Cannes: The B2B event of the year?

Without question, the Cannes Lions Festival of Creativity offers a physical temperature check for the state of the creative industry. And, in 2023, through the Mediterranean haze, discarded rosé corks and veritable sea of linen, it felt like Cannes truly was back.

  • Though a meeting of sun, sand and serendipity par excellence, it’s what happens along La Croisette (and beyond) that gives you a tangible snapshot of how things really are. Brands of all shapes, sizes and budgets came out to play with show-stealing experiences on the Côte d'Azur: old-timers and the more fresh-faced alike - there’s a place for everyone.

    And, as a festival of creativity would suggest, they were all looking for the shareable, standout moment that would provide them with la différence. But against a backdrop of cost-cutting, tech redundancies and existential crises, the brands on show now needed to demonstrate an understanding of not just creativity, but also the commercial ends this fuels.

    Ultimately, it was all about balancing the three defining Bs of Cannes: Brand, Buzz and Business.

    Brand - nothing new to Cannes, but demonstrating who you are (and why you matter) is even more vital as we navigate the biggest transformative shift to the world of creativity in Generative AI.

    Buzz - Cannes is about people, so you need to create a meaningful - and mutually beneficial - reason for people to engage with you and your brand.

    Business - in a year of cost-savings, the winds of change have brought fresh impetus to measuring effectiveness, with the ROI of Cannes shifting the ratio of fun vs function.

    So what did this look like in practice?

    The Beach is Back

    As one would expect, the beach formed the backdrop to some of the most memorable brand experiences.

    The likes of Google, Spotify and Pinterest all used this space to do what they do best, through live music, product demos and content showcases. However, it was clear that the business considerations underpinning these activations had helped to reconfigure their focus somewhat. The increase in physical meeting rooms and networking spaces, for example, was a reminder of the need for this event to deliver tangible results, rather than just a warm glow of positivity.

    Pump Up the Volume

    With the beach fit to bursting, this year saw more and more big, bold brands looking to create buzz around the festival whilst still doing the business. TikTok’s takeover of The Carlton’s terrace made it clear that though creativity is central to the brand, advertising investment is something it cannot do without.

    Similarly, the visual scale of Netflix’s activation on the roof terrace of the JW Marriott was a sight to behold - unmissable and, assuming the conversations it sparked yielded commercial investment, invaluable.

    With Arms Wide Open

    Anyone who has visited the festival will have experienced a Cannes ‘them and us’ moment. With so many activations, round tables and reveals taking place behind closed doors, it’s easy to feel left out or locked out, whoever you are. Which was why it was so refreshing to see Pinterest’s ongoing approach of ‘everyone’s welcome’.

    At only their second year in Cannes, the focus was brand - and what better way to demonstrate a positive and progressive spin on creativity than through their ‘Manifestival’. An open-door event that let anyone experience the vibrant trends Pinterest has captured and curated through its unique relationship with its highly creative and participative user base of ‘Pinners’. However, if you took a closer look, nestled effortlessly throughout their space were trend-inspired meeting spaces where brand met business.

    À la Prochaine

    While the sun may have set for another year at Cannes, the longtail value of 2023’s event will be borne out over the coming months. And though it’s easy to see the world through rosé-tinted glasses whilst on the ground in Cannes, this year truly felt like a more considered cocktail of brand, buzz and business.

    With Lions Awards entries up by 6% (and the ‘Brand Experience & Activation’ category up by 16%), a move to more considered activations, and new players demonstrating a fresh festival approach, the future feels bright, if the balance is right.