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Ad industry fears fewer entries, participation in Cannes Lions 2021

We find out if agencies are apprehensive about participating or are holding back entries to one of the biggest events of the advertising world set to take place in June this year

There is no doubt that Cannes Lions is one of the most celebrated events for the advertising fraternity across the world. However, with the Covid-19 pandemic disrupting just about everyone and everything across the world last year, the event was moved to 2021.

In January, Cannes Lions confirmed that the awards will take place as usual during the third week of June this year. We ask agencies and experts if the industry has any apprehension about participating and attending the festival in the current situation when the pandemic is still to completely abate in Europe.

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Kapil Arora

According to Kapil Arora, Chief Executive Officer and Co-chairman, 82.5 Communications, while Cannes Lions does showcase the best creativity around the world, and motivates peers and clients, people will wait until the last minute to take a decision this time.

“At one level, there is some amount of optimism and a sense of security that the vaccine is out, but Cannes is in Southern France and Europe is reeling through the second wave of mutated Covid,” he said.

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Abhijit Avasthi

Citing similar sentiments, Abhijit Avasthi, Co-Founder, Sideways Consulting, said it depends on how it is organised. “If things continue to flatten the way they are going, definitely the excitement will continue. However, this is one of those times where people will wait till the last moment. Spikes are happening every now and then, and you cannot predict. We had all read in papers that Europe is in control but suddenly another spike happened. It does get crowded there. However, if all is well and things are under control, and the organisers ensure safety with things such as open auditoriums or 50% capacity, there is a possibility of getting a combination of in-person and a digital event.”

Ashish Khazanchi

Ashish Khazanchi, Managing Partner, Enormous Brands, however, said he will avoid the event. “The fact that they are holding the festival again is a step in the right direction. Whether the physical nature should return is something I will have to look into. Have they changed the formats of the event? Are they happening open air? How are seminars going to happen or how are the displays going to happen?”

“If all the things are how they used to be, I would be a little apprehensive because while Covid is flattening, there is no point tempting your fate. I would certainly avoid it in this case because you can’t have a festival happening, which will be a lot of about celebrating social distancing, responsible and safer behaviour within the community. A festival celebrating all this cannot disregard all of it. Even though the curve is flattening, it is not out yet. We can’t be talking one language and doing something else. It’s just some months away and so not all the people there can be vaccinated or tested. I will be cautious. The fact that the festival is returning after an unusual gap is a commendable feat. However, I feel a lot of it can still happen online,” Khazanchi said.

He said that if many important events involving the Prime Minister or personalities like Mark Zuckerberg can happen online, an online festival might actually help a wider set of participants take part in the event.

Ajay Gahlaut

Advertising veteran Ajay Gahlaut said Cannes will surely ensure safety for all participants. He said as there is still some time for the event and people will take a personal call accordingly.

“It is a fantastic meeting ground for advertising and marketing people, it is something they look forward to each year to see their peers and the best work all in one place. To that extent, it is something that people want to attend. Only in exceptional circumstances if they really feel for their safety, they will decline to go. The months that remain till June and how the Covid curve looks then will decide an individual’s preference.” Asked if he himself is planning to attend the event, Gahlaut said he might take a call in some more time and would go to meet people.

Sandipan Bhattacharyya

Sandipan Bhattacharyya, Managing Director and Chief Creative Officer, Grey group India, said it depends on how the curve flattens in the UK and Western Europe and how the quarantine norms are eased. “Of course, the responsible way to go about it would be to have it online this year, in the interest of safety and public health. Anyway, can’t imagine the Gutter Bar with social distancing!”

Raj Kamble

Raj Kamble, Founder and CCO Famous Innovations, said they should consider changing the entry fees. “I believe it is good if we have the festival. They should do it with limited capacity and maintain all necessary safety protocol, of course. Given that the whole industry has been through a tough year, they should also consider changes to the entry fees, etc. But the festival must go on. In bad times like these, it’s all the more important to give the industry a morale boost and make a statement that creativity still matters. Awards like Cannes are the only markers of the difference between good creative agencies and mediocre agencies. Otherwise, there are hundreds of agencies all over the country and how do you judge one vs. the other?”

“I strongly believe that money should not define what good work is. Currently, the Cannes system has become so populated that you need to enter work in dozens of places for it to get noticed. And that's why agencies with deep pockets are able to do better than smaller independents. Cannes should take this pandemic as an opportunity to overhaul the system — not charge for entries and only use sponsorships, attendance fees and other sources for their revenue. That's the future of award shows, like Ad Stars for example,” added Kamble.

He said Cannes is about much more than just awards, it’s about getting inspired, meeting people from all over the world and opening your eyes to new worlds. “I have been going for the last 18 years, and it's the only chance I get to meet my friends from different parts of the world and learn what's happening in the industry. All of which is much needed after being in closed doors for nearly a year. The Super Bowl just took place with about 25,000 people. It may have been the smallest number to ever attend the Super Bowl, but just seeing that gives you hope that the show is going on. I think Cannes will do the same thing for all of us. About entering and sending people, we haven’t taken a firm decision yet. We will finalise by March.”

Can we expect fewer entries this year?

Like all industries around the world, the advertising sector was hit due to the pandemic. But with most markets now opened and the curve flattening, there has been a significant recovery. Participating in an event like Cannes is a huge expenditure for many agencies. Agencies also do spend a lot by sending their employees to these events. So will the current situation lead to fewer entries for the event in 2021?

Arora said 82.5 will not enter this year. “2020 has been a tough year and it’s not like 2021 is very different. It’s a year for us to help rebuild our businesses and people and to take care of what we have.  Priorities will be more internal this year and we will be much more selective in terms of awards, etc.”

According to Gahlaut, entries might be fewer this time. “It’s a large expense for agencies to go to Cannes. A lot of agencies are cutting down on that and so I believe there will be fewer entries. Hopefully, there are enough and Covid subsides and people do go there. It a great way of celebrating the creativity of agencies and marketers across the world.”

Khazanchi said as the environment is roughly back to pre-Covid levels, the best of the work will make their way at the event. “The environment is returning back to roughly pre-Covid levels. Businesses are returning to normalcy and there are even businesses that have done better than the pre-Covid period. The advertising industry is coming back to a healthier state of being.  Independent and digital agencies have done very well in this period. We are fast galloping to a place where they have put the Covid nightmare behind them, including us. We are slowly returning to our normal ways of doing businesses. I think entries will be impacted somewhat but the best of the work will still find its way out there.”

Asked if Enormous will also participate, Khazanchi said, “We will wait and watch; we still have time to complete our entries. The last date of entering is March 31; if we do have interesting pieces of work, we will certainly enter by the end of March.”

Speaking about their participation Bhattacharyya said, “Creativity is resilient and undoubtedly that needs to be celebrated. But the bigger question is: Since it’s been such a tough year, shouldn’t the organisers reduce the entry fees, as a gesture that we’re all in this together.”

He said that their top priority is the safety and well-being of their employees.

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