January is usually when industry executives would be booking their summer flights to the French Riviera. But as Covid-19 continues to surge this month, most of us get nervous at the idea of even hopping in an Uber or taking a trip to the grocery store.
While major gatherings such as CES, Sundance and SXSW are going virtual this year, Cannes Lions organizers remain optimistic that advertising’s largest event will—after being canceled last year—return to being held in person in 2021. A Cannes spokesperson told Adweek the festival is still scheduled for June 21 to 25.
The Ascential-owned festival declined to provide further information on how organizers are envisioning a physical event, and organizers haven’t announced whether they’re considering a hybrid edition or a second Lions Live, which served as a free, virtual alternative to the canceled festival in 2020.
The festival’s stance comes to light at a time when the realistic timeline of in-person events returning is largely dependent on the speed of the Covid-19 vaccination rollout. So agencies and brands tell Adweek they’re taking a wait-and-see approach on whether to attend the festival, as countries including the United Kingdom are in their strictest lockdowns yet and the United States reached a record number of daily Covid-19 deaths this month.
Even if it becomes safer to travel to and attend in-person events by June, marketers and creatives say they will probably fall on the side of caution.
Mike Nevins, CMO at Smart, a France-based ad-tech company, said “the entire industry is pulling for the Cannes Lions to fully return in 2021,” though he expects organizers and prospective attendees will be extra cautious with their final decisions.
“While it will be great if the event can unfold in its customary June timeframe, I expect all companies—including Cannes Lions—will carefully weigh the risk versus reward of physical attendance at a very social event with a massive audience, especially given the uncertainty regarding the pace of Covid-19 vaccination in pursuit of herd immunity,” Nevins said.
I don’t really think we’ll live in a world where a lot of people will be traveling and it will be safe to get together with loads of other people.
—Hermeti Balarin, ecd, Mother London,
Hermeti Balarin, executive creative director at agency Mother London, said even if organizers host an in-person festival, he doesn’t see the agency participating in a normal Cannes trip.
“That’s our best guess in terms of how we would approach,” he said. “I don’t really think we’ll live in a world where a lot of people will be traveling and it will be safe to get together with loads of other people.”
Christine Capone, president at brand experience agency MKG operating in New York and L.A., noted it’s too early to make a decision on whether the agency will attend an in-person festival, but trusts organizers will “make an informed choice based on the success of vaccine availability and implementation at the global level.”
If the festival is able to occur in-person, Capone said she would expect organizers to require daily Covid-19 testing for all guests and a formal escalation policy if the festival learned of any positive tests. However, MKG employees would also have to follow their own guidelines.
“We will, of course, do our own risk assessment regardless of their decision as well as consult our global partners like Facebook and Google,” Capone added. “We have a Covid-19 safety policy in place at the agency. It is a living document that is updated based on the state of the world. We will expect all attendees from MKG to abide by that policy for this experience should we attend as they would any other experience.”