Gavin McLeod’s Cannes Diary #1

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Gavin McLeod’s Cannes Diary #1

Gavin McLeod, chief creative officer at CHEP Network is representing Australia on the Cannes Social & Influencer jury. McLeod, along with most of the other Australian and NZ jurors, writes exclusively for CB.


I’m stoked to finally be in Cannes! It’s a long slog to get here and an even longer one working through the many hours of pre-judging that happens before even stepping foot in the Palais. Speaking of setting foot, I have to mention the fabulous footwear of one of our judges, Hamza Amjad from Ogilvy Pakistan, who has completely killed it in the fashion stakes!

Observations from pre-judging? Firstly, there’s a seismic shift at the Cannes Lions. Our jury briefings, which were impressively thorough, made it clear: it’s all about substance over style. Sure, the glitz is great, but this festival focuses on awarding work that delivers for real clients. As Amy Ferguson, our Jury President, has emphasised, results matter. If it doesn’t move the needle, it shouldn’t make the cut.

Next, Brazil, the USA, and, perhaps surprisingly, the Middle East are powerhouses in Social & Influencer. The sheer volume of interesting work coming from these three regions, compared to Australia and New Zealand, is impressive.

But the biggest trend (and already a cliché) was AI voiceovers on case studies. It felt like everyone started using them this year and almost universally decided their VO needed to sound like a cool US rapper. I miss the authenticity of voiceovers with a charmingly wonky grasp of English!

Speaking of overused, note to self: making a song for social sung by a once-huge pop star is everyone’s go-to move. Nostalgia is powerful, but I’ve seen more ‘comeback tours’ in these case studies than I care to admit.

Despite these gripes, there were some genuinely standout moments. Campaigns that not only ticked the boxes but also tugged at the heartstrings and made us laugh out loud. The kind of work that reminds you why you fell in love with this industry in the first place.

Our shortlist sparked fascinating debate as we spent our first day of in-person judging refining it. The single biggest question asked was, “But what made it social?” It’s a worthwhile question, as there was a lot of work we loved, but under deeper examination, it felt more suited to categories like PR. We finished at 9pm with a finalised shortlist that we’re feeling good about. Judging was so enjoyable it didn’t feel like a long slog at all and I’m looking forward to tomorrow where we start awarding. Good luck to everyone who got through!