Cannes Lions has a lot going for it. The azure south of France location, the free-flowing rosé, the glitz and glamor, the yachts, the open access to the best and brightest in the industry and, of course, the awards.
But some people head to Cannes with dread in their heart and anxiety in their brains for a number of issues. It’s led to what some call “Cannesxiety,” which can be both unnerving and a motivator to do their best.
Cannesxiety is something that stresses some agency and brand leaders. There is the idea that once you win, your clients expect more wins moving forward, and that if you’re a winning agency, you’re expected to stay at the top. There is even the pressure that, if you bring your best talent to the event, they could be poached by others.
Where did the term come from?
Ogilvy’s global chief creative officer Liz Taylor doesn’t claim to have coined the phrase, but she has been using it for years, and last year even made some swag with the term on it.
The phrase is something Ogilvy deputy chief creative officer Joe Sciarrotta and Taylor have bandied about for at least eight years. “Every year, we’ll ask, where’s your Cannesxiety level at?” Taylor told Adweek.
She likened it to a doctor’s office chart that uses emoji for pain levels. But rather than those who go with dread, Taylor and her team use Cannesxiety as a motivator to do their best work.
“It just became this thing that you could say to anyone and they would instantly get it - I feel you I know what you’re going through, because we feel immense pressure,” said Taylor, adding that she thinks it’s in the spirit of David Ogilvy and divine discontent - never satisfied, always more.
Taylor said that there is always pressure to do well at Cannes, but it’s not the end goal of why they push themselves to do their best work. What Cannes does is set a bar for the best of the best, a barometer of what the top campaigns are.
However, Taylor does admit that the pressures on agencies are mounting, especially when you consider all that goes into submitting, building case studies, doing PR behind the work and ultimately going through rounds of judging.
But the biggest pressures tend to come internally, when agencies push themselves to constantly be better.
The anxiety, it’s self-inflicted. Nobody’s putting that pressure on me. I don’t have a bonus that’s based on it. It’s just why I do what I do,” said Taylor.
The darker side of awards
Gareth Moss, founder of executive search company The Blueprint, heard the term after talking with a global chief creative officer at a large agency. That CCO works with some of the world’s most awarded brands and used the term “Cannesxiety” to describe the mounting pressure coming from brands to not only win awards at Cannes but to win bigger awards and stay at the top.
“He said that the client has won every award under the Cannes sun, and he talked about his client never wanting to settle and always pushing for even more. And though year on year, the client was winning awards, it stopped simply being about winning an award or two awards, and became ‘how many awards do we win this time, and what color?’” Moss told Adweek.
In talking with other people who frequent Cannes, Moss found that some think the festival is less about the celebration of great work and it’s become more of a business exercise measured by results.
Then there are the other sources of “Cannesxiety” that go with the festival of creativity. They include pressures to go to as many meetings as possible, and taking your best talent and then possibly losing them as they get poached by other agencies or brands.
“It’s the best kind of talent that is there, and all of these meetings are happening under the noses of agency bosses as well. So, it’s that double edged sword—you want the best award-winning talent, but then they’re put in the shop window,” said Moss.
That recycling of talent, Moss said, means that the industry isn’t infusing itself with enough diversity that it claims to crave, which was uncovered in a recent study that found that the industry has made little progress in diversity since 2021.
“Cannes should focus on the work, how effective it is for clients, the diversity of the people that reflect the actual audience,” said Moss.
With all the negativity that Cannesxiety can bring, Cannes is still a celebration of great work, and certainly most clients will agree that getting good work done that moves the needle is most important over getting awards.
Bianca Guimaraes, partner and executive creative director at Mischief @ No Fixed Address thinks that it is always nice to have a trophy case full of shiny Cannes Lions, but it shouldn’t be the sole goal.
“No brief should ever start with, ‘I want to win a Lion.’ The brief should start with a problem to solve. So, the real prize is actually solving the business challenge,” Guimaraes told Adweek.
Guimaraes added that showing how your agency can move brands with creative effectiveness that leads to tangible business results is what’s going to lead to agency growth and success. “When you look at it like that, then there’s no need to have ‘Cannesxiety.’ Push for real results. Not trophies.”
Andre Toledo, chief creative officer at David New York, thinks that Cannes is a motivator and one of the shows that inspires the industry to celebrate the best of the best.
“We all want to be part of that reel,” Toledo told Adweek. “Cannes celebrates the ideas that drive progress, so clients that believe in the power of ideas want to see their work there. We should put pressure on doing outstanding campaigns for our clients throughout the year.”
Taylor said that giving the stress of Cannes a fun term brings some levity, and the Ogilvy team even made some “Cannesxiety” antacids.
“We’re human. We get stressed. But we have some fun with it. We can laugh,” said Taylor, who added that Cannesxiety is not life-threatening anxiety and that the easiest way to cure Cannesxiety is by doing the best work. “The cure is great work - equity building, legacy making, culture changing, iconic work.”