Cannes Lions goes digital only for 2021

The hopeful—some might have said naive—plans of Cannes Lions organizers have once again been undone by the coronavirus.

After the in-person festival was first postponed and then cancelled last year, the ad industry’s largest global awards show/conference/party had said it would hold an in-person event this June. It announced the switch to an entirely virtual event in a statement early Wednesday morning.

But while nobody will be able to take the stage at the Palais des Festivals to accept a Lion this year, trophies will nonetheless be handed out between June 21 and 25.

“After the benchmark of the awards was paused last year, we want to be able to give our community the chance to immerse themselves in the creative work once again,” said Simon Cook, managing director of the Lions in a statement.

“We’ll be championing the work on a huge scale—tracking progress throughout the week, analyzing the winners, delivering insights, identifying new talent—it’s the return of the benchmark and a moment for the industry to reflect but also look forward.”

With the live festival on hold during the pandemic, Cannes Lions organizers made a number of moves in the last year to stay connected to the industry and reinforce the event’s position as a champion of, and source for, creative inspiration in marketing and business.

It hosted a number of online Cannes Lions Live events, and last month introduced a Lions Membership—”a year-round platform created to unite the global creative community through access to inspiration, learning, creative resources, a global directory of talent, and both digital and physical community gatherings.”

Philip Thomas, chair of the Lions, emphasized both of those offerings to put a positive spin on Wednesday’s news.

“Over the last year, we’ve been consulting with our customers and working on our plans, including the development of Cannes Lions Live as part of the new Lions Membership platform,” said Thomas in a statement. “We are now able to move fully to this format for 2021—which will have all the celebration, inspiration and participation of Cannes Lions—to unite the global community virtually during Cannes Lions Live this June.”

The announcement comes as much of the world continues to struggle to contain the coronavirus, with France itself in the middle of a particularly daunting third wave that has grown steadily since the start of the year.

In January, when organizers said they planned to hold the event in person this June, they were optimistic about the effects of the vaccine. “While travel is currently constrained, the availability of multiple vaccines offers hope that we can be together in June, even if we need to limit the numbers of delegates who can safely attend,” said Thomas in a statement at the time.

David Brown