Robert Sawatzky
Jun 19, 2019

Cannes Lions chairman: "I'm hoping for a really good showing from Asia this year"

Philip Thomas sees positive signs for the Festival so far from Asian entries, CMO participation.

Philip Thomas
Philip Thomas

It’s been a few years since Cannes Lions has been at ease, following an industry backlash in 2016 and the festival restructuring and ‘Publicis pause’ of 2017.

But Festival chairman Philip Thomas told Campaign Asia-Pacific that aside from some threats over a public climate-change protest which hasn’t yet materialised, things appear to be different this year.

“There’s a positive energy that perhaps has been lacking, certainly last year, and I think the industry is at much more ease with itself. My theory is that when the industry is ‘angsty’ about Cannes, it’s really being ‘angsty’ about itself.”

Not that the good times are necessarily rolling again. Awards entries are down again this year despite Publicis’ return, but Thomas chalks this up to healthy pragmatism.

“I think it’s going to stabilise. The holding companies are starting to enter more strategically, cutting their entries. I think the days have gone whereby large holding groups just spray entries into festivals like Cannes, which is not a bad thing at all.”

More Asian entries… more Lions?

Where Thomas does see signs of hope is the return of more entries from Asia. Unlike the drop in entries seen from the UK, US and Brazil, entries from China were up 5% this year.

“There’s no doubt at all that the companies in China, the agencies in China, the brands in China are more interested than ever and intrigued by Cannes Lions,” Thomas said.

“I think what Chinese companies are saying is we’re prepared to compete on the global scale and we’re prepared to be patient, and one day we’re going to start winning on that global scale. I think it’s going to take a lot of time but they’re certainly going in the right direction.”

In the early going at least, that sentiment appears to have been borne out by the early winners. China won nine Lions total last year but took three on the festival’s opening day, including a Pharma Grand Prix and gold for McCann Shanghai’s ‘Breath of Life’. However, China got shut out on the second award night. (See all our Cannes Lions award coverage here.)

Indian entries rose even more this year, up 8%, but India has so far underperformed in its traditional stronghold in the health and pharma categories.

“It remains to be seen what happens this year but there was a lot of angst last year with the number of Lions won by Asia,” Thomas said. “It’ll be interesting to see whether it was a blip or whether it will be repeated again this year. I’m hoping for a really good showing from Asia again—back to the good old days.”

CMOs stepping up

Another reason Thomas feels there’s more positivity and collaboration this year is the more active roles CMOs are now choosing to take at the festival, through initiatives like the CMO Growth Council and more creativity programming for brand marketers.

“Five years ago a lot of CMOs were paid for by their agencies to come down here, and they spent most of their time being babysat by their agencies and in meetings. Now it is totally different. They’re paying for themselves, they’re bringing large contingents, they’re spending time in the Palais,” Thomas enthuses, recalling an earlier conversation in the day with the CMO of a large consumer brand who’s 15-person delegation spent all day yesterday viewing the work.

“It’s gone from ‘here’s an interesting place to come and talk to our agencies’ to ‘this is the place where we’re going to understand creativity because it’s going to drive our business’,” Thomas said. “It’s a real fundamental shift.”

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