The Cannes Film Festival attracts nearly 5,000 media guests from around the world to the South of France each year to report on the film industry and its stars. But in recent years, Hollywood has had to share the spotlight with the luxury industry, as global brands have dominated the festival with sponsorship programs, VIP events and high-profile marketing activations.
As Le Monde reported, “l’enjeu de l’image” – the strategic importance of being seen amidst the festival’s in-crowd – has become an obsession for many luxury brands because of its impact on brand recognition, popularity and ultimately, sales.
Cannes-mania extended across a range of lifestyle product categories this year, from Chopard jewels and Dessange chignons, to L’Oréal lipsticks and Renault’s fleet of private cars (not to mention, their sea of strategically logoed umbrellas that infiltrated the red carpet during storms).
Every aspect of the Cannes experience was branded and trumpeted to reporters worldwide via a flurry of press releases after each nightly “montée des marches,” when stars and their teams made their grand entrance into the festival’s main screening room.
For one luxury product category, however, this tactic was off-limits. Alcohol brands, while omnipresent at a festival where lavish nightlife is a main attraction, can’t engage in direct product placement or endorsement because of France’s Loi Évin, a strict policy that regulates communication and advertising for alcoholic beverages.
In the most basic terms, brands can promote the drink, but not the drinker.
As a result, alcohol brands that have official sponsorships or partnerships at Cannes are required to adopt innovative marketing strategies that showcase their products through a wider and more subtle lens by associating their brands with a lifestyle, philosophy or emotional experience (as opposed to creating an explicit link with an individual persona).
Among the various alcohol brand activities at this year’s festival, three main trends emerged.
Leveraging a cinematic legacy
Showcasing a legitimate connection to the festival’s main event – cinema – lends significance and credibility to a brand’s presence at Cannes, appeasing the tension between artistic integrity and abrasive commerciality.
Champagne brands, in particular, played up their historic support of the film industry via a variety of tactics, including limited-edition packaging (Piper-Heidsieck’s VIP bottles featured a bracelet of golden film coil wrapped around the neck, in celebration of the brand’s 20th year as Cannes’ Official Champagne Supplier), as well as sponsorships of the festival’s most talked-about film events.
Moët & Chandon drew much envy as an Official Partner of The Great Gatsby, the festival’s opening film. The vintage Moët champagne and many of the house’s signature symbols – oversized Balthazar bottles and champagne-coupe pyramids – dominate the film’s party scenes, although the film’s production team maintains that the choice was driven by “historical accuracy,” and not product placement.
To celebrate this apparently felicitous fact, Moët spared no expense at the extravagant after-party, where nearly 700 guests toasted to the same 1921 vintage as seen throughout the film.
Curating creative pop-up spaces
Ephemeral “it-spots” are a long-standing tradition at Cannes, with new bars, nightclubs, cafés and restaurants popping up each year along the beachside Croisette boulevard.
This year, alcohol brands marked a change in tone by channeling an eclectic underground vibe. From Belvedere’s “Chambre Noire # Factory” (an atelier for photo shoots, concerts and cocktails inspired by Warhol’s 1960s New York studio) to Grey Goose’s “Carré Bleu” (an elegant open-walled concert space outside the Grand Hotel, which hosted up-and-coming French musical talent), brands showed off their artistic inspiration and creative energy.
Chivas Regal, a long-time partner of the festival known for its elite brand positioning and its omnipresence at the luxurious Hotel Martinez, also adopted a more relaxed approach, partnering with American apparel brand Eastpak to host a surf-inspired photo studio and artistic workshops at the brand’s private bar space on the neighbouring Chérie Cheri beach.
Cultivating an A-List attitude
Exclusivity is the name of the game at Cannes, and several brands adopted a VVIP-only approach. The Mouton Cadet wine bar on the terrace of the Palais des Festivals catered to A-listers on-the-go, providing “beauty rooms” for stars to freshen up between interviews and hosting exclusive soirées.
Marion Cotillard, Sofia Coppola and James Franco are reported to have been regulars this year.
Martini, similarly, leveraged its 150-year history and long-standing relationships with film industry insiders (including brand ambassadors Sharon Stone, Charlize Theron and Monica Bellucci) at the “Terrazza Martini,” an ultra-selective private bar which returned to Cannes for its eighth consecutive year with an army of discerning bouncers.
The most effective strategies, however, are sometimes the ones that leave the least room to the imagination.
Cointreau proved this point with an electric performance by burlesque icon Dita Von Teese, whose bold routine (concluding with Von Teese immersed, fully naked, in a giant Swarovski martini glass) perfectly embodied the brand’s sly mantra: “Be Cointreauversial.”