CANNES, France—Cannes Lions 2016 has its first truly cringeworthy moment, in the form of a party invitation seeking “attractive females and models only.”
The email went out to a number of festival participants who planned to attend The Wednesday Party, an event sponsored by digital agency VaynerMedia and media company Thrillist Media Group with a musical performance by Wyclef Jean.
One female agency executive tells Adweek that she and two female colleagues all received the email while having lunch in Cannes yesterday. One then forwarded it to women’s advocate and agency veteran Cindy Gallop, who subsequently shared it on Twitter and wrote, “It’s 2016, @vaynermedia @thrillist. This is not how you party at @cannes_lions.”
— Cindy Gallop (@cindygallop) June 22, 2016
The email was sent by events company iGetIn. Its key section reads (emphasis via the sender of the message): “Thank you for your interest in attending!! Please be aware that this specific list is for attractive females and models only.”
The note, which was also shared by members of the public Facebook group Cannes for Cannesseurs, then instructs male attendees to “contact the PR departments of the respective sponsors” if they want to get into the party.
It then requests that women interested in attending send “recent untouched photos and/or your Instagram/Facebook links for you and each of your additional female guest [sic],” adding, “once we have reviewed we will send you specific entry details.”
The message does not clarify what this review would entail or which party will determine whether invitees qualify as “attractive females.” Also, if the whole thing is a joke, it’s a poor one—and there’s no wink in the email to indicate that it is a joke.
The email has become a minor scandal at a festival that has included messages of female empowerment from such speakers as Madonna Badger of #WomenNotObjects fame. Before forwarding it to Gallop, one of the executives in question called the number listed, where a representative told her that such demands are “a totally normal practice.”
VaynerMedia founder and CEO Gary Vaynerchuk quickly responded to Gallop and others on Twitter with multiple videos shot while he was walking around the festival. In the first, he said he was “mortified” by the email and, as the agency’s CEO, took responsibility for it.
— Gary Vaynerchuk (@garyvee) June 22, 2016
In a subsequent video response to another party, Vaynerchuk said he is “trying to get to the bottom of it.” Thrillist Media Group founder Ben Lerer was defensive about the email, tweeting, “Guys, this is promoter spam. Would appreciate a little more credit.”
A spokesperson for VaynerMedia tells Adweek that—as Vaynerchuk said in his video—the agency was not directly involved in hiring the company that sent the email and that the message itself was not reflective of the company or its culture. The female executive who forwarded the email also says that Vaynerchuk reached out to her directly to apologize.
A Thrillist spokesperson states that this email blast was not a legitimate invite to the event, writing, “A third party promotions company sent this email without us knowing. We apologize to anyone who was spammed with this but it didn’t come from Thrillist or Vayner. The guest list for the party has been closed for some time and will not include anyone who replies to that email.”
Adweek has reached out to representatives from iGetIn but has yet to receive any official response.