This year, Cannes Lions Festival, or International Festival of Creativity, saw a record crowd all converging on the beautiful resort town on the French Riviera. While the event has now ended, the education, collaboration and new partnerships formed will help to shape the future of advertising, technology, creativity and branding. Burning issues like “woke-washing” and a shift in the idea of turning away from big brands with deep pockets but false purpose were top of conversation.

New hybrid agencies descended on the event bringing a fresh perspective to this innovative breed of companies merging to provide solutions and stay relevant in this complicated industry. Another emerging industry also made its presence known. Top cannabis executives, investors, publishers and influencers joined the fray to share in the high level deal making. MediaJel was one of those companies, appearing on several panels and working to bring a higher level of understanding and unique perspective to the conversation.

The question remains, how to bust the cannabis stigma and break into mainstream advertising alongside household brands. The conversation is shifting daily, but there is still much work to be done.

Cannabis in Cannes

Cannabis was definitely on the minds of leading ad execs at Cannes. If not at the front, at least ideas were percolating as big brands like Coca-Cola, Walgreens, Dominos and Walmart have made it known that they are making moves into the space.

HEXO, a cannabis brand for active, curious and social explorers, was one of the 100 brands speaking at Cannes this year. The topic was, “Fighting Stigma to Build a Global Cannabis Brand.” Adam Miron, the company’s co-founder and Chief Brand Officer, spoke about their Never Jaded Tour which served to offer cannabis consumers a stigma-free zone to explore their passions in food, music, art and culture. According to Miron, “It put us in front of our audience in a very clever way and created meaningful connections with them. It broke new ground on how to capture awareness, affinity and loyalty on a global scale, in a completely greenfield industry. And it became a new gold standard for marketing the unmarketable.”

There were several panels that incorporated cannabis into the discussion. As word spread that cannabis would be integrated, crowds certainly seemed to swell. Acceptance was abundant, and even those who made it clear that they cannot engage cannabis brands at this time certainly seemed to be collecting data and doing due diligence for the future. This was highly encouraging. 

MediaJel CEO, Jake Litke, moderated a fireside chat, Behind the Throne. The panel focused on the marketing components that helped propel HBO’s Game of Thrones to a pop culture phenomenon. Dash Rothberg, MediaJels’ VP of Partnerships did a deep dive into “a healthy relationship” between brands and agencies with T-Mobile’s VP of Creative Experience, Michael Miller and their product marketing agency of record, Work & Co, Mohan Ramaswamy. Finally, Aaron Silverman finished off the week on a panel focused on the “personalization of data.” 

Looking to Cannes Lions 2020

While advertising leaders were just getting their feet wet with the cannabis industry and how to leverage the data, it was certainly clear that they are eager to capitalize on the cannabis industry and tackle a challenging space in ground-breaking ways. More than on executive was heard “We know the rush is coming and if we don’t get ahead today we will be behind tomorrow.” 

Next year will certainly see a larger inclusion of not only cannabis-specific brands and companies servicing those brands, but we should expect to see some huge mainstream brands coming out of the shadows and showcasing their successes in the space. Cannabis companies haven’t always been welcome at marquee events like Cannes Lions. There has been a palpable shift in acceptance and it is so awe-inspiring to be a part of that evolution.