North America (including Hellmann's, Sir Kensington's and Maille), Debbi Vandeven, global chief creative officer at VML and Jon Cook, global CEO of VML in a discussion about how brands are relooking at ways to inject humor in their campaigns.

Unilever North America’s head of marketing for dressings and condiments Chris Symmes, VML’s global chief creative officer Debbi Vandeven, comedian Keenan Thompson and Jon Cook, global CEO of VML.

Vandeven felt that post-Covid, many companies were worried about getting off on the wrong note with humor and shared her delight that Cannes decided to make a strong pitch for including it as a category. “Social is a great way to play with comedy,” she opined.

Symmes also pointed out while brands are looking at purpose-driven marketing, “consumers don’t want to be preached to,” Humour allows them to be part of a conversation without fear of judgement. “Hence, Unilever always looks at pop culture moments for inspiration,” he added.

At the end of the day, humour cuts through the noise and disarms people, making it an effective implement in a marketer’s toolkit.

Tête-à-tête over lunch 
Carlton Beach Club

The Campaign team caught up with industry stakeholders over a lovely lunch at Carlton Beach Club. We were joined by Rana Barua, Group CEO of Havas India, South East and North Asia (Japan and South Korea), Mohit Joshi, CEO of Havas Media Group, Dheeraj Sinha, group CEO for India and South Asia, FCB and Amitesh Rao, CEO of Leo Burnett South Asia. The talk moved from elections in India and how the country is economically in a strong spot as compared to several other nations, the new generation of industry leaders and their expectations, as well as reminisces of past Cannes Lions.

Adding to my growing list of lessons for Cannes is yet another one--while one might want to pen down the various interesting discussions one has had, it's easy to get so immersed in the conversations that one just forgets to click photos. Ah, well, there's always tomorrow to put that learning to work.    

Day 1: June 17

A string of disappoinments

Wear comfortable shoes, pace yourself, factor for distances you need to cover while fixing meeting—those were the words of advice that Cannes Lions regulars offered to me, a newbie to the festival. So, I packed sneakers, decided not to overcrowd my calendar and attend as many sessions as I could during the four-day Cannes Lions 2024.

After a 11-hour flight (not counting the two-hour layover), and an unbelievably long time to clear immigration followed by an equally long wait to get a taxi, I finally reached my hotel. Except by then, I ended up missing two meetings I had scheduled at the first day of the fest and was exhausted to boot. Well, so much for listening to the words of the worldly wise.

However, hope springs eternal. So tomorrow, I shall head to the Palais De Festival Cannes early, all bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, to make up for the day I lost. This time around, I shall pay heed to the advice given to me—pulling on my sneakers and sunnies, and remembering to hydrate myself regularly.

Campaign India

Related Articles

Just Published

20 minutes ago

Can Netflix scale its advertising business?

In the coming year, when Netflix's user growth slows down as most predict, increasing ad revenue will become even more crucial. Campaign explores how the streaming giant plans to scale its advertising business.

23 minutes ago

What the Microsoft-CrowdStrike outage means for ...

Friday's global outage disrupted critical infrastructure such as airports and healthcare systems, bringing entire industries to a standstill. So, how will this crisis impact the reputation of the brands involved?

1 hour ago

Community building is the key to engaging modern ...

Nailing digital marketing through community building hinges on genuinely connecting with your audience; turning regular customers into enthusiastic brand champions.

2 hours ago

BEI Confluence bets big on technology, preps for IPO

Advertising veteran Tapas Gupta talks about BEI Confluence's next growth phase, gearing up to go public, stepping down from day-to-day operations and handing over the reins of the agency to its new leadership.