Alexander Nix, co-founder of defunct polling firm Cambridge Analytica who had been scheduled to speak at Cannes on Thursday evening, has pulled out of the event after controversy over his appearance reached a boiling point.
A spokesperson for the festival confirmed that Nix canceled approximately 24 hours before the event. The news came after reports that the makers of The Great Hack, a forthcoming Netflix documentary about the company and the controversy surrounding a breach that exposed the personal data of more than 80 million Facebook users in the run-up to the 2016 election, had planned a special screening of their film on the same day Nix would join a panel moderated by Financial Times U.S. managing editor Gillian Tett.
“Alexander Nix, former CEO and founder of Cambridge Analytica will no longer be speaking in the Debussy Theatre on Thursday, 20 June. Cannes Lions accepts his decision to withdraw,” said the Cannes spokesperson in a statement. “The festival is currently taking place, with over 600 speakers from across all industries addressing brands, agencies, media companies and consultancies in creative communications.”
Nix could not be reached for comment at press time.
Carole Cadwalladr of The Guardian, who led the reporting on Cambridge Analytica in 2018, was among the first to mention the rumored cancellation on Twitter.
News that Nix, a right-wing activist who played a key role in the Brexit movement and used the N-word to refer to the prime minister of Barbados in emails published by The Guardian last year, would be a featured speaker inspired outrage among many in the ad industry. One anonymous individual wrote an op-ed to Philip Thomas, CEO of Cannes parent company Ascential, earlier this month in The Drum demanding Nix be removed and stating that they had “cut my Lion in half and sent it back.”
Steve Weiss, CEO of digital agency MuteSix, told Adweek that Nix’s appearance was “a way to sell tickets and drum up interest, which has been declining in recent years.”
Earlier today, The Hollywood Reporter wrote that Nix backed out after The Great Hack directors Karim Amer and Jehane Noujaim “scheduled a special screening of the film for Thursday afternoon.” A source with knowledge of the matter confirmed that there will be a screening but said it’s not an official Netflix event.
The Financial Times did not immediately return a request for comment regarding the canceled event.
“Sure, it is somewhat interesting to hear what Alexander Nix would have to say to the advertising community after all the scandal,” said Tom Denford, North American CEO of media consultancy ID Comms. “But I found it appalling that the organizers were giving him a stage and a spotlight intended for celebrating the best of the industry, and that as a result, the assembled audience would unintentionally be applauding him on to that stage for the outside world to see.”
Denford added, “It was a massive misjudgment by both the organizers and Nix himself to think that this could ever be a positive for the reputation of a troubled global advertising industry. It is very right that he canceled; it was very wrong to invite him.”