Outside the award shows, yacht-based hobnobbing and Gutter Bar sunrises, the Cannes Lions’ incredible slate of speakers is one of the main draws for the thousands of marketers descending upon the Festival.
In addition to the festival trotting out a new category of entertainment-based programming, the recipe for brand success encourages dozens of unholy alliances. Take a major brand or agency, pair them with “Insert Name Here” celebrities, thought leaders and certified geniuses, and voilà.
Big name speakers pack theatres on reputation alone. But once settled into the overly comfy chairs of the Palais, content is the difference between #TrendingTopic and a 45-minute nap (literally).
There is no winning formula for being interesting, but having spent the better part of a week as an audience member, I can certainly tell you a few easy ways to ruin a perfectly good Cannes session.
1. Choose a Moderator Based on Title, Not Talent
Most celebrity-driven sessions feature a star having a back-and-forth with a moderator, interviewer or facilitator. Far too often, these moderators lack the personality, charisma or interview skills to match wits with the stars, as brands or agencies default to their most easily accessible high-ranking official in 45-minutes of blatant ego-stroking.
There are many instances where this indeed works. Seeing Grey Chief Creative Officer, Nils Leonard disrobing opposite Iggy Pop, and nearly fanboying about Iggy’s career was closer to watching a friendship than an educational session. Choose your moderator because it works and feels right, not because they sent you a memo demanding to be on stage.
2. Push an Artificial Agenda
Access to creative heroes and experts is a hallmark of Cannes, but forcing a topic regardless of the participant can plague an otherwise suitable session. Just as I would avoid Sir Martin Sorrell speaking about the merits of dance choreography, it would have been a pointless session to hear Usher laud the evolution of the agency model.
Bring experts to speak about their experiences and have a moderator that can build connections and carve out the insight.The best and the worst can be found at Cannes. Just as Ryan Seacrest helped Usher draw impressive parallels between his work and ours, a gender inequality panel with great promise was derailed by a moderator more interested in her own messages and pre-written questions than listening to the panelists and exploring their stories.
3. Make It About Yourself
Earlier this week, Will Smith sat on stage and preached that “marketing cannot be about me,” yet in the same festival, as sponsors pursue panels, you are bound to find thinly veiled capabilities presentations littered throughout. While it’s completely understandable to want to amplify your brand and new offerings, avoid the temptation to over-brand as a way to defend the investment.
Informative panels should exist because of our industry’s participation, not in spite of it. We should heed the advice we give our clients: create interest in your brand and business will follow. The next time a client requests to “bring the logo in earlier” on a video spot, remember that even advertising’s elite fall victim to the same temptations when it is our money on the line.