I have just returned from a week at The International Festival of Creativity where prestigious Cannes Lions are awarded for creative work in marketing communications. It’s a heady mix of marketers, media companies, agencies and A-listers who are there to draw attendance to parties and programming that run throughout the festival. I mean where else in the world would I start my day listening to a CEO and finish listening to a live set by Swizz Beatz? After mentally sifting through hours of panels, presentations and slick films featuring creative, here are some of my observations on this year’s Festival:
They may be causing a global obesity epidemic, but fast food companies are killing it when it comes to creative communications.
Following on from last year’s show-stealing FCK ad by KFC, the fast food companies are creating work that is innovative, effective and frankly, just really, really funny. They apply the speed that is central to their services to their creative – which lets them respond at a rapid pace and successfully place their brands in culture. Some of my favorite examples are Burger King responding to President Trump’s misspelled tweet about ‘hamberders’, Wendy’s entering the Fortnite’s ‘Food fight’ gamedestroying all the freezers because Wendy’s never freezes beef and Burger King delivering the Traffic Jam Whopper to drivers stuck in traffic in Mexico City – cleverly powered by data.
You can hack and troll for good.
We all know about evil trolls and dangerous hackers, but this year some brands turned the tables and out-trolled the trolls. The best example of this is a campaign for Black & Abroad that took the racist chant ‘Go back to Africa’ (which is still posted every three minutes online) and turned each disgusting tweet into a tourism ad – blacking out all language but ‘Go Back to Africa’ and featuring a location in Africa to visit. They turned trolling tweets into tourism ads – brilliant and beautiful. Dagoma, a French 3D printing company, out hacked the hackers by modifying the blueprint files for 3D printable weapons rendering them harmless – leaving those who attempted to print weapons disappointed and making the world a safer place.
Non-digital stands out in a sea of screens.
Technology and creativity are natural bedfellows and there is a lot of tech-enabled work at Cannes to celebrate. However, in a world of digital everything, work that does not rely on technology can really cut through. To protest Russia’s ban on the pride flag, six activists – each wearing their national football shirt that just happened to match the colors of the rainbow – walked around Russia throughout the World Cup posing in front of Russia’s most famous sites. The Hidden Flag was simple in execution and defiant in its intent. I also loved Truck Art Childfinder a campaign by Berger, a Pakistani paint company, to help find missing children. They used their paint for good to depict images of missing children on trucks that would travel to remote areas of the country. Not only was it a brilliant way to communicate product benefit – four children were returned home thanks to the travelling painted billboards.
Woke washing is now a thing.
It was clear at this year’s festival that the industry has collectively agreed on the value of brand purpose – both in terms of the responsibilities brands have to contribute to social good and the commercial return in doing so. I think I heard the stat that 9/10 people want to buy from a company that aligns with their beliefs at 9/10 of the presentations I attended. But Unilever CEO Alan Jope called out brands for ‘woke washing’, communicating a purpose without integrating that commitment throughout their organisation – put simply, if you are going to make an ad, back it up with action. As more and more brands align themselves with purpose-driven causes it will be interesting to see if (or more likely how…) the public and industry hold them to account.
As an industry we suck at execution.
If I took a shot for every time I heard someone talk about the importance of diversity and inclusion I would have been very, very drunk every single day. From how brands communicate to how we run our businesses, there was vehement agreement that we need to bring in individuals of differing backgrounds, perspectives and abilities. Despite this when I looked around at the attendees from agencies and industry, we looked very, very homogeneous – revealing a clear intention/action gap. I am aware that there are multiple initiatives actively working to change this – but if the attendees at Cannes are any indication – it is not happening fast enough. This year when I looked around it was like someone had put up a multi-faceted mirror, next year I optimistically hope it looks a little bit more we’re looking through a kaleidoscope.
I get all the cynicism around Cannes, and all the rose references and smug Instagram posts don’t help. But beyond the beach front events and celebrity appearances – at its very core Cannes is a celebration of the power of creative communications to challenge assumptions, shift perceptions and simply, to make us think. Mark Pritchard, CMO of P&G talks about work that promotes ‘introspection’. The work celebrated at this year’s Cannes Lions gave me lots to ponder, and motivation to keep on creating.