Cannes Recap: Kasparov, Triple Jeopardy and Blowing S#!t Up

Guest writer Sally Kissane from Ogilvy is enjoying her stay at the Cannes Festival already, as she discusses her favourite parts of day one of the event held in France.

Despite a gazillion years in advertising, I am a Cannes Festival virgin. I’ve heard the good stories and I’ve heard the bad. What would I make of it firsthand?

Well, I’m only 24 hours in, so early days. But I’ve got to say, so far it has not disappointed one bit. 

The setting is amazing. The French Riviera in a heatwave. Not too shabby. Cannes I hear from the wizened pros who come year on year is a vastly different event from the Cannes of old. The days of hedonism are long gone. There are as many clients here as agency people. Does it feel sanitised and boring? For some maybe, but for me, not at all.

It feels like the ultimate celebration of creativity where clients and agencies, production companies and tech businesses mingle and exchange ideas. A great vibe.

In fact, I’m kind of kicking myself for waiting so long to come here.

Day one started with a bizarre flashback. As a fresh-faced junior suit arriving in New York to work on the IBM account, one of the first projects I experienced was the legendary clash between Gary Kasparov and IBM’s Blue Jean. To see Kasparov on stage today opening the show was nothing short of amazing.

He reflected on the last time he was on the very same stage twenty years ago when he simultaneously played chess in ten different countries via satellite link up beaming to big screens at the Palais.

It was a major feat back then. It’s a regular Teams call today. Times have changed.The talk of Cannes is Ukraine and how we can apply the power of creativity to Defeat the Russians. A fascinating challenge and one that all Ukrainians are rising to.

Kasparov, for so long the best chess player in the world, but now a political activist for Ukraine living in exile from Mother Russia, reminded us of our corporate responsibility to do the right thing to help in this terrible war.

The Edelman data suggests that brands that have exited Russia have improved in favourability by 31% versus those that have stayed behind declining by 38%. Makes business sense to act too.It was fascinating to see Kasparov and other speakers today refer to “brand Ukraine” fighting the war on values. ‘Regain Ukraine’ is his idea. But we saw some amazing other initiatives from other guest speakers and even a guest video appearance from President Zelensky himself this morning extolling the power of creativity to change the world. It seems this war is the ultimate ‘purpose’ in advertising right now. And rightfully so.

The overarching message is that this is a war that affects every country not just two. Get involved to save democracy. Use your creativity for good. The audience was suitably enthralled, me included.Next up was the legendary Cindy Gallop, a woman involved in a different kind of war altogether, against stereotypes, toxic masculinity and today, the old models of advertising.

I love Cindy. She did a jam-packed working session on creating the agency model of the future. True to form, she did not mince her words and some of us were squirming in our seats reflecting on how our industry got to where we are today.

For agency leaders there are 3 “simple” questions she posed that are worth sweating over:

How can we be more creative?

How can we make a shit tonne of money?

What about your agency is going to make you terribly happy?

Some of my favourites Cindy take-outs which I’ll take back home were:

Get clients to pitch to work with you – how good would that be!

Profit share ideas

Free food and wine

And stick to a strictly no arseholes policy. No exceptions.

And finally, triple jeopardy. For the ad effectiveness junkies out there, you couldn’t ask for a better line up. Ad effectiveness guru Peter Field, attention economy supremo Karen Nelson-Field and creativity Maestro Orlando Wood argued that increasing share of voice to grow share isn’t cutting it anymore. Mostly because of how the money is being spent on channels and formats that don’t build your brand so greater spend is not necessarily the answer. They even went so far as to challenge the way award shows are judged, including Cannes.

So that’s day one. Nothing it seems is off limits. I like how advertising uses Cannes to take a good long look at itself too whilst at the same time celebrating the work.

Not sure about the sustained drinking of rosé however. Dangerous in this heat.

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