Cannes Lions 2020 Is Canceled, Rescheduled for 2021

Bowing to pressure from agency holding companies, Ascential has canceled the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity for 2020.

The ad industry’s largest annual event was postponed on March 18 from its regular timing in late June to late October 2020, due to the coronavirus pandemic. The festival will now resume in June 2021, when award submissions from 2020 will be eligible.

“As the impact from COVID-19 continues to be felt across the world on consumers and our customers across the marketing, creative and media industries, it has become clear to us our customers’ priorities have shifted to the need to protect people, to serve consumers with essential items and to focus on preserving companies, society and economies,” the festival organizers said in a statement.

Pressure had been mounting since the festival was rescheduled.

Agency holding companies, worried about the optics of networking and partying on the French Riviera in the midst of a recession that will almost certainly affect their businesses, immediately threatened to pull out. Every major holding company has either withdrawn their financial guidance for 2020 or warned investors that the coronavirus will impact their businesses.

IPG CEO Michael Roth sent a letter to its agencies asking them to scale back both their attendance and awards submissions for the October show. In addition to cutting executive salaries, WPP banned all nondiscretionary spending on travel, hotels and awards shows. At Omnicom there has been talk of pulling back on 2020 awards shows, and a Dentsu Aegis spokesperson called for “an alternative awards approach.”

With the Olympics postponed, the upfront negotiations in flux and a quarter of all brands pausing marketing spend through Q2, much of the creative work that would be up for Cannes Lions awards has been halted.

The holding companies’ unified response indicates that lavish award shows such as Cannes are bucketed under “nondiscretionary spending” in times of crisis. Holding companies spend tens of millions of dollars on Cannes annually, and sitting out the event could offer much-needed cost savings during a recession.

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