An essayistic Cannes Lions Bouillabaisse 

by Steffen Vetterle

Searching for clues with expectations

It is with great anticipation that I, as a BW Lions delegate, creative artist and teacher, am finally allowed to represent my federal state here at the global creative navel show venue, to soak up this atmosphere and its various side effects, as well as to get to know quite a few people: to do cousin reading. “The Länd” is now Cännes! as the motto. The mission: to find traces and spores of BW here in Cannes. So to speak: where is the Swabian-Baden momentum on the Côte this week? 

In the mirror of cultural perceptions

In my eyes, these traces are not on the outside. Certainly, references to BW brands, projects, agencies, people in/at the world’s biggest creative competition can be found. Furthermore, there are Swabian means of transport, clothes, as well as toilets, rosé bottles, internet, mobile devices and metaverse in everyday use, just as there are here… which leads me to the approach of a reflection of ourselves – eight Swabians and one Badener – not towards the French mythical place, but towards the event as such. And thus raises questions of prevailing pop culture, values, innovation, the relationship between creativity/economy and their communication.

Au Plage: the occupancy of the media beach chairs and the communicative menu on offer at the Beach Club.

As is well known, the festival has its British roots and has long been dominated by the presence of American tech corporations. This year, too, Amazon, Google, Meta, etc. occupy the strategic cornerstones on the Croisette around the postmodern-brutalist eclectic congress centre. Its architectural exterior is fortunately almost obscured by mega-billboards, but inside it surprisingly offers first-class large theatre spaces, generous access and further stage platforms such as the Terrace Stage with an excellent view. The arrangement is filled up on the outside with the own stands of film production, media companies and agency networks like Whalar, Medialink (most of which I had never heard of) as well as the KKK pointed cap tents in front of the exclusively rented luxury yachts in the harbour. European or even Asian companies are not represented, with the exception of Telekom, RTL, Spotify and TikTok. Accordingly, “American English” is spoken, which then naturally and self-evidently prevails as the “mindset”. The urban space, the city skyline and the coastal landscape of Cannes function as a scenic backdrop, which Cannes unfortunately only lends itself to on the surface. Nice is more vibrant and diverse, Antibes more picturesque. Exciting and much more relaxing for networking are the numerous villa parties in the Cannes Hills. In short, except for the explicitly American touch, it’s a relatively usual congress hustle and bustle, just like in other industries in other places.

All is well here in the polical correctness bubble

Expectations and the BW mirror: An enormous range of keynotes, speeches and insights with this year’s focus/fashion topics such as gender, inclusion, diversity, metaverse, storytelling and sustainability take place during the day. In the evening, the real beef around which this congress offer has been built in recent years: outstanding creation at the award shows. 

Each of the lectures is specifically linked to one of the sponsors and otherwise visible major corporations. A link between business, money and creation has been obligatory and mutually dependent since cultural times immemorial, but truly disruptive, independent voices and opinions are not present. The promising titles of the speeches do not redeem themselves for our inquisitive, inquiring Ländledrang, but are delivered in American political correctness and entertaining form with cooperation and name-dropping in shallow beach waters. So everything is good, sexy and happy-preppy here in the perfect world, just like in Disney’s empire. If one is allowed to be part of it. All this is not new knowledge, but it is somehow more or less enervating in places. 

Different cultural perceptions of social responsibility 

One of my principles, which I also like to preach to my students and colleagues: “Designers have a social responsibility”. Dealing with and taking up socially highly relevant issues such as those mentioned above also takes place across the pond in a different, far more relaxed, dramatic-dramatic form with a more benevolent-hopeful ending than is often the case here. A cooperation with an African-American role model, for example, offers mutual synergies and reach. It gives the companies a different communicative, more contemporary look and gives them so-called relevance and credibility, and the initiative hopefully a boost from a big player. That’s how business and play work. A strategic exchange of interests – perfectly okay. Of course, product integration or placement is also celebrated in a cool way, influencing scenes and plots of Netflix or Amazon series. However, the festival and the awards themselves – like other design award “rating agencies” with regard to monetary aspects – have expanded their categories. For example, there are now also the categories Creative Strategy, Innovation and Creative Effectiveness. In my understanding, a well thought-out communication solution should already include these parameters as evaluation criteria. Excellent creation must, among other things, be strategically thought out, innovative and sustainable and not just work for the moment. If poor Asian fishermen are shooed into competitive plastic fishing instead of fishing for a day, or socially similar people in the Pacific make the word “Hope” out of coral on the seabed, this is an imperialistic act, but not a sustainable solution. And no gold that will fade tomorrow. Surprisingly, it is even reported on in news broadcasts, it achieves click rates in the millions and yet this action does not change the world one bit for the better. Such mechanics are not new either, but fortunately we could experience mostly outstandingly subtle, fun and excellent executed works. We leave aside the Pampers campaign to call an innovative nappy a Poonami Alert. Such cited natural phenomena have fortunately not yet occurred on US shores… and collaterally do not affect Asian plastic fishermen. If one or the other reader suspects an obviously formulated pseudo-system critique of turbo-capitalism here – a very clear NO! The LCD sound system in the Amazon Port was mega cool. I love entertainment and emotions! And the fact that technological developments and growth potential have been missed in Europe, just as access to the WWW, clouds and offers are American… that’s just the way it is. It is questionable for everyone how to deal with it.

Finding the right balance. What can we do and where do we want to go?

What I’m getting at is that the festival should remind us and reflect to us how not only we creative people but also the citizens of Baden-Württemberg and Europe sort out and define our values, as well as how we deal with social and business issues. We should show more courage, communicate more proudly about our innovative products. Be less persistent, faster, more spontaneous and less thoughtful. Otherwise, the metaverse will supposedly swallow us up soon, but this will not happen in this additional marketing channel that will be established in the future, primarily for younger target groups. But let’s play with it! And continue to tinker and think into the future. We can be proud of what we do in THE LÄND!

What excellent communication must achieve and why it is more necessary than ever.

Some of my colleagues will certainly go into greater depth and depth about the zeitgeist issues discussed here, which are being taken up and exploited in different ways by companies and industries. An understanding that has long since arrived in our cultural space, not only to focus on auratic products and corporations, but to let the user influence the product and the brand through various offers (Heinz: Draw Ketchup), must be pursued in a vital way. In the same way, industry and design must – not should – seriously address social issues such as inclusion, diversity, the environment and democratic values. By means of clear, strong, measured and clearly understandable communication. In the form of emotional-honest storytelling (Penny), fun-smart (Samsung: The Spider), poetic reverie (Burberry) rudimentary real benefit (Ikea: Discover the Originals) and longer-term thought ( Ikea: Buyback Friday) and practice. I have the hope that after the communicative, visual and digital sea of Sameness of the last few years, as well as at the moment, an honest balance between digital and analogue has to happen. It is time to communicate out-of-the-box. The Ukraine conflict should shake us up to position ourselves more directly, more courageously and more clearly. The poignant statements and life stories of four Ukrainian creatives in dealing with this tragedy shake us awake, make us sad. We must remain active and attentive! We also have to make the ever decreasing money for creation available for coincidences, experiments, courage and failure. Because no one is perfect, not even us creatives, not the industry. Let’s make nonsense, have fun and not torture ourselves with increasing number-driven design administration and let it degenerate into bad, printed compromises. If you don’t communicate and advertise in a meaningful way, you die.

The future of the industry and why a real place to meet? That’s why!

But who is still doing design? Why, in what form and with what goal? As in other industries, the shortage of skilled workers poses increasing problems for the global creative industries. Even tech corporations such as Amazon and Microsoft, despite partial layoffs, are dealing in keynotes with what the agency of the future will look like? People, young people, will certainly become more and more isolated and act and think in networks. For this, we need real meeting places and occasions where business, friendships and future cooperations are made possible in the in-between moments, breaks, with a rosé glass in the hand on the beach etc. in direct counterparts. 

Simply: Thank you!

Therefore: A lot has been done here, which still needs to be processed further. 
I am very grateful to my state for this opportunity, which is meaningful, disturbing, fun, discursive and awesome. 
What remains in the end are the people and friendships. I think I found a few of those in the great group. And also beyond our group. Long live the live encounter!