Since returning from the South By South West Interactive Festival last month a few people have told me they didn’t bother going all the way to Austin because they’re planning on going to Cannes, “and they’re basically the same kind of thing really aren’t they?”.
To me the two entities seemed so wildly different these comments appeared misguided to say the least.
These people turned out not to have actually been to both, but perhaps the subject matter alone might have given a bit of a clue: Cannes, despite having changed its name to The Festival of Creativity is basically about advertising, whilst SXSWi is basically about stuff you can do and make in the digital realm.
However, when you set aside the cost of a delegates pass (£2400 for The Cannes Festival of Creativity / £370 for SXSW), the accommodation (The Ritz Carlton on Le Croissette / The Holiday Inn, Downtown) and the locals (Ferrari driving playboys in Cannes / Harley riding bikers in Austin) you know what? There are plenty of similarities.
They both have seminars and panels.
Cannes has around 60 events. Clients, agencies and production companies discuss case studies and talk about valuable lessons learned.
SXSW has around 2000 events. Philosophers, journalists, designers, neuro scientists, TV stars, writers, buddhist monks talk about how the world is evolving due of technology and how human beings are evolving in turn.
They both have awards ceremonies.
At Cannes, for those who have managed to blag a delegates pass or are sober enough to pick theirs up, these are the highlights of the week: the fruits of the hardworking jurors labours. They offer the opportunity to view winning work, and boo the winning creatives on their way to the podium.
The prize giving in Austin is a little different. It’s on the last night, tucked away in one of the many event venues. No one really knows it exists. Indeed there’s no guarantee the winners will bother turning up. The recognition that comes from winning things isn't why they’re there.
They both have exhibitions.
In the basement of the Palais de Festivals are laid out all the entries the Cannes juries have deemed worthy of awards and commendations.
In two massive hangar like spaces at SXSW are demonstrated all the apps and games that will be changing the world over the coming months. (Things like the next Twitter or Foursquare, both of which were originally launched there.)
They both offer excellent networking opportunities.
Cannes allows creatives from agencies all over the world to meet with old friends, make new ones, and, with a bit of luck, get offered their next job.
SXSW allows entrepreneurs who have an idea, but no financial backing or partners, the exposure to potential investors and tech businesses that could make their baby fly.
Yes. There are many similarities.
But there is one big difference.
The look in peoples’ eyes.
Most of the Cannes-ites are in relaxation mode. When they’re not lying by the pool at their agency’s villa or playing golf, they’re having lunch. Or dinner. Or cocktails. For the Cannes ad fraternity business and pleasure do mix.
The only people with a slightly predatory stare are the ones who believe they’ve done a piece of work that year that might just sneak a Lion.
The Cannes festival is all about celebrating the past year’s greatness. Looking back on the best work the world has produced and giving credit to the craftsmen behind it.
The SXSW-ers on the other hand are far from relaxed.
They couldn’t give a flying fuck about the past. Last year? Pah! This morning was decades ago. These are serious business people, most of them have their livelihoods on the line, having brought to life some idea or other with nothing but sweat and code. They have a look of controlled panic in their eyes as they rush from panel to panel (there are a lot of them remember) desperate to learn where’s next in tech and human behaviour, how they can add value to their existing products, how they can make new ones and, and hopefully, how they can make a bit of money.
They may take a few hours off to relax as the night draws on. Once they’ve filed their blogs, fixed a few bugs and gathered as many business cards as their wallets can carry.
These guys'll will celebrate when they fulfil their dream. When their business takes off. When they make their first billion.
If you haven’t been to both Cannes and SXSW you should.
If only to experience the contrast.
For all their similarities they really are two wonderfully different worlds.