When our Chief Development Officer, Ashley Walters, invited me to join her in Cannes for the International Festival of Creativity, I couldn’t say, “yes!” fast enough. It’s been one of my life-long career goals to experience the epicenter of creativity, emerging technology, and the industry’s very best under one glamorous roof.
As we dreamed about our trip overseas, we envisioned fabulous yacht soirees, the Croisette doubling as a high fashion runway, rosé flowing like water, and sophisticated conversation. Those visions were certainly the reality, but the opulence of the event wasn’t what left a lasting impression. What I couldn’t stop thinking about was the time I spent in the basement – and how it contextualized my entire experience.
What is the basement? It’s an actual basement underground at the Palais, where the conference is located. The basement’s temperate underground location provides a welcome reprieve from the heat and sun, but more importantly, it’s the heartbeat of the entire festival. Although unassuming in appearance, the basement is where all of the work is displayed, where legendary judges actively debate what work will win or shortlist, and the source of discussion about the winners. You quite literally have a front-row seat to work from the world’s best agencies and their most meaningful activations. In short, it’s the ultimate place to get inspired. Here are three reasons why you can’t miss it.
Go to the basement:
For the work
Descending into the basement is like walking into a living, breathing advertising museum. In fact, touring through all the winning and shortlisted work could take you several hours to experience. All the entered work is featured on the periphery of the space, while the center of the basement is where the more immersive experiences take place – including live winner boards, interactive iPad exhibits, and judges discussing their decision-making criteria.
The work spanned everything from mock OOH boards to cutting-edge metaverse activations – submitted by agencies big and small, storied brands, and new challengers. I thought it might be a challenge to find the common thread in all of it, but if you looked closely, a clear insight and compelling strategy were (still) at the heart of all of the work.
That’s not new news, but it’s a great reminder of where to focus in the midst of constant change, innovation, and evolution. Great strategy produces great work. Epic strategy produces epic work.
Go to the basement:
To be at the frontline of emerging tech
But the basement’s not all about winning hardware. It was also the portal to bleeding-edge tech from around the globe. Unsurprisingly, Web3 and the metaverse were the big buzz topics this year. Surprisingly, more than 50% of the work submitted for a Lion had both a universe and metaverse component. We had conversations with Meta, digital creators, and tech leaders about the future of the metaverse and how brands can create an impact. In the face of a new wave of technology, it’s easy to get overwhelmed and not know where or how to start. So, I wanted to see what basic principles could be true about the metaverse relative to the universe I’m a bit more familiar with.
I thought a lot about why consumers might want to enter the metaverse and what that could mean for brands. Ultimately, people are looking for connection in new and meaningful ways. And, in the metaverse, that shows up when users interact using avatars based on how they self-identify. The metaverse is about connection and identity in its most simplistic form – both basic human principles that remain true regardless of technology.
Go to the basement:
To remember what it all means
While combing through entries and experiences, we serendipitously met Julia Petryk: a brave Ukrainian PR professional who embarked on a 30+ hour journey to Cannes with the sole purpose of reminding people of the war in Ukraine. Julia shared bone-chilling stories and images of her life as a working parent in the midst of war. Every moment of our time with Julia was impactful, but I still can’t stop thinking about an image she shared with us from her phone. Julia was in front of her laptop, on a conference call, like many of us every day. But she was working from her bathtub, the safest place in her home, in case an attack occurred and her city was bombed while she was working. I still can not fathom the intense fear and pressure she experiences while still having to manage a career and care for a child.
Our time with Julia was the ultimate levity for us and a great foil for the extravagance in the south of France. Each time we had a minor complaint – it was too hot, the walks were too long, the coffee in France isn’t great – we reminded ourselves of Julia. Her story shaped the way we experienced Cannes. Julia reminded us to be extremely grateful for what we have – like the ability to go to sleep at night knowing that your country and your family are not under attack. When you approach life with an innate sense of gratitude, it’s easy to see the glimmer in the ordinary.
My first time at Cannes was everything I thought it would be and nothing like I could have imagined. It’s certainly the ultimate place to see and be seen and an extravagant reminder of the industry’s very best. But if you strip away the shiny things and really look closely, at the heart of it all, the basics of our industry and humanity still apply. And that’s the richest lesson I could have learned.