Predictions are notoriously useless. Looking back over predictive articles from the last century you will read promises of flying cars, pills that instantly cure any illness…
...oh, and we were supposed to be able to control the weather by now. Didn’t happen. Science fiction authors did predict 3D printing (Arthur C. Clarke), social media (J.G. Ballard) and nuclear accidents (Philip K. Dick).
But they also got a lot wrong. In his landmark Foundation series, Isaac Asimov depicted enormous spaceships criss-crossing the universe, carrying passengers, mineral deposits, and mail. Wait a second. We have faster-than-light propulsion but we’re still sending letters?
Often predictions do come to pass, just not in the way the seer envisaged. A famous series of French visions of the future from 1899 included the above take on the vacuum cleaner. Technically, it’s laughable, but the thinking is not wrong; the artist has correctly identified the trend for increasing automation and was right to apply it to domestic drudgery.
So, would it have been possible, back in 1922, to predict the advertising landscape that we see today? It wouldn’t have been easy. A hundred years ago there were no TV ads (the first TV ad was broadcast in New York in 1941).
And yet, cinema advertising had existed since 1897, so it should have been possible to predict that, one day, we would all have our own cinema screen, first in our living rooms, and then in our pockets.
There were no radio ads either. In 1921, a group of investment associates turned down the opportunity to put money into radio advertising, famously predicting that "the wireless music box has no imaginable commercial value. Who would pay for a message sent to no one in particular?".
But this quote may even have been ludicrous at the time (radio advertising did, in fact, begin in August 1922) since it was obvious that consumers were directing their attention towards their radios, and anywhere a human being places their attention is a sensible spot for a marketer to place an ad. That hasn’t changed since the ancient Egyptians used papyrus to make posters, so there’s no reason to expect it will change in the next 100 years.
Therefore the real question becomes ‘where will humans be placing their attention in 100 years’ time?’.
Since we are fascinated by other humans, it seems likely that depictions of other people’s lives will continue. Film is on a long trajectory of becoming more and more lifelike. Early movies were black and white and soundless, whereas real life clearly is not. Just as sound and colour were added as soon as that became technically possible, it seems reasonable to assume that film will soon enough be brought into the third dimension, with sound and vision augmented by life’s smells and sensations.
Some claim that VR could ruin our eyes, or that long periods spent in the metaverse could be seriously destabilising, since it shuts off the peripheral vision that – over evolutionary time – has helped us avoid predator attacks. Then again, early critics of the motor car doubted that humans could survive at speeds greater than 40 miles per hour.
Once film has incorporated every element of the external world it will be interesting to see if storytellers can take the next step and weave tales out of pure thought and emotion. Doctors, scientists and software engineers are rapidly developing techniques to read our minds, so it seems reasonable to assume that, by 2122, this will be an everyday occurrence. ‘Thoughtvertising’ will beam directly into our brains, in the breaks between the direct-to-cortex dramas and game shows that it funds.
So, what of the festival itself? Cannes began in 1954 (originally in Venice – the Lions are modelled after the lion of the Piazza San Marco). Initially, it only celebrated cinema advertising, since most countries did not yet have TV advertising, which was not introduced until 1955 in the UK, and 1956 in Australia.
Gradually, categories other than Film were introduced; Press & Outdoor Lions in 1992, Media Lions in 1999, Branded Content and Entertainment Lions in 2012. So, it seems reasonable to assume that whatever new advertising media are invented, Cannes will cover them, and the award-winners will still announce to the world how ‘humbled’ they are, on whatever is the 22nd-century equivalent of LinkedIn.
It’s interesting to ponder what the effect on the festival will be once advertising films have progressed to the level where the experience of watching them has become indistinguishable from real life. Assuming that we will enter these films via some kind of metaverse, akin to the holodeck in Star Trek, or the virtual reality simulation of Ready Player One, then presumably Cannes itself could feature in the metaverse, and there would arguably be no need to attend the festival in person.
Except an advertisement is usually a fixed story – deliberately so, since a brand wants to communicate a specific message or feeling about itself. Whereas an interaction between two humans is not fixed, but rather flexible and open-ended.
Therefore, it seems possible that, while the ads themselves could be experienced flawlessly from anywhere, and delegates who are short of time or money will no doubt be able to enjoy a ‘virtual Cannes’, there will still be a place for physical attendance at the event.
After all, throughout Cannes’ 68-year history it has always been equal parts celebration-of-good-work, and networking event. Even in works of science fiction, in which the metaverse has been perfected, in-person interaction is still generally preferred.
We humans have always been social animals, so it seems inevitable that the networking will continue. As will the relaxation, the ‘fraternisation’, intoxication, job-seeking, schmoozing, and the crushing feelings of regret when you wake up at 11am the next day in a hotel room that’s not your own. The consumption of rosé will surely still be astronomical, the yachts otherworldly and the egos stratospheric.
The one thing that will definitely improve will be the parking. Why? Flying cars.