Lions MD on Cannes' 2020 digital experience
Simon Cook, MD of the Cannes Lions, discusses the cancellation of the Lions 2020, the genesis of the digital experience LIONS Live and why it's not a direct replication of the physical event, and why creativity matters, now more than ever.
Instead of the physical event it has been replaced by a month-long series of digital experiences under the banner of LIONS Live which reaches a crescendo next week with a series of masterclasses, lectures from experts, talks from speakers previously confirmed for the festival and a selection of classes and learning modules.
Below, Simon Cook, Managing Director of Cannes Lions, explains why the Lions didn't want to create another 'Zoom-fest', why creativity matters now more than ever, and how the coronavirus pandemic might impact the Lions, and other events, from here on.
The decision to postpone the Lions 2020 as a physical event was the only one you could have made but, given the information you had at the time, how difficult a call was it to cancel the rearranged October dates?
The key thing, throughout the process, was making sure we were transparent as possible about our decision making. We were in constant conversation with the community and had lots of in-depth talks with our customers to really understand their challenges. It became really clear that people were experiencing a lot of pain.
It became really clear that people were experiencing a lot of pain.
There was also the disruption to shoots, and the production of the work. The awards sit at the heart of the festival. Without the work, there really is no Cannes Lions. Our customers were hugely supportive but conflicted in some cases. We wanted to remove any uncertainty, distraction or pressure. The entire industry needed space and time to recalibrate and focus on their businesses.
Above: BBC journalist and presenter, Tina Daheley, will anchor LIONS Live.
How quickly, then, did the idea of LIONS Live come to the fore?
It was immediate! We wanted to support our community and provide a creative reboot in place of the festival. A uniting and accessible experience for everyone – and for free. We really wanted to avoid putting another digital event in the world – or a ‘Zoom-fest’. Instead, we’ve created a curated experience that I believe will engage, inspire and educate. We’re broadcasting our content from a London studio, anchored by BBC journalist and presenter, Tina Daheley. We’re very fortunate that our community has really rallied and they are creating many of the pieces you’ll see. Created by the industry for the industry, by some of the best content creators in the world.
We really wanted to avoid putting another digital event in the world – or a ‘Zoom-fest’.
With no Lions taking place, we also wanted to take the opportunity to celebrate and experience the best creative work. We’ll be hearing from a pick of our Cannes jury Presidents who’ll be delivering their thoughts on the future of the Lion they’ll be presiding over in 2021, and all those who join us will receive complimentary access to our digital archive, The Work, to explore over 200k Lion-winning ideas. We’ll also be awarding the winners of The Lions Creativity Report of the Decade throughout the week. Compiled using unique data on Lion-winning and shortlisted work, the report presents the definitive rankings of sustained creative success over the past 10 years.
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Above: Cadbury's Gorilla, an example of creativity coming to the fore during times of economic strife.
The event is themed 'Creativity Matters'; why do you think creativity, in its varying forms, matters in periods such as the one we're currently experiencing?
We know that in times of crisis, limitation and constraint, creativity flourishes, but we all need the tools, the learnings and the opportunities to reach our creative potential. There’s a reason Cadbury’s Gorilla [below] won the Film Lions Grand Prix in 2008, when the last global economic downturn hit. We believe that no one really knows what the future looks like, it’s up to all of us to shape it. The idea of LIONS Live is to bring the world together to explore what that future looks like and the role creativity can play in shaping it. Creativity matters, now more than ever.
No one really knows what the future looks like, it’s up to all of us to shape it.
Are you sticking, where possible, to the original line up of the physical event and how open to achieving that have planned speakers been?
You’re never going to experience the physical event without being there. We would never attempt to recreate it. But, we have tried to capture the essence of Cannes Lions, and we hope to bring the very best content elements; provocative ideas, diverse talent, global insights, debate, surprise, as well as curated networking. It will also be truly global, bringing a wide range of creative people and companies from around the world together.
Above: The trailer for the LIONS Live digital experience.
We established ‘Creativity Moves Us Forward’ to share some of the innovative thinking emerging in pockets around the world. We saw mass pivoting, the reinvention of business models and other creative problem solving that allowed businesses to thrive, stay afloat and create positive change. Sharing these stories from our community provided small shoots of hope – and learning. A small Finnish distillery started producing hand sanitizer instead of gin after we featured a similar story about AB In-Bev, saving jobs, and lives.
We don’t believe that ‘digital events’ are really a thing. You can’t just lift and shift your existing offer and stick it online.
What have been the biggest challenges in creating a digital experience to rival the physical one?
We can’t replicate Cannes Lions, and would never attempt to try and recreate it online. The biggest challenge, and hopefully one we will avoid, is creating something appropriate for the medium and the context. We don’t believe that ‘digital events’ are really a thing. You can’t just lift and shift your existing offer and stick it online. Every aspect of the experience has to be reimagined. The challenge is not falling into that trap and pushing yourselves to think differently.
Above: Simon Cook, Managing Director of Cannes Lions.
What sessions in LIONS Live week are you most looking forward to seeing?
Saatchi & Saatchi New Directors Showcase is celebrating 30 years of New Director talent and they’ll be identifying some new names to watch. Renowned innovators and VFX specialists, Framestore, will be demystifying deep fakes with the help of some celebrity guests. Bozoma Saint John, CMO of Endeavour, will be joining us to give her view on the current landscape.
We can’t replicate Cannes Lions, and would never attempt to try and recreate it online.
Scott Galloway, Professor of Marketing, NYU Stern and Founder of Section4, will be presenting his view on where we go from here; and Unilever’s newly-appointed Chief Digital & Marketing Officer, Conny Braams, will give her first address to the creative community. I’m also really excited about the bespoke short films that have been put together by some of the most creative companies in the world under the theme ‘creativity matters’.
Above: Some of the sessions available during LIONS Live.
Do you foresee Cannes 2021 needing to make any concessions to the coronavirus pandemic in the way it operates?
For any business at the moment, it’s important that we make decisions that have some permanence, rather than stick to temporary measures that won’t live with us long-term. It’s extremely likely that the festival will change due to the pandemic, but it’s too early to say what that looks like yet. We’ll continue to be as quick and agile as we can be – and I imagine the physical and digital worlds will continue to blur. Whatever the medium, I think the creative community will be more than ready to come together in 2021.
It’s extremely likely that the festival will change due to the pandemic, but it’s too early to say what that looks like yet.
What lasting impacts do you think this pandemic will have not just on Cannes and other physical events, but on the advertising industry as a whole?
One thing is clear right now, we don’t know what the future holds. The creative industry, as well as governments, businesses and individuals, are showing new levels of innovation as we all adapt to deal with the circumstances we’re faced with. If history is anything to go by, periods of mass reinvention and creative renaissance follow plagues, pandemics and economic downturns. Our juries will be judging not one, but two year’s worth of work at the show next year. One thing we can be sure of is that the breadth, diversity and quality of work will be a sight to behold.