Cannes Lions, an event that has gathered creatives and marketers since 1954, boasts a roll call of showbiz stars, media chiefs and academics that gives it the feel of a cross of the Golden Globes, TED Talks and Davos. But the spotlight is not on the celebrities; instead, the fest focuses on content and the cross-pollination of creativity, commerce and culture.

If you look at the names of those who are speaking at the Riviera event, you’d be forgiven for thinking you were at a Hollywood after-party rather than an event traditionally associated with the worlds of advertising and marketing. TV talking heads including Conan O’Brien, Chris Cuomo and Shaquille O’Neal mingle with such filmmakers as Tyler Perry and James Marsh, actors Kevin Costner, Thandie Newton and Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, and music world habitués Paloma Faith, Common and Johnny Marr, formerly of the Smiths.

But to dwell on the glitzy names is a mistake, says Jose Papa, managing director of Cannes Lions. “What we are looking for is to really drive amazing, inspirational, ground-breaking, business-transformative content and viewpoints,” he says. “It is all about what the message is, and whom you are inspiring, because what we expect is to really transform viewpoints, challenge the boundaries of thinking, and we know this comes from a plethora of different individuals.”

The voices of the A-listers will compete with those of disparate speakers, each with their own take on the zeitgeist, such as “Fire and Fury” author Michael Wolff, academics including Michael Kimmel, an expert on masculinity, and such activists as Me Too founder Tarana Burke and three survivors of the Parkland, Fla., school shooting. Alongside these are figureheads from the media and digital worlds, such as global ad leader Martin Sorrell, who was recently ousted from advertising and marketing giant WPP, and Susan Wojcicki, CEO of YouTube.

Papa says he wants to provide a forum to individuals who “bring a creative spin and transformed journey” to the table. In the case of Marr, it’s about looking at the world from his perspective, and asking: “How do you push the boundaries by using the power of music?” There will be “a lot of discussion of cultural phenomena,” Papa says. The idea is not just to put in big names for the sake of it, but to bring to Cannes those with “a creative perspective that transforms businesses and society.”

In another session, American rapper Vic Mensa talks with Jason Peterson, chief creative officer and co-chair of Havas U.S. Creative, about how it is “increasingly important to have an open dialogue with brands about the ever-evolving culture of hip-hop, and how it’s impacting the way consumers act, think and buy,” according to the Lions’ program notes.

In his session, Costner will talk with Paramount Network’s chief marketing officer Niels Schuurmans about his TV series “Yellowstone” (pictured above), and how brands can “create immersive entertainment experiences through engaging storytelling.”

In 2011, the Lions rebranded itself as a “festival of creativity,” but long before that it had progressed “from being a festival of advertising to truly embracing what creativity means in a convergent, cultural-driven world,” Papa says.
The Lions’ focus on the intersection between entertainment and brands is as strong as ever, as the disruption caused by the digital platforms and other technological innovators gathers pace, Papa says. “It is in entertainment that you see the true convergence of content and culture.”

In one session, Marsh, the director of Oscar winner “Man on Wire” and Oscar nominee “The Theory of Everything,” and Davud Karbassioun, global president of commercials and branded at Pulse Films, will debate whether, as “old Hollywood is crumbling,” there are “opportunities for forward-thinking platforms/brands to help liberate the very best creativity in film,” the Lions’ website states.

Papa says that in a world “where technology is so disruptive, the human element and the creative spirit has never been so important.” The Lions’ relevance in this disrupted world is that “where you have fragmented viewpoints and technology, it is the creative spin that brings everything together.”

The digital disruptors will be out in force in Cannes. “They are a fundamental, not to say an instrumental, part of the development of the whole industry,” Papa says. “They are part of this very complex ecosystem, with all the changes that we have seen across the entire spectrum of media. We feel proud to have them engaged with us to the level they are. It makes sense in today’s transformed communications ecosystem.”

Variety at the Lions

Variety continues its major presence at the Riviera event through the Variety Cannes Lions Studio Presented by Inscape with Support from iSpot.tv. The studio features thought-leaders in branding, storytelling and audience engagement. Interviews by Variety editors will cover trends and strategies in entertainment marketing and advertising, including how creativity and data are driving the industry forward. Confirmed speakers include:

Jodie McAfee, SVP sales and marketing, Inscape
Sean Muller, founder & CEO, iSpot.tv
Fernando Machado, global CMO, Burger King
Suzy Deering, CMO, eBay
Syl Saller, chief marketing officer, Diageo
Randy Freer, CEO, Hulu
Kelly Campbell, CMO, Hulu
Michael Wolff, author
Jeff Goodby, Goodby Silverstein & Partners
Brian Sullivan, president, Fox Networks Group
Dawn Ostroff, president, Conde Nast Entertainment
Stephanie McMahon, chief brand officer, WWE
Sean Moran, head of partner solutions, Viacom
Donna Speciale, president advertising sales, Turner
Susan Schiekofer, chief digital investment officer, GroupM
Marc Mathieu, CMO, Samsung
Jennifer Sey, CMO, Levi’s
Johnny Marr, musician
Rebecca Minkoff, designer
Jonathan Nelson, CEO, Omnicom Digital
Sophia Amoruso, CEO, Girlboss
Arun Kumar, chief data and marketing tech officer, IPG
Roger Lynch, CEO, & Aimee Lapic, CMO; Pandora
John Osborn, CEO, OMD
Jo Ann Ross, president and chief ad revenue officer, CBS
Linda Yaccarino, chairman ad sales and client partnerships, NBC Universal
Joe Marchese, president, ad revenue, Fox Networks
Adam Rippon, athlete
Mikaela Shiffrin, athlete
Andrew Panay, producer
Common, musician
Kathleen Hall, corporate VP, Microsoft
Lena Waithe, actor, producer
Valerie Vargas, SVP AT&T’s Advertising & Creator Lab
Jennifer Breithaupt, CMO, Citi
Susan Sommersille Johnson, CMO, SunTrust Bank