The Intoxicating, Infuriating Return of Cannes Lions

Advertising’s annual festival of self-adulation is here again after a two-year hiatus

John Kovacevich
4 min readJun 20, 2022

Cannes Lions is back.

Prepare yourselves. Your (highly-placed, senior-level, expense-account-having) advertising friends are about to flood your feed with yacht and rosé photos. Later this week, when they start handing out the hardware, LinkedIn will become an unbearable stream of Palais award photos and not-so humblebrags.

It’s all a little gross, isn’t it?

Don’t get me wrong; I don’t hate fun. And Cannes Lions is FUN. I’ve been and it’s a hell of a party. And the collection of great advertising work in one place is inspiring.

But with the last two festivals “Covid canceled,” there’s a Rumspringa energy to this year’s pre-Cannes slobber — clearly the ad world is horny to fête itself.

For years, I’ve written about how advertising award shows are the scam that the industry just can’t quit. I’ve made suggestions on how Cannes Lions could improve itself. And I’ve reminded industry friends who DO win awards, to act like they’ve seen the end zone before. (They rarely do.)

Nothing really changes. I have no illusions that this Medium piece will do any more than previous Medium pieces.

But here’s some Jiminy Cricket-esque food-for-thought as the industry’s 1% heads to the south of France…

The money!

Cannes Lions is a business. A big business. This year, entry fees ranged from $640 to $2,640 per entry, depending on the category and when you submitted. The festival announced that 25,464 entries are competing for awards this year. (Back-of-the envelope math, that’s in the neighborhood of $40M on entry fees, alone.)

Oh, and you want to attend? A full-access festival pass is nearly four grand.

And you have to GET there. Priced a flight to Cannes lately? (Business class, of course…none of these execs are flying coach.) And you gotta stay somewhere for the week, right? Plus a few bottles of rosé and some fancy dinners. More back-of-the envelope math: you’re looking at around $20K per person to attend.

It verges on vulgar.

When “pandemic belt tightening” is still the party line at lots of agencies. When you have junior staffers back at the office pining for a 3% raise. When some shops now require “post pandemic” in-office face time…even while some senior execs disappear to Europe for most of June.

Nobody said the ad business was just or equitable or fair, but you senior leader types may want to temper your “we’re all in this together” messaging when some of you are, in fact, in a very different place all together.

The war and the pandemic and stuff

Not to get all Debbie Downer, but this Covid thing everybody wants to be over? *whispers* It’s still a thing. Oh, and the war in Ukraine is still raging.

I get it. Life goes on. We can’t not do ANYTHING forever. There’s a strong desire to “get back to normal” and the excesses of Cannes are as normal as advertising gets.

But the “WHAT Y’ALL WEARING TO CANNES?” and “WHO WANTS TO MEET UP FOR A DRINK ON THE CROISETTE?” tweets are a little much, in light of what’s going on in the world.

Self-congratulatory bullshit

Remember when the ad industry solved gun violence in America?

Yeah. Me neither. But I bet that “Lost Class” thing is going to pile up the wins this week.

Not to shit on well-intentioned efforts, but all the award-show-bait charitable work has gone from “eye roll-y” to distasteful.

Show organizers should really force all those entries into a single category, but beyond that, agencies should have the decency to stop pretending that they’ve “solved” problems they really haven’t.

P.S. Your flight to Nice burned ten times as much carbon as you saved with your compostable NFT (or whatever you called that save-the-world idea in your award video.)

Rampaging ego

If you do collect an award this week, maybe think twice before touting the achievement as the apex of creativity. Yes, we should take pride in our craft, but your TikTok campaign ain’t hanging in the Louvre. We’re selling sugar water and hamburgers.

A Lion victory is also the pinnacle of privilege. Cannes is a huge pay-to-play game where well-funded networks pour millions into making sure they come out on top. Plus, name-you-recognize creative directors tend to take care of one another in jury rooms.

And while a victory can transform the careers of those politically-savvy enough to get themselves in the credits, not everybody who contributed to a project is going to reap the financial rewards.

In other words, if you win, don’t act like a schmuck.

God, I sound like an insufferable bore, don’t I? Sigh…

Last year, I opened my own small agency. To be fair, we haven’t done anything Cannes-worthy, so there’s no point in entering. And now that I don’t have a deep-pocketed network agency picking up the tab, the idea of paying my way to attend is laughable. (I took the whole family to Disneyland last week—not exactly the cheapest trip—but it was a fraction of the Lion boondoggle. And they had churros, so I think I came out ahead.)

All I’m asking is that those lucky SOBs who are enjoying the festival this week spare a thought for those not so fortunate. Humility isn’t something just to be feigned in a LinkedIn post.


John Kovacevich is a creative director and the founder of Agency SOS. He writes about advertising from time to time. And he writes a weekly email newsletter highlighting three bits of creative inspiration for modern marketers.



John Kovacevich

husband, father, writer, ad man, occasional actor