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The Cannes Review 2023: Part 1

Julian Boulding, Fellow of The Marketing Society and Founder and President of thenetworkone is back with his annual review of Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity - this is the short version (!) There will be more to come, we hope you enjoy this dive into the deep waters of the French Riviera and all that Cannes has to offer.

The Cannes Review 2023: Insights, Winners, and the Rise of Purpose-Driven Advertising

I have visited Cannes every year since 2005. After each Festival, I like to wait a week or two - to analyse and reflect on the underlying trends and the longer-term significance of what has been seen, heard and discussed. So check back in a week or so for the full report.

However – our friends at The Marketing Society asked me SO nicely for a little preview, I could not say no. So here’s Part One of The Cannes Review – which begins, as always, with “The Work.”


At its heart, Cannes is an Awards show. And just like the Oscars in the movie industry, the top prizes – the Grand Prix, as they are known – offer intriguing insights into the way our industry is going.

This year, the Festival awarded 34 Grand Prix. Who won? And why?

Entries are mostly submitted by Creative Agencies, although some come from other kinds of agency (PR agencies or media agencies, for example); from Corporate clients and Brand owners; and from film or other creative production companies.


This year, 28 out of 34 Grand Prix winning entries came from Creative Agencies. Three came from a Corporate Client (Apple); and two from film production companies. So let’s focus on the agencies.

Unlike previous years, there was no ‘dominant’ agency.

Almost all the main “Holding Company” agencies – BBDO, Publicis, McCann, AKQA, FCB, Ogilvy, Wunderman Thompson, Proximity, DDB, Havas, Cheil and Accenture Song – won at least one GP, but none of them won more than three.

Between them all, the HoldCo agencies won 21 out of the 34 Prizes, but the independent agencies punched above their weight. Usually the Independents count for around 10 – 15% of entries, but this year they won 8 out of 34 GP’s: success coming to Gut (3), Wieden + Kennedy (2), Special Group and Uncommon.

To note: Media and PR Agencies won no GP’s at all. And they were not even close – No PR agencies won any of the 2nd tier prizes (Gold Lions) in the PR category and only one Media agency won a 2nd tier prize in the Media category.

As an award show: Cannes is back where it used to be – a showcase for Creative Agencies.


The organisers have tried really hard to spread the net to parts of the world beyond the traditional “English-speaking” countries. They have representatives in well over 100 markets and the juries are encouragingly diverse.

And yet – 21 / 34 GP winners still come from just five countries: USA, Canada, UK, Australia and New Zealand.

‘Also-ran’ countries are France (3), Argentina (2) and Japan (2), with Brazil, Dubai, India, Korea, Poland and Saudi Arabia clocking in with one GP each.

None for China, none for SE Asia, none for Africa. None for Spain, Italy, or Germany.

Why is this? Is the English-speaking world more creative than other cultures? Is it the fact that the awarding jury debates all take place in English?

There is no obvious solution, but it was noticeable this year that the award-winning countries also sent the majority of delegates. If Cannes wants to remain a credibly ‘global’ event, there is still more work to do.


Last year, almost 90% of the prize-winning work was “purpose-driven.” Perhaps a guilt-induced hangover from the pandemic? Or perhaps a feeling that agencies and their clients were no longer proud of work which drove market share, sales success and business growth?

Whichever way, the picture has changed in 2023.

By my count, 50% of GP winning entries in 2023 (17 out of 34) were “purpose-driven.”

Bruno Bertelli, Jury President of one of the most traditionally influential categories, Film, went on record saying that his jury had “made a decision to favour spots that sell, over big brand manifestos.”


Perhaps reflecting the change in emphasis, the winning work was mostly produced for Brands. The Global Brands claimed the most GP’s: Adidas, Apple(3), British Airways, Cadbury, Clash of Clans (2), Dove, Mastercard, Michelob, Microsoft (2), Nike, Renault,  Samsung and Stella Artois.

But local and regional brands also had their share: An Nahar (Lebanon), Doordash (USA), Eurofarma (Brazil), Hunger Station (Saudi Arabia), Partners Life (Australasia), Pedidos Ya (Latin America) and Skinny Telecom (New Zealand).

And for sure, there were a few Institutional clients – the Brazil Stock Exchange, the Korean Police, Japan Railways, the Tuvalu Nation and two French Charities, one for cancer support, one for Downs Syndrome and one for suicide prevention.

But we can clearly say, in Cannes 2023: Brands are Back.


The panels and presentations in the Palais and the chatter on the Croisette were all about Generative AI – Chat GPT (the one that does the words) and MidJourney (the one that does the pictures).

But Cannes has long lead times and all the winning work was produced before most people had even heard of these (by my estimate, around February/March 2023?)

So they were not really an issue in the awards.

Of course, many of the winning ideas were dependent on 21st Century technology: by my count, more than half are enabled by mobile apps. But a mobile app today is hardly innovative technology.

One or two were genuinely innovative tech: like the ‘Mouthpad’, developed by a start-up company called Augmental, so quadriplegic people can use their tongue, in the way most of us use our fingers on a trackpad.

But mostly: the GP’s were given for the application of technology, not the technology itself.

In the same way that (according to one speaker in the Palais), Generative AI may mean that creativity becomes curation, not origination… but that’s a discussion for Part 2 of this paper. Check back for that.


Well, Cannes does not choose a “Best in Show” from among the 34 Grand Prix winners. Or a “Worst in Show”, either.

So you will have to do those yourselves!!

The case films that form (almost all) the entries are usually two or three minutes long and all the major advertising media publish lists with links. So allow a couple of hours to review all 34 winners. It’s well worth it.

For what it’s worth, here are my entirely subjective opinions.

My personal “Worst in Show” –

… The Tuvalu Nation, entered by The Monkeys, part of Accenture Song, which won the prestigious Titanium Grand Prix. A Government Official, standing on a sandbank with 37 palm trees and a lectern, announces that due to climate change, some islands in his country will soon be under water so he is a creating a digital record of them for future generations. Everything about this film is SO last year. Not just for moaning about Climate Change rather than thinking about how to prevent it – but the “digital record of lost heritage” was done a million times better by last year’s entry from Ukraine about creating a digital record of Ukrainian art in the firing line of a hostile invasion.

My personal “Best in Show” –

…OK, I do think two of the UK entries are terrific. The suicide prevention campaign from AMV BBDO, showing the “last videos” of apparently happy people who were not so happy inside – and the whimsical British Airways campaign from Uncommon Studios, spoofing a conventional questionnaire with answers about the real reasons people want to travel. But that’s probably my own unconscious British bias, so they are both disqualified.

Instead, I’ll go for “Beautiful Life”, entered by Smuggler Films, winner of the Entertainment GP for Music (go figure) – not exactly an ad, more of a short film about (lack of) gun control featured in a Netflix documentary. Teenagers gambling with their lives. It’s five and a half minutes long and absolutely riveting. Watch it.

And as a footnote:

One agency, GUT, is runner up in both my personal categories: Worst and Best.

Worst, for “The Artois Probability” – a film purporting to show that beers featured in great classical paintings were probably pre-cursors of Stella Artois. Unfunny and derivative in every aspect.

Best, for being first out of the gate with Pedidos Ya (an app-based food delivery service), tracking the progress of the Soccer World Cup trophy’s journey home to Buenos Aires for the inevitable street party.

Which goes to show – the same agency that can make total turkeys, can also create great work.

But which will they present to you next?


Yes, agencies may have all the best tunes (and drink the most rosé) – but there is still a role for Marketing Clients.

Keep an eye out for the even deeper dive into Cannes 2023 from Julian coming soon



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