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Lessons from Cannes Lions

The advertising world has returned from the south of France, bringing back a few awards and plenty of inspiration. This festival of creativity showcased the trends shaping the world of advertising, so we asked those who made the trek to the Palais des Festivals to reveal their top takeaways from the week.


Tom Morton, Head of Strategy | Goodby Silverstein & Partners

This was the year when brands that gave back won big.

Most of the Grand Prix awards went to advertisers with a public service message or an altruistic campaign. Metro Trains Melbourne’s “Dumb Ways To Die” was the triumph of this year’s Cannes, amassing a safari park’s worth of Lions. Top honors also went to IBM posters that sheltered pedestrians, to a Filipino telco that condensed textbooks on to old cell phones for low-income students, to a British TV station that celebrated the Paralympics and even to Oreo for its daily doses of social media fun.

A cynic would suggest that awarding these campaigns is no more than Madison Avenue patting itself on the back for doing something good. These campaigns are a welcome respite for creative directors from the daily task of promoting new tariffs and flavors or squeezing some interest out of a product attribute.

But it’s not self-congratulatory; it’s smart. Transcending the day-to-day flow of promotional messages to make something more uplifting is increasingly becoming the best way to connect with people.

Despite the growth of Facebook fans and super-users, indifference is a bigger issue for advertisers than enthusiasm. Havas Media claims that U.S. and European consumers wouldn’t care if 92 percent of brands disappeared tomorrow. Giving something back helps brands overcome that indifference. During the week of the festival, Britain’s Institute for Practitioners in Advertising reported that emotional campaigns were twice as likely to generate long-term profits as rational ones.

Even the creative effectiveness Lions, which honor the 2012 winners that earned the biggest commercial paybacks, went to campaigns with a higher purpose: Amex’s Small Business Saturdays, Prudential’s riff on retirement and department store John Lewis’s lifetime commitment to its customers.

Making stuff that people care about might make ad executives feel good, but it also makes real-life customers feel good, too.


Nancy Hill, President and CEO | 4A’s

This year at Cannes, I noticed more meaningful dialogue around purpose-driven marketing. I don't just mean public service announcements, but brands having a real purpose — or utility — in their programs. IBM's “Smart ideas for Smarter Cities” campaign via Ogilvy Paris is a great example. To help city dwellers make life easier, they built ramps over steps so that they were more accessible to wheeled suitcases, and they constructed a shelter into a wall to provide protection from the rain. This was a clever way to communicate a brand message and provide value at the same time.

I also observed more open discussion about agency-client relationships from the stage (not just behind closed doors). Marketers seemed much more willing to talk about their agencies’ contributions and acknowledge the partnership involved in creating standout work. During a seminar called “Work that Matters” featuring Cannes Marketer of the Year Coca-Cola, agency partners were given credit and on-stage shout-outs for the creative concepts shown.

Overall, there seemed to be more collaboration happening this year. The ecosystem of marketers, media companies, tech firms and agencies was on full display, from seminar pairings to meetings happening on the Carlton Terrace. While we have a long way to go, it seems we’re making progress in this regard.


Marla Kaplowitz,CEO | MEC North America

Even with the overwhelming number of awards, workshops, seminars and parties, Cannes never disappoints. It is still the place to be for our industry and shows no signs of slowing down. For me, a few key themes definitely emerged from the clutter that will drive what we do for our clients and how marketers engage with their customers.

Experiences are more powerful than pictures and stories alone, so creating strong provocative relationships between people and customers is essential. Brands can no longer just tell stories; they must create “STORYSCAPES” — a shared story driven by shared experiences between a brand and consumer. Toshiba and Intel were big winners at the Festival this year with the “Beauty Inside” campaign, a social film about a man named Alex who wakes up every day in a different body, played by consumers who auditioned via social media for the role. It’s the perfect example of storytelling where the brand’s essence is completely baked inside and social is at the core.

Authenticity is also crucial today more than ever before. Storytelling isn’t a campaign or a stunt. It’s more than that. It’s ongoing communication and, as P. Diddy said, “It’s not a one-way street.” David Droga also pointed out that “money doesn’t buy scale, sincerity does,” and that instead of trying to force fit a piece of advertising into the world, you have to “look at how a work can embed itself into an already existing community.”

Creativity in technology and innovation was also a common thread at this year’s festival. A great example of this (which I am sure you have already heard) is the billboard in Peru that, through reverse osmosis, turned air humidity into water. Another simple example within print was a press insert from NIVEA that allowed you to charge your phone through solar activity so when you are lying in the sun, you don’t have to miss out on any rays!

Overall, with the rapid growth of digital, increasing technological advancements and multiple channels and destination platforms, I think there is more confusion than ever before in the industry. The media environment is extremely fragmented, and clients are confused about how their creative messages should be adapted and how costs should be allocated to new platforms.

To me, media is an essential part of creativity. It’s about how you can have an imagination and think differently. The ironic thing is, if you look at the Media Lions, the majority of wins tend to come from advertising agencies, not from media agencies. Is it time for us to start expanding outside, too?

We need to continue to elevate media agencies’ presence at these awards. As we continue to dive deeper into data and the power of "insight" (insight into our clients’ brands and audiences’ lives), media can become a powerful ingredient in delivering growth for marketers and an essential part to creativity.


Ferdinando Verderi | Founding Member and Creative Director, Johannes Leonardo and Head of JLF

Very few industries can point at one single event that sets the direction forward.

The relevance of Cannes seems to grow over the years, with brands embracing it as much as the creative community. It has become clear that the greatest corporations — those with the ability to promote real change in the creative landscape — start to look at awards as a metric for success.

This means that the Festival's power has grown significantly, and with it, its responsibilities. My wish is that those responsibilities will act as a solid north star for those who set Cannes' path, with the ultimate goal of recognizing and rewarding real ideas that have a solid purpose rather than those which are merely self-serving.

Categories grow every year, and we are starting to see pieces of work that leave their mark across them all, posing questions about the relevance of those distinctions. Should a piece of work triumph in four distinct categories? Is the amount of awards and categories actually diluting their own importance? The tradeoff is quite obvious.


Matt Britton, Founder & CEO | MRY

The biggest trend at Cannes this year was the signal that Cannes as we know it is coming to an end. The industry is in the midst of a massive disruption as marketing moves from art to science. It should come as no surprise that the splashiest events on the Promenade de la Croisette are no longer from heralded agencies, but from the likes of Google and Microsoft. Software and data — not just creatives and campaigns — are the engines that fuel brand growth. CMOs are prioritizing meetings with Twitter and Salesforce over hearing their chief creative officers pedal the next big idea. Without a doubt, brands will always need creativity and compelling content that connects to consumers on an emotional level, but the ability to provide the right message within the right context is becoming far more important.

In the coming years, we will see a celebration of brands and agencies that orchestrated sustainable approaches to brand building with powerful data, systems and methodologies as their foundation. Companies like Adobe, Salesforce and Oracle will start to cement their presence as structural pieces to any advertising efforts. Today’s CMO is increasingly scrutinized for marketing expenses, and the annual excursions to the south of France will no longer be supported without hard data that creative brand-building efforts are moving the needle on meaningful business results.


Stuart McLean, Founder and CEO | Content & Co

The biggest trend at Cannes? Brand content creation! We saw the brands take a giant leap forward in creating programming versus "brand films," but we also saw brands taking distribution into their own hands.

We saw this executed beyond the usual suspects, like MAKERS and Machinima, and saw new players like Condé Nast Entertainment step in. Let’s face it: getting an audience today is hard, and it’s become even more important for brands to talk directly to their targets. We’ve seen success in the Los Angeles market with the brands, Hollywood talent and the distributors all sitting on the same side of the table. It was exciting to see similar thinking on a global scale at Cannes and funny to experience some of the same scene all the way in France!


Susan Bonds, CEO and Founder | 42 Entertainment

At Cannes Lions 2013, we saw a new level of maturity in conversations between brands and their consumers. Brands are no longer just checking the social boxes or using push messaging. We saw everything from interactive window displays selling product after store hours to real-time tweets during the Super Bowl, with the subliminal message from brands to consumers being, “We are listening, we care, we’re relevant and here to add value to your lives.”

Lots of people have been talking about the real-time Twitter responses from several high-profile brands this year: Oreo’s Super Bowl “dunk in the dark” tweet and Smart Car’s “poop tweet.” These are fun and timely, and they changed (or amplified) the conversation in positive ways. However, a few award winners went deeper to display a healthy respect for their consumers and a belief that a public dialog and active engagement would yield results.

McDonald’s “Our food. Your questions.” out of Canada took a risky campaign approach to answering concerns from consumers, successfully communicating that McDonald’s is willing to take consumers seriously, be transparent and relinquish some control over the campaign. It worked by being straightforward, smart and honest, both in its execution and communications channels.

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