Diary of two Young Lions

We have just arrived home from our first Cannes Lions. And we are exhausted. Is it always as mad? (Actually if, last year’s MSQ Young Lions’ diary on this very site is anything to go by, probably…)

First, a very brief introduction. We’re the lucky duo awarded as part of MSQ’s Annual Cannes Young Lions competition to venture on an all-expenses-paid trip to the South of France to soak up everything that our industry’s biggest festival has to offer. Dee is a Senior Designer working for MSQ’s brand design agency Elmwood in New York City. Conor is a Senior A/V Designer (our similar job titles a mere coincidence!) at MSQ’s full-service digital agency 26 in Leeds. 

Our brief: to throw ourselves into the festival. Meet, listen to and be inspired by as many people as we can. Infiltrate MSQ’s Instagram account. And share our fledgling findings with as many people as possible. 

We arrived on Sunday and approached our apartments with the usual mixture of excitement and dread. Our colleague had told us that ‘as long as the apartment has good Wi-Fi, a decent shower and actually exists, you’re golden’, which isn’t exactly the highest bar. But we’ve already found in Cannes that location is everything, so luckily we’ve managed to hit the above brief and still be in easy walking distance from all that’s going on. Of course, there’s the classic Airbnb oddity thrown in – Conor shared with our Head of Marketing, and the only way to get to the second bedroom was by going through the first, but we’ll just put that down to ‘French quaintness’.

The Way It Is

As for the festival itself, well if there was any doubt about the enormity of what we were about to face, starting it with a run of panels involving Run-DMC, Halle Berry and Louis Theroux certainly set a down a marker! The Run-DMC panel was in fact our joint highlight of the whole week – partly of course because Darryl ‘DMC’ McDaniels performed an impromptu mini-set after the talk, but also because of the work for Lil Sugar detailed on stage. 

The campaign itself – a Cannes Lions Health Grand Prix winner no less – aimed to engage children about the perils of sugar consumption, and it was an incredible example of outstanding craft mixed with brilliant insight. But it also recognised that you can’t just do a ‘one-size-fits-all’ campaign, producing a variety of executions all as well-crafted as the last (for instance, an animated children’s book for younger children, a Pokemon Go-style game for older children).

What impressed us both the most was the conviction the team had in talking about the work. It’s naturally easier when – as most panels are – you’re talking about amazing campaigns, but hearing people talk so passionately about their work was one of the true highlights of Cannes. We feel that so often you’re exposed to people beating the industry up and complaining about the barriers in place, so to spend an entire week hearing from people talking with passion about work they generally care about is so refreshing to young creatives. In Lil Sugar’s case, we genuinely believe that the conviction the team had when making something they believed to be special, was the thing that made it so.  

Raising Hell

It’s something when Run-DMC gets a smaller stage Monday afternoon slot at a festival. But the scale of Cannes is something that we still can’t really comprehend. The level of celebrities, the amount of resources put into the sponsored beaches and individual builds, the sheer overwhelming nature of the Croisette, which goes on and on and on and on… 

We knew the festival went beyond just the Palais, but not to such an extent. We were blown away by the effort and planning that went into the Amazon Port, the level of swag on offer at the TikTok garden, the mini villages that seemed to appear and then just as quickly disappear from the many branded beaches. 

That’d be our advice for anyone lucky enough to do what we’ve done this year going forward – if it’s your first Cannes, throw yourselves into it, get rid of any FOMO and try and experience the many sides that the Lions has to offer. At one point we were asked to pick our top 3 awarded pieces and we realised how little we’d actually seen of ‘the work’. Not because we hadn’t spent time looking, but because a) you need about a month just to get around all the entries, and b) because we were too busy experiencing sensorial overload in countless other ways. 

We saw Spike Lee talk ads, watched agencies win awards, visited branded beaches, ate BBQ in a villa in the hills, met inspiring clients, attended major parties, experienced new tech in action, were interviewed by journalists, spent time with colleagues new and old, finally saw what people meant by ‘The Gutter Bar’… and still we feel like we only scratched the surface. I think we went into this expecting to have time to stay a little bit engaged with work back home, but only now are we even contemplating responding to WhatsApps sent from friends a week ago. Heck, we even thought we might write this diary in daily chunks before the festival got underway… 

Walk This Way

But that energy, that passion for the industry that ruminates through Cannes, is intoxicating. Does some of that stem from lots of senior suits feeling overly entitled to a week of extravagance? Possibly. Does some of it stem from an abundance of rosé? Almost certainly. But a lot of it stemmed from the excitement of what’s next. From the platforms given by the festival to diverse speakers (something that pleasantly surprised us both), to the way agencies and brands threw themselves in to the discussions around the topics that matter right now (yes, we had more than one conversation on whether AI will steal all our jobs). 

It stemmed from the genuine pride that creatives we saw at Cannes had in their work. From their strongly held principles around accessibility, to the joy they take in using innovative tech to create something new (there’s that AI chat again).  

So, apologies if this article isn’t another to add to the ‘Cannes is nonsense’ pile. Maybe those who see that side of things are doing it wrong (or not even attempting to do it right in the first place). For us, Cannes was a shot in the arm to think a little more carefully about every brief we tackle. To inspire ourselves and design for everyone. To care about that last 5 per cent and not just move on to the next thing. To enter the next phase of our career as ‘Old Lions’ with conviction and courage. Because we want to be back on the Croisette again. And we think you should too.