graffiti in cannes

Iconic Film History & Frontier-Pushing Advertising in Cannes

If you have emailed me in the past couple of weeks you may have received an out-of-office response. You may have even wondered where I have been. If you follow me on Instagram however, you will have been spammed with content that could leave you in no doubt. Like anyone whose generally dormant Instagram account suddenly springs into life for a fortnight, I have been on holiday.

Get Away From all Things Film… In Cannes?

In a bizarre twist, while taking a break from video production and commercial film I headed directly to Cannes, France. But isn’t that the home of the world-famous Cannes Film Festival? Correct. Isn’t it also the host venue of Cannes Lions the world’s most prestigious advertising festival? The very same. So while I contentedly cycled along the Côte d’Azur quaffing champagne and cracking crème brûlée I would periodically be transported back to the world of advertising and film production. Whether it was one of the many murals around Cannes celebrating film production (which show far too many crew members strenuously holding equipment for my holiday disposition) or some of the incredible photographs of Hollywood stars and screen sirens around the town such as Phillipe Ledru’s still of Sean Connery and Roger Moore enjoying a drink and a cigar, I was never far from a reminder of film production. While I will concede that the latter of these two examples has a glamour that few of our – or anybody’s – productions have (two Bonds!) it was a reminder nonetheless.

The remnants of Cannes Lions festival, which had closed two days earlier, were also peppered throughout the town. Posters and stages, interactive displays and pop up bars lay quiet like ruins. Ruins that memorialise the marketing and advertising executives who had filled the town to promote, network, party, and blur the lines between the three. With marketing and advertising zeal and an industrious Hollywood drive in the air it was hard to forget about commercial video production, nor did I want to. In fact, I saw a whole new working life for myself. I could pick up emails anywhere. They have 4G in the French Riviera. With this, I started to formulate a plan for Groundbreak Cannes. The plan started with me eating black truffle camembert and has remained in incredibly preliminary stages since then. Watch this space.

Controversial Advertising

To give you a sense of the heady mix of iconic film history and frontier-pushing advertising that Cannes offers I need only to point you in the direction of one of this year’s Cannes Lions more controversial winners, and my all-time favourite historical Cannes Film Festival scandal (everybody has one!)

Taking numerous prizes at this year’s Cannes Lions was Burger King’s The Whopper Detour promoting Burger King’s mischievous offer of a Whopper burger for the price of one penny if you purchase it via their app and, crucially, within 600ft of a McDonald’s store. The offer was widely received as a masterpiece of trolling a rival by Burger King. The video showcases this perfectly as it shows pixelated hidden camera footage of people arriving at a McDonald’s drive-thru to buy a whopper. The McDonald’s staff, who range from confused to passive aggressive, deliver some perfect soundbites including one lady who explains that they could try and make a whopper but it wouldn’t be as good as Burger King’s. What more could Burger King’s marketing team hope for? C’est Parfait!

This marketing ploy reminded me of the story of Simone Silva. Silva was a young Egyptian-French actress whose star was still rising in 1954 when, having been crowned Miss Festival at Cannes, she was asked to pose for photographs with already bona fide Hollywood star Robert Mitchum. Seeing an opportunity to cause a stir Silva promptly took off her top to reveal her breasts. She cupped her breasts and posed and postured with Mitchum who was reported to have “played along’ although the pictures taken suggest he was at least mildly confounded. Seldom is a man unexpectedly presented with breasts and remains composed – Hollywood star or not. Even less composed were the photographers who scrambled and allegedly injured each other in the furore to get the perfect picture. Simone Silva, along with her breasts, became recognisable stars overnight.

Silva’s 1954 marketing ploy much like Burger King’s 2019 campaign shows a risqué, provocative move that aims to piggy back on a bigger name and cause controversy in a bid to promote oneself as a rebellious disruptor. With 73 years of film and advertising notoriety (the festival started in earnest in 1946 after a false start in 1939 due to perennial nuisance Adolf Hitler invading Poland) one could begin to wonder – is there something in the water in Cannes?

One could begin to wonder this, but I can confirm that after my own stunt of topless posing resulting in being stung by a jellyfish, that yes indeed there is something in the water and it will be more handsy with you than Robert Mitchum.

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