Look at the 2017 Cannes Lion winners thus far and a pattern emerges – a familiar configuration of emotional drama.
This should come as no surprise. Emotion is in our DNA; it’s a universal language that’s especially appropriate on a global stage like the Cannes Lions Festival of Creativity. But dig deeper and you realize that the winning formula at Cannes is often one-dimensional.
For example, the Gold Lions for PR featured campaigns about stopping the spread of disease, the realities of auto accidents, overcoming prejudice and promoting gun control measures. These and other “causes” win big because causes are emotional, yes – but there appears to be an over-rotation toward cause-focused programs that tug the heartstrings.
The cynic would say, “Well, that’s what wins awards.” And the cynic would be right, to a point. Causes are emotional but emotion is not unique to causes or to heartstrings (or, as has been the case in recent years, to sad piano solos.)
There were other “emotional” winners as well. The “Cheetos Museum” used humor and imagination to tell its story; “Pitching French Films to Hollywood” again used humor (with a dash or three of irony) to elevate the impact and importance of French cinema; and “Handle With Care” from Procter and Gamble tapped into the very personal and intimate relationships between children who care for their elderly parents, while remaining focused on a specific and practical consumer product need.
And of course there was our own team from H+K Strategies and RBK Communication who won a Grand Prix Lion for the Aland Index Initiative, a program for the Bank of Aland that allows consumers to see the cumulative environmental impact of their purchases.
As these winners illustrate, we need to expand our definition of “emotional” if we are to expand our creativity and ability to connect with audiences in unique, interesting and relevant ways (and still win awards.) Humor is emotional, as is fear or happiness or inspiration or revulsion. Emotion doesn’t need to make us feel sad, it just needs to make us feel human.
Insight + Emotion: We Need to Have Both
Storytelling must to be strategic for it to have impact – whether that’s awareness, opinion, sales or some other business objective – which is why insights derived from smart data are so critical. But part of being strategic is ensuring that the emotional side of storytelling isn’t lost, either.
For example, we all can agree that 1+1 = 2. The equation is balanced. It is universal, comforting and logical.
1+1 = 2 tells a story.
But sometimes 1+1 = 3. This is messy. It’s surprising, uncomfortable and occasionally transcendent.
1+1 = 3 tells a great story.
Emotion must be part of the equation; otherwise 1+1 will always equal two. This is not only bad for storytelling but it’s bad for our clients, not to mention our culture.
Stories, like people, are incomplete without their emotional sides. Without emotion, people are more akin to clones, not unique individuals.
This is why Spock from Star Trek was unlike other “logical” Vulcans. Logic or “data” only took him so far – it was his emotion that made him unique. Similarly, Captain Kirk needed Spock’s logic to help contain his emotions and help him make logical decisions.
We need data-driven insights but we also need to find the places where 1+1 = 3. We need insights to help us tell stories that people want and need to hear, but we also needs brands to be better storytellers by embracing the risk that comes with emotional exposure.
This is good for winning Lions at Cannes, to be sure. But it is also essential for connecting with people as people, not as labels or media targets derived from an algorithm.
Stories change people – only stories ever have. And only stories ever will.

By: Gary Goldhammer