Was this year’s Cannes Lions a virtual success? Depends who you ask

Epic Games’ “Astronomical” Travis Scott event in Fortnite; Image from Epic Games

Cannes Lions is no longer exclusively the domain of very well-heeled and well-connected VIPs in advertising. The five-day awards festival celebrating creative work in the ad industry and related fields was virtual this year, making it available to the whole world (for a price), with daily YouTube broadcasts from locales across the globe.

The Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity is hosted by Lions, a decades-old organization focused on benchmarking creativity that was acquired by the data and information company Ascential in 2004. The group canceled last year’s awards festivities but returned this year from June 21 to 25 in a virtual format — “Cannes off the Croisette,” AdAge called it — that seemed to rankle some and work well for others.

Ad industry leaders told Adweek that while the IRL Cannes experience is irreplaceable, they appreciated the accessibility of the virtual festival and the “greater transparency” it provided, with its deep insights into the process behind the award-winning work.

But other executives said that the endless content and the fact that you could just open a new tab on your screen and start “trying to create winners for next year” made the experience less than compelling, AdAge reported. There were also grumblings about technical glitches in both the live and pre-recorded segments, the latter of which is pretty hard to excuse.

In terms of how the virtual format played out, the winners of each awards category (all 28 of them) were announced during 90-minute “Daily Award Shows.” Those broadcasts were complemented by “Debrief” sessions that analyzed the work and featured conversations with the winners, as well as a daily presentation and wrap-up, according to Variety.

Sponsors built interactive spaces that allowed them to engage with guests through branded avatars and a host of virtual experiences including performances, Q&A’s, keynotes and live networking filled out the rest of the programming. Actors Gal Gadot and Bryce Dallas Howard, as well as musicians Wyclef Jean and Ed Sheeran, and Formula One driver Fernando Alonso were among the boldfaced names in the lineup.

For a very select and lucky vaccinated few (around 200), there was an invite-only in-person experience hosted by MediaLink (which is also owned by Ascential) at the Whitney Museum in Manhattan. The company hosted a luncheon followed by presentations and networking, topped off with a performance from Dave Grohl of the Foo Fighters.

A couple of the notable Lion winners in the XP realm included Epic Games’ “Astronomical” Travis Scott event, a concert that took place within the Fortnite game last year and drew 28 million day-of viewers and tons of merch, and Burger King’s “Stevenage Challenge,” an activation developed by the agency David that put the burger booster’s logo on players shirts in the wildly popular EA FIFA 20 video game. Both wins point to the exponentially growing importance of gaming platforms in connecting brands to the younger generations. Here is the list of all of the winners.

“What’s really clear from the festival is that despite teams being more remote recently, the work suggests much closer collaboration between agencies and clients to create braver and more effective creative,” Chaka Sobhani, global chief creative officer of Leo Burnett, told Adweek.

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