The advertising community has descended upon Cannes this week for its annual get together, but amid the rosé quaffing there is a sense of restraint, as the industry battles a number of challenges.
For many, Cannes Lions – the advertising industry’s equivalent of the Oscars – has become synonymous with parties, booze and a certain amount of debauchery. The week-long jaunt can cost advertising groups six figures in entering awards and sending staff to the French Riviera.
Embattled advertising chief Martin Sorrell said: “They (attendees) feel it’s very expensive, they go so far to say [it's] as if they are being ripped off. It may have passed its sell-by date.”
As the industry looks to restore its image, damaged by allegations of sexual harassment and the downfall of poster boy Sorrell, this year’s festival is to be a much quieter and more sober affair – publicly, at least.
The backlash against this year’s festival has been reflected in expected falling attendance numbers after Publicis, one of the big advertising groups which usually sends hundreds of staff, announced that it’s bypassing this year’s Cannes Lions, where passes can cost up to £3,000 each, to save money.
Other big advertising groups have also complained about the expense and are assessing the value of sending staff to Cannes, where even a humble cup of tea is priced at £8 on Le Croisette, while a hamburger will set you back £30 at the nearby Carlton hotel.
Those that do make it to the festival will see a much-pared back affair, as organisers have taken criticism on board and shortened the festival from eight to five days, restructured the awards, and introduced price reductions.
However, Philip Thomas, the CEO of Ascential Events, which runs the festival, blames Cannes’ reputational problems on a small number of attendees.
He said: “Who is it that is being excessive? The people who are attending Cannes could probably look at their own behaviour. What happens at some villa up in the hills and whether people drink too much rosé is completely out of our control.”
Thomas admits that revenues, which totalled over £65m last year, will tumble this year, as advertising groups cut back spend.
One noticeable change on the waterfront this year will be the absence of the annual yacht party hosted by advertising guru Johnny Hornby. A ticket aboard has traditionally been one of the most sought after invitations.
Hornby, a close friend of Sorrell, said it would be “inappropriate” to host the bash in the wake of a sexism scandal, in which a departing male employee at his advertising agency sent around an email rating the “top five women in the office".
Hornby said: “In America, clients took it much more seriously than they did in the UK because of the whole #MeToo thing. We took a lot of flak. I took some flak for owning an agency in which it happened from the #MeToo gang, and that was deserved.
“If I spend £250,000 putting 300 people on a yacht in Cannes and one of them falls in the water or gropes someone, in America, I don’t know what I would say to them.”
The Daily Mail has also kyboshed its boat party, which in previous years has hosted Kim Kardashian and Sting to help promote its brand, amid claims that it had become too raucous.
However, the festival will not be a complete snoozefest, as Sony, Spotify and LADBible will be hosting parties while Sorrell has a star turn on stage, where he will be grilled about his new venture and ignominious exit from WPP.
Even Publicis, despite not taking a leading role at the event, will have a presence at Cannes as its various partners, such as production companies, will foot the bill for nearly 400 campaigns entered the awards.
Ultimately, attendees want to leave with a gong and not under a cloud.