We Heard the Lions Roar: Themes and Takeaways from Cannes Lions 2019
Cannes Lions is always worth keeping an eye on. It gives us an idea of how the advertising industry is responding to the current climate, it shows us how marketers plans on addressing new challenges, and provides a perspective on what the industry values and what it doesn’t.
“It’s the only global event that covers every aspect of how the industry is evolving,” Per Pedersen, Global Creative Chairman of Grey describes. “There’s nothing that comes even close.”
And yes, the awards are part of it. They celebrate creativity, which is worth celebrating on its own, but has also shown to impact business results. According to McKinsey, brands that perform well at Cannes do tend to outperform competitors on financial metrics.
This year’s festival came at a turbulent time, both in our ever-changing industry and for the world at large. As journalist Katie Couric reminded us, trust in the media, government, and other major institutions is continuing to decline and “companies are actually filling a really important void.”
That gives companies—and marketers and agencies—power, as well as the responsibility that comes with it. In a time where, as Andrew Robertson of BBDO Worldwide said, “The average person scrolls through 300 feet a day of content,” the battle for attention has never been more fraught.
Every Cannes Lions has its own feel, with consistent themes that emerge on a festival-wide level. Here are some of the key motifs that I picked up on:
Agencies stand their ground
Over the past few years, media, tech, consultancies and other industries have infiltrated Cannes. This year, coming after an unprecedented number of consolidations, agencies are standing their ground. WPP took out a beach and Publicis came back to the festival in full force. There were many conversations about the importance and future of creativity.
Cannes partnered with Deloitte Digital to set a sustainability goal for this year’s festival of saving 150,000 plastic bottles. Despite these efforts, two protests interrupted the festivities as an activist group blocked the entrance to the Palais and sailed onto the Facebook beach from rafts.
Strategy and creative effectiveness
With a new Creative Strategy Lion, and entries within the Creative Effectiveness category up 34%, there was a heightened focus on the concrete impacts of creativity.
Cannes is also known for its talks and keynotes, often decked with A-list stars. This year’s celebrity-led talks felt more relevant to the industry and our concerns than usual, which was a welcome change. In addition, there’s always important discussions happening in some of the lower-profile sessions.
What’s said is worth listening to, as Deb Boyda, CEO of Isobar US says: “Having [our clients] be exposed to the thought leadership out there in the industry and the market, that they might not necessarily see day in and day out in their business, is a really important piece for us and adds a huge amount of value.” Here’s what we’ll remember from this year’s talks:
Blending of creative worlds
The ad world is colliding into other creative industries and broadening the scope of advertising. Not only are more cues of pop culture popping up within ad narratives, there is an obvious shift in leaders within the entertainment industry exploring other creative ventures. Talks from Shonda Rhimes, John Legend, Marie Kondo and more brought these worlds together at the festival.
As consultants, data, tech and more continue to shift the industry, the role of creativity has been put in the hot seat. Talks such as Creativity Matters and Creatives in Control focused on how creativity can capitalize on the changing times and unlock new frontiers. Creativity is our most powerful weapon as we enter uncharted territory.
D2C brands are a new and emerging superpower in the marketplace. More and more of these brands, like StitchFix and Away, are building global communities prompting CPG companies to take note. Talks such as* Future is Female: Women and D2C Economy* and The Future of Brand Experience is Human Experience, discussed the ways in which creativity will evolve within this emerging business model.
Audio: The next frontier
It is predicted that by 2029 half of human to computer interactions will be voice-activated. AI and audio will continue to heavily intersect in the audio category. Leveraging the unique capability for branding and the future potentials connecting with humans through audio was discussed in panels such as The Next Frontier of Sound and Sense Branding and Beyond Voice: Introducing Thought Powered AI.
Talks such as Meet the Unexpected Healthcare Disruptors and Doctors are also Humans noted how people are increasingly skeptical about their access to healthcare options as well as medical inclusivity. To address this, more companies are putting a focus on democratizing healthcare information, empowering underrepresented individuals, and providing on-demand healthcare.
With the rapid growth of Asian markets, understanding Asian cultures is essential to keeping up with the changing landscape. From Marie Kondo’s minimalism techniques, mental health in Asian cultures, to the Chinese tech revolution, the presence of Asian culture is apparent in Cannes 2019.
Cannes honors some of the best creative work of the year. After taking a deeper look at this year’s winners, I saw six key themes emerge:
While brands have been clamoring onto new technology for years, it oftentimes comes across as an add-on or after thought if not properly woven in from the campaign’s kick-off. This year, AI, AR and machine learning are all center stage, and brands are using this technology in ways that actually make them interesting and useful to real people, particularly consumers with disabilities. While some Cannes winners in years past have been criticized for capitalizing on a certain cause, the brands that won this year put in the work, time and investment to create new technology that actually made a difference.
We saw this with Microsoft’s “Changing the Game”, where the brand created a controller that could be used by anyone with any abilities, and Huawei’s “StorySign”, which translates written text into Australian sign language.
Hacking the system
Whether it be censorship laws, marketing rights or a lackluster media budget, brands are constantly presented with red-tape obstacles. To navigate such systemic limitations, many Cannes winners turned to innovative hacks to cleverly overcome obstacles, thus breaking through and becoming a larger part of cultural conversations all without forgoing effectiveness or creativity.
This was on display in The Female Company’s “The Tampon Book”. Tampons are taxed at a whopping 19%. The brand found a creative (and legal) way around the system, by selling tampons within a book, which are only taxed at 7%. Another great example was Netflix’s “The Censor’s Cut”, which used creative hacks to selectively leave out the show Narcos’ more explicit images in Thailand, which has notoriously strict censorship laws.
Re-write the narrative
Around the world, people are challenging the status quo and refusing to accept things for the way they are. This year’s Cannes winners presented the harsh realities of the world with a perfect balance of honesty and call to action. These spots challenge viewers to reevaluate their views and gain a fresh perspective. Stagnation is no longer an option in today’s climate. Brands and individuals are expected to push one another in an effort of altering the course of our history.
As an example, The New York Times’s “This is Worth It” responded to a conversation about fake news and misinformation with a series of videos taking viewers behind the scenes of what goes into finding the truth on topics like ISIS and the US-Mexico border migrant crisis. And Nike’s “Dream Crazier” featured a controversial figure as a spokesperson—a groundbreaking move for a brand, proving that Nike stood for something they believed in.
Consumers are constantly bombarded with branded messages in all facets of their lives, making it more and more difficult for brands to break through the noise and gain the attention of consumers. As a new means of breaking through, Cannes winners partnered with and utilized other creative industries, such as theater, music and gaming, as a springboard to consumers’ attention.
Breaking the norms of the Super Bowl, Skittles produced a Broadway musical instead of a :30 second spot. This stunt was a way for the brand to disrupt the predictable nature of the Super Bowl, placing Skittles into the cultural conversation and setting it apart from the pack.
Sly ways in
In response to consumers’ fleeting attention, brands have found it paramount to find unexpected ways to reach their audience. Many Cannes winners found sly ways to show up in peoples’ lives. They turned away from big buzzy experiences and from traditional ad formats in exchange for more subtle, but just as powerful, ways in.
In the rise of online shopping, Glade needed to find a way to let consumers experience their fragrance when consumers could not actually smell the product. By filling packing pillows with samples of the fragrance, Glade was able to smuggle their fragrances into people’s homes. They took advantage of an unexpected and untapped channel that surprised and delighted consumers.
In another example, the Columbia Journalism Review sought to educate people on how to identify fake news. So they replaced newspapers and magazines in a real news stand with fake copies, featuring fake news headlines that had been circulated on the internet.
Take your time
We live in a fast-paced world, where countless brands, people and forms of entertainment are vying for our attention through bite-sized pieces of information. But all the while, we seek a deeply connection, and long for entertainment that will last. Many winners this year showcased the rise of long-form content that captures attention through moving and inspiring stories.
In “The Underdogs” Apple showcases a variety of their products as a group of misfit co-workers cram for a final presentation around their big idea. In a short amount of time, Apple is able to establish character development as well as chemistry around the group so much so that you find yourself rooting for them and wishing them nothing but the best.
Who knows what lies ahead for brands and marketers. If the past has taught us anything, it’s that what we believe to be game-changing trends could end up as nothing but blips, while something entirely off our radar can come along and shift the paradigm immediately. No matter what, marketers will always have to find innovative ways to connect with consumers on an emotional level.
Creativity will remain.