Welcome Back to Cannes, Ladies and Gents


It isn't what it used to be, but there's something about Cannes that still excites. It's a place apart, where you're plunged willy-nilly into a life that doesn't belong to you for an inordinate amount of time. For that reason, alighting on it yearly feels a bit like coming home, and the expectation that rises inside is a welcome feeling.

I arrived around 1 in the morning, following a long train delay in Paris thanks mostly to a workers strike. (This is normal.) Because it's a small town, I walked to my hotel: 6 minutes from the train station. This is a convenient city once you know it, and despite the constant barrage of tourists and entitled conference folk, it doesn't change much.

I am staying in a place that lacks sex appeal but has free secured wifi and is clean. The window has an excellent view of Curves, an American weight-loss chain that caters primarily to working women.

It's funny how the sight of something you haven't seen in a long time takes you elsewhere: Curves, an unlikely nostalgic device, brings me back to Oakland's business district, where I contemplated registering on my lunch breaks until a friend told me I'd be joining "fat camp for deluded feminists." I didn't think about it again.

But you're not here for reminiscences of lost fitness aspirations; you're here to read about the Lions. That's cool, let's get down to business.

Last week I attended an event called Leo Burnett's Cannes Predictions 2010. For 20-odd years, the agency director has held this miniature spectacle to showcase the ads he considers solid Lions candidates. Invited guests, mostly ad journalists and creatives, lounged on broken-in leather chairs in an intimate theatre setting and watched the 40 ad executions forecast for greatness this year.

Most won't surprise you: Coca-Cola's Happiness Machine, Evian Rollerbabies (I hate that fucking ad!), Old Spice's The Man Your Man Could Smell Like/Different Scents for Different Gents, Nike's Write the Future, Volkswagen's Fun Theory.

Here are a few I liked:

After an hour and a half of hardcore ad-bang, Influencia editor Isabelle Musnik sighed heavily and remarked that the majority of these aren't even ads in the traditional sense; they're media executions. Depending on how big of a purist you are, she isn't necessarily wrong: the director's selections reflect the current obsession-cum-metric of advertising: engagement by any means necessary. How many blog articles? How many Facebook Likes? How many Twitter followers?

I've heard it said that when the human mind is trying to master something new, it teaches itself by talking. That's the (pop?) science at the heart of word of mouth, and in the pieces Leo Burnett chose, you see Ad Land talking to itself: trying to get a grasp on what it means to be as mutable, as nimble and as available as the user, who is now ever-roving, both in mind and on foot.

This marks an evolution in thinking from last year, when Obama's Change campaign controversially took both the Titanium and Integrated Grands Prix last year. It was like, power to the people! The balance of control has shifted, and mass auto-organization on social platforms wins! Remember all those horrific attempts to harness UGC prior to the 2009 Lions? Glad that's over.

Stay with us. I'll let you know who wins, and what it might mean, at Cannes this year.