How Taxi Drivers Stole the Show at Cannes


by Sean Miller

It’s increasingly difficult for advertisers to grab people’s attention. But as the taxi strike in Cannes demonstrated, there’s a difference between getting attention and keeping it.

The most disruptive campaign at the Cannes Lions Festival of Creativity this year didn’t win a single award. But it still managed to capture the attention of the world’s marketing elite. It was a taxi strike against Uber, timed to cause maximum disruption to festival-goers’ travel plans.

On the morning many were set to leave the festival, the taxi union blocked vehicles from entering the airport. Frustrated delegates sat in gridlock. Many arrived late to their flights, dragging luggage – weighed down by award hardware? – the last mile to the terminal. Quelle horreur!

The strike was a fitting counterpoint to the unreality of the festival, where the biggest inconveniences were the lines outside beach parties. It was also perfectly timed, frustrating, and hilariously ironic. For a change, advertisers were forced to pay attention as a powerful few momentarily controlled the agenda, and stand-in as unwitting props in a campaign designed to generate awareness and conversation.

While the taxi strike had no bone to pick with the creative festival, it had everything to do with the currency of attention; in that regard, it hit the jackpot. Before the strike, the incredible volume of events, topics, and ads on display made it difficult for any single theme to break through. But after, at least for a few hours, the strike seemed to be the only common conversation thread across the festival.

It also served as a reminder of how hard it is to create a genuine campfire moment among a wide group of people. Advertisers work around this problem with stunts. We create set pieces that impose delight and wonder on an unsuspecting public, and then turn the scene into video content. The result can come off as insincere and unscrupulous, or generous and brilliant, depending on the idea within. Some of the most awarded work this year followed a similar model.

I wonder where these tactics lead. When today’s stunts become tomorrow’s conventions, will advertisers get more and more aggressive? Where will the slippery slope of capturing attention take us?

Attention is something that should be earned, not forced. And creativity is the only factor that separates forced attention from genuine interest. The taxi strike may have forced our attention, but little more. Only good ideas can win our hearts.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have an Uber to catch.