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After years of celebrating purpose and progressive politics at Cannes, things may be changing.͏‌  ͏‌  ͏‌  ͏‌  ͏‌  ͏‌ 
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June 19, 2023


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Ben Smith
Ben Smith

Welcome to Semafor Cannes, our daily newsletter for the creatives and the rest of us hangers-on gathered here on the Riviera, where Monday is the new Tuesday as everyone scrambles to get out of the way of the MediaLink dinner.

After years of celebrating purpose and progressive politics at Cannes, things may be changing. Festival organizers, Semafor has learned, have quietly instructed prize juries to cool it on the politics, in a Cannes echo of the U.S. “anti-woke” backlash. (Apple’s The Greatest campaign can probably still thread the needle.)

Also in this edition: What you missed last night, what you should be trying to get into today, some provocative new research, and inevitable advice from MediaLink’s Michael Kassan — as well as our distillation of the best of what’s written about Cannes everywhere else.

Thanks for coming along for the ride, if you aren’t still stuck in Heathrow.

And — if you’re already getting too much email, or just don’t like the color yellow, you can unsubscribe at the bottom of this page.

— Ben Smith, Max Tani, Jules Darmanin

Must Reads
  • The first 17 shortlists are live, and Michelob Ultra’s Dreamcaster campaign about helping blind basketball fans enjoy the sport racked up 19 shortlist mentions. Along with a diversity-themed campaign from Columbia Journalism Review (!) got 9. — Campaign
  • Lizzo, Paris Hilton, Foo Fighters, H.E.R., and many more are playing the parties this week. — Page Six
  • The Association of National Advertisers’s study of the murky programmatic advertising market led to some pushback from “vested interests.” The group’s new report finds that more than 20% of all ad impressions go to junky “made for advertising” websites. —Digiday
  • Sir Martin Sorrel sees AI as a source of “hyper-personalization,” along with impacts from copywriting to media planning. — The Media Leader
  • “You can take the girl out of Cannes but you can’t take Cannes out of the girl!” new Twitter CEO Linda Yaccarino — who is skipping this years Lions — tweeted. — @lindayacc
One Good Text

Michael Kassan is the Chairman and CEO of MediaLink.

Ben Smith

Dial down the politics, Cannes Lions festival tells jurors

Tristan Fewings/Getty Images for Cannes Lions


The organizers of the advertising industry’s top awards ceremony have quietly instructed juries to steer clear of politics and advocacy in favor of awarding more commercially-minded campaigns.

Jurors and leaders of juries heard from organizers in video calls and recorded videos over recent weeks. The message: They “should remember that what we do can be entertaining, can be inspiring, and it’s for brands selling shit,” said one juror. That juror and four other people familiar with the messaging said it focused on celebrating light-hearted, lucrative advertising over heavier, more political content.

Simon Cook, the Lions CEO, confirmed the jury instructions in the somewhat less direct language of the industry.

“Many brands of course believe strongly, and have the evidence, that purpose-led work is effective and meaningful to their consumers. We know that this is only one option for marketers though,” he said in an email. “This is why we ask that our juries think about the breadth of the work that they are awarding so that they are curating a body of exceptional work that represents the entire suite of options available to build brands, sell products and drive progress through creativity.”

The festival is newly suggesting entrants include information about what an ad campaign accomplished.


The Lions awards are handed out on the French Riviera, and the festival isn’t responding directly to the damaging right-wing backlash in the United States to brands like Bud Light and Target, people involved with judging said.

But the push to extract corporations from politics is part of the same global trend away from the social-media driven progressive movements that dominated the 2010s. The industry snapback kicked off in earnest last summer, when the chief brand officer at Procter and Gamble, Marc Pritchard, an influential industry figure, told an audience that advertising had “gone too far into the good” at the expense of commercial goals.

He found a ready audience among ad industry executives and creatives who have complained for years about earnest ads for social causes that pull at juries’ heartstrings but don’t have clear real-world impact. Back in 2015, a spoof dubbed “Grand Prix Generator” spat out causes like “Free the tired endangered badgers.” Last year’s top award went to a moving campaign for the Kiyan Prince Foundation, honoring a slain British soccer player.

Top honors also went to The Lost Class, a campaign built around a graduation ceremony for American students killed with guns.

“It had an emotional impact but — it hasn’t changed anything in America,” one of the jurors, Jo-ann Robertson, the CEO of Global Markets at Ketchum, reflected in a recent interview with PR Week. “We got carried away with that.”

Read Room for Disagreement here.



NBC bumped some regulars from its Cannes list to make space for SNL creator Lorne Michaels and his entourage… CNN, whose former Chairman Chris Licht was expected to attend before his defenestration, now isn’t sending any senior executives amid what one network source called a “work crunch”… Havas walked back its invites to some journalists who were hoping to attend a VIP cocktail reception tomorrow featuring the actress Sabrina Dhowre Elba….

Cannes caftan queen Jolie Hunt, whose clients include a number of top executives, is bringing hair and makeup stylists to help her clients look chic on the Croisette… Wieden+Kennedy has been hired to do a huge Bloomberg brand campaign… Snap CEO Evan Spiegel presided over the company’s — lamentably off-record — annual dinner at Hotel du Cap-Eden-Roc…

Today’s Agenda
  • 11 a.m.: Podcasting’s it girl Emma Chamberlain is on a Spotify Beach panel
  • 12 p.m.: Mattel’s president Richard Dickson gives a talk about reinvention on the Palais II Stage. We hope it will focus on the Barbie movie.
  • 2:30 p.m.: The New York Times will share the stage with one of the world’s most prominent platforms for sex workers. Axios’ Sara Fischer is moderating a panel on tech and media in athletics with New York Times CEO Meredith Kopit Levien and OnlyFans CEO Amrapali Gan, along with MSNBC President Rashida Jones and Vox Media CEO Jim Bankoff
  • 3:45 p.m.: Top Pfizer execs, Arianna Huffington, and the spoken word artist IN-Q, naturally, will be talking about the future of one of the world’s most interesting brands at the Debussy Theater in the Palais
  • 7 p.m.: Awards at the Palais for Pharma, Health & Wellness, Print & Publishing, Outdoor and Radio & Audio
Hot Tickets
  • Adweek Marketing Vanguard group lunch at a private home in Cap d’Antibes
  • Kargo Sea & Scene will be ferrying guest by boat to Juan-les-Pins
  • An array of competing dinners hosted by figures including Google’s Lorraine Twohill (at Goals House), Accenture’s Julie Sweet, Spotify’s Daniel Ek, the NBC Olympics crew, Bloomberg, and The Athletic Dinner with the National Women’s Soccer League
  • Condé Nast and Universal Music Group are celebrating two years of partnership with an intimate dinner at Luigi featuring a performance by Jon Batiste…

(A friendly reminder that it’s never too late to invite us to your exclusive dinner or drinks.)

Another Good Text

Lorraine Twohill is the chief marketing officer of Google.

Local News

Down the Gutter: Every year, the 72 Croisette, a pricey brasserie conveniently located on La Croisette, turns into the Gutter Bar, Cannes Lions’ infamous late-night watering hole. Semafor Riviera correspondent Jules Darmanin caught up with Ben Haykel, the bar’s manager, as he was gearing up for his biggest week of the year by far.

Haykel is tripling his staff to pour down 1,200 liters of beer every night of the week to as many as 1,600 patrons. “We got some calls from people at Apple and Google” ahead of the festival, he said.

Haykel is not too worried about drunken, 5 a.m. brawls between competing creative directors. Part of it is thanks to the three security agents he has for the week, and the two police vans that he is expecting to be there. But he also has a theory. Americans, who make up the largest group of his Lions clientele, tend to be less rowdy than European drunkards. “Even when they’re completely wasted, they’re all right ... We just sit them down and get them a coffee.”

Drinking started early, as Ad Age’s Brian Bonilla tweeted.

Protest watch: Big Oil CMOs may be relieved to hear from Greenpeace, for once. A spokeswoman for the NGO told Semafor it was not planning an action next week, a year after a flotilla of “This is fine” dogs stole the show at WPP beach drinks to protest against greenwashing. Greenpeace France is focusing on actions around this fall’s men’s Rugby World Cup which is sponsored by TotalEnergies, she added. (Of course, it would also be in her best interest to lie to us about this!)

Meanwhile, a Greenpeace truck that was impounded last year is still stuck in Cannes, despite a judge ordering its release earlier this year. When activists showed up on June 8, police refused to hand over the vehicle, something Greenpeace said never happened before. Local prosecutor Damien Sarvazeix told Nice-Matin that the truck had mechanical issues and that it would take “10 to 15 days” to work things out with a garage and the NGO. 15 days would bring us... to the end of the Lions.

Hot and Wet: Beach builders were caught by surprise on Thursday afternoon when an unforecast thunderstorm soaked the bay.

“Thunderstorms are particularly hard to forecast around Cannes because the French Riviera is at the junction of the sea, mountains, and a dense urban area,” said Serge Zaka, a climate scientist and storm chaser who took an award-winning shot of lightning at Cannes. Weather models used by apps, he added, tend to be simplified for general audiences and are less adapted to hyperlocal storms. But he also said the coming days were looking drier in southern France.

— Jules

Hot on Semafor
  • Progressive American media figures are trying to pick up the pieces from the collapse of Vice and other sympathetic outlets — and considering buying TV stations, Max writes.
  • Kenyan human tea-pickers are destroying tea-picking machines, in an old-fashioned Luddite backlash against encroaching tech.
  • The CEO of a leading fintech firm told Reed Albergotti how he believes AI will change online shopping and make it more “emotional.
  • Ohio’s Republican senator J.D. Vance is balancing his MAGA appeal to a conservative base with collaborative bipartisan policy efforts, David Weigel writes.
  • China’s Cuban spy base is just one piece of a much bigger plan, Jay Solomon reported.

What are we missing? Reply to this email if you’ve got tips, ideas, or places we ought to be.