Cannes Lions ad festival may not roar so loudly this year

The Cannes Lions International Advertising Festival on the French Riviera — the ad world's biggest annual awards competition and trade show— is as known for its revelry as it is for its educational seminars and trophy ceremonies.

Lavish dinners, bottles of champagne and luxury hotel suites are among the charges frequently showing up on corporate credit cards.

But this year's show, for which registration just opened, is shaping up to be a smaller and more muted affair. The industry is coping with still falling ad budgets and media spending amid a global recession. Much of the glitz — as well as the more serious and professional endeavors — will fall by the wayside at the week-long festival in June.

The cutbacks come as the cost to send a single U.S. "delegate" could easily hit more than $8,000 for registration (2,601 euros including tax, or about $3,500), airfare, food and lodging.

The event had more than 10,000 attendees in 2008, 8% from the U.S., but is not likely to repeat that this year, festival CEO Phil Thomas says.

"It would be naive of us to imagine that (the festival) alone as a business would not be affected in 2009," he says. "There's no point in pretending it won't be a difficult year."

Big ad and media agencies including BBDO, Saatchi & Saatchi and Initiative say they will be selective in deciding which employees to send.

"We are reviewing attendance across the board in relation to industry events and conferences," Initiative CEO Richard Beaven says.

Some agencies say they'll also reduce Cannes expenses by submitting fewer entries for the prestigious competition to be named best ads in the world. Fees for each ad entered range from 270 euros to 1,150 euros (about $365 to $1,550.)

But even as they slice spending, ad firms won't abandon Cannes completely.

"Inevitably, this degree of careful selection will mean fewer delegates overall … but we must continue to develop our industry and invest in thought leadership, even in the toughest of times," Beaven says.

Rob Feakins, chief creative officer at Publicis New York, takes a positive view of the cutbacks.

In past years, he's seen attendees so "preoccupied" with the partylike atmosphere that they skip out on some of the professional aspects of the show, such as the displays of global advertising.

"In today's economy, that behavior seems especially inappropriate and irresponsible," he says. "I actually think cutting back is a good thing, an opportunity for Cannes to get back to its real reason for being: to recognize the best creative (advertising) in the world."

Presidential Pepsi

What's red, white and blue, round in shape and has some curvy lines? President-elect Barack Obama's logo. Pepsi's new logo, too. Adding to "Obama brand" and "Pepsi brand" similarities: Both camps are preaching a message of optimism and hope.

Pepsi spokeswoman Nicole Bradley says that no marketing ideas were exchanged between the Pepsi and Obama teams. "We can't speak to the president-elect's design sensibilities, but we're all over his prevailing spirit of optimism," she says. "That's as refreshingly bipartisan as it gets."

Cheesy 'n cheaper

T.G.I. Friday's went on a nationwide search for the ultimate comfort food in tough times, and it came up with an Ad Team favorite: mac 'n cheese.

Not just any macaroni & cheese, mind you, but new Gourmet Mac 'n Five Cheese. The five cheeses: fontina, bleu, Gruyère, white cheddar and Parmesan. It's tossed with bacon and penne pasta and served with grilled chicken breast. The dish, which hits menus this month, came from a 58-year-old retired Los Angeles Police Department SWAT officer. It won a $25,000 prize from Friday's, via a Food Network competition. The real consumer hook: value. The new $5.99 mac meal replaces the chain's $7.99 Southwest Mac 'N Cheese.

Tell us about the Super Bowl ads

With the Super Bowl about three weeks away (Feb. 1), the Ad Team is wondering what tone those big-budget commercials will take as the nation wrangles with its worst economic crisis in decades. After the Sept. 11 attacks, many ads took on a somber tone. We're now wondering what folks will expect — and want to see — in the ads this year.

We'd like you to tell us what you think.

Should this year's commercials be subdued to fit the economy? Or should the ads give viewers a day off from the drumbeat of bad news with fun, glitz and humor? Comment below or e-mail Laura Petrecca at