The French Riviera hasn’t seen an abdication like it since the Duke and Duchess of Windsor lived here.
In private, Cannes Lions judges debated the year’s best media strategies and awarded one Grand Prix to a controversial Australian campaign for male deodorant featuring an imaginary airline offering Mile High Club membership. But publicly speakers questioned whether traditional media strategy worked at all.
Agencies and media owners warned that the rise of digital media and sales of devices - from iPods to PCs and smart video recorders - put “consumers in control”.
Individuals were creating their own content in blogs and broadband videos distributed over the internet, the medium that Sir Martin Sorrell, chief executive of WPP, on Tuesday branded “socialistic” in its challenge to conventional media business models.
Craig Davis, worldwide creative director of the JWT advertising agency, told delegates at the Lions, the industry’s leading awards: “The redefinition of advertising is not being led by ad agencies. It is a consumer-driven phenomenon. There are just so many ways to say no to advertising.”
Universal McCann, the buying and planning network whose Sydney office actually won the media Grand Prix, said advertising was split, experiencing “unprecedented levels of control and chaos at the same time”.
Even Microsoft named its seminar here “The lion has escaped its cage” - presumably not a reference to its founder Bill Gates’ recent decision to reduce daily commitments to the US software group.
Chris Dobson, vice president of international sales and advertising for Microsoft, said: “There is a journey for advertisers to make. They have to accept they will not be in total control of the environment their brands appear in.”
As one example of its attempts to exploit the trend, Microsoft is testing services to allow users to its online services to upload their own videos as they do on Youtube.com, the fastgrowing upload website.
Ironically, the arguments that consumers are in charge are being orchestrated here with almost military precision and via huge amount of conventionally generated publicity aimed at so-called old media.
For its main session at the Cannes festival, JWT flew in Arianna Huffington, founder of The Huffington Post, the US news and current affairs blog on which the agency is running advertisements in an experiment which will surely please Sir Martin, whose group owns JWT.
Campaigns for brands including Jetblue, the discount airline, appear on the site with bloggers commenting - not always favourably.
Ms Huffington said her blog was profitable and growing and challenged the decision of some publishers, such as The New York Times, to restrict some web content to subscribers only.
Arguing that web consumers would only pay for some content, including financial data and porn, Ms Huffington said: “The model (for blogs) has to be advertising-supported, though advertising is moving more slowly online than people think.”
For the same session, JWT also turned to Hollywood rather than the homemade. It drafted in Martin Sheen, who played the american president in “The West Wing”, and Michael Patrick King, a creator of “Sex And the City”, the television series. User-generated content was conspicuously absent.
But Mr Davis said advertisers had to continue to tap popular culture to keep consumers interested: “The challenge to us is to stop interrupting what people are interested in and be what people are interested in.”