Kicking around Cannes

I always wondered what the fuss was about. And I had preconceived ideas about the real intent. I had heard it was a blend of some ad boys behaving badly, Rosé on tap, big yachts and loads of parties. Oh, and a few awards called Lions being handed out...


But to be fair, if that is all you experienced at this year’s Cannes Lions (aka International Festival of Creativity) then you missed an exceptionally broad and compelling program with an underlying theme of generosity. Because what I witnessed at the Lions was an openness and sharing of truly world-class global thinking; the successes, the failures, inspiring ideas, insights and some very personal experiences from a wide range of global marketing experts. There was also some of the most outstanding marketing work on show that is shaping our future.

So why hold the Lions in Cannes? Ad people know a good looking direction – beauty and art should inform and destination is everything… and the South of France is a very inviting location to come together, however more importantly, Cannes as the host place for the Festival of Creativity also removes any one major market ownership or dominance of the Lions. It is a truly global festival with expanding international representation, either in attendance or award entries from every corner including markets like Guatemala, Pakistan, China, Ukraine, Finland and Peru.

Across the 5 days of the Festival we had access to over 600 speakers from thought leaders, brand marketers, media gurus, creative icons, artists, rappers, rockstars, actors, singers, and sports legends - all experts in their field and tapped into marketing’s biggest competitor...culture. They shared and we listened. There is nothing else like it in the world, as far as scale goes, and in its 66th year and with the largest attendance ever recorded in 2019 (more than 35,000 people), its popularity is roaring!

Every major media, tech or ad shop had a presence this year including Facebook, Google, Twitter, Spotify, Pinterest, Hulu, iHeart Media, MediaLink, Condé Nast, LiveNation and Snap. The main programming and awards showcase took place across two huge auditoriums (Palais 1 and Palais 2) whilst along the beach at branded activation pop-ups, hotel suites, premium apartments and on yachts, you could catch many other speakers on panels and doing Q&A formats.

After more than 25 years in marketing, 2019 was my very first experience of the Cannes Lions. FOMO became a daily grind as it wasn’t possible to physically experience every topic I had marked in the program app. To maximise the incredible opportunity Visa had granted me, I needed to be on my game... up early, bright eyed, bushy tailed and sporting a good pair of joggers to pounce with stealth. Informed and inspired, the following is a short summary of what I came away with.

The four new P’s of Marketing at Cannes - Purpose, Positivity, People and Partnerships.

Purpose - If I had a euro for every time I heard the word “purpose” I could afford a penthouse on the Croisette. This was a big focus and a consistent theme of the Festival program - driving change and a strong sense of purpose, especially on the big issues our industry collectively can effect like gender, the environment, diversity, well-being and poverty.

The health track’s purpose on how creativity can improve people’s mental and emotional well-being worldwide was cool, and unfortunately I missed a very good panel session called “Visual Diet” exploring the relationship between marketing imagery and mental health.

Unilever CEO Alan Jope said all of his brands will have to have a social or sustainability purpose or eventually be divested. Some Unilever brands were already achieving this objective, but others hadn’t started. When a behemoth like Unilever makes a call like this, you know it will have an impact on the future. Kudos to you Alan Jope.

So it was pleasing to see the majority of Grand Prix awards went to ideas tied to some aspect of social good, even outside of categories that are decidedly purpose-driven. Volvo earned the inaugural Creative Strategy Grand Prix for its E.V.A. Initiative, which opened up 40 years of collision data to other automakers so they could all make their cars safer for women, since most crash test dummies are modelled after men. 

And the jury for one of the oldest categories, Print, granted the top prize to Lebanese publication An-Nahar’s blank edition – the printing of a blank newspaper aimed to propel the country’s politicians to finally break a long-running gridlock. Lebanese people used the opportunity to send their own messages back to politicians (vs politicians using the paper to spruik promises they never kept…) and in doing so An-Nahar generated $5m in earned media, and the blank issue became the best-selling edition of the newspaper, also was the number 1 trending topic on Twitter and received coverage in over 100 international publications. 

Marketing’s role has always been to solve problems creatively to effect commercial growth, but today it’s more about effecting positive change. To be the voice for others. To make a difference. Community and cause. Because growth will follow.

How to take a stance against gender tax inequality in Germany? When women pay a 19% tax on a need deemed a ‘luxury item’ yet items such as caviar and art attracts a 7% tax in Germany, creative thinking is needed… Introducing the Tampon book because books, unlike tampons, are taxed at just 7%. This clever idea from The Female Company, an online retailer of feminine hygiene products, created a book to sell tampons. Containing 40 pages of content and 50 tampons in the back, the book sold out of it’s 10,000 printed copies in 1 day and the second edition within a week. It put the unfair tax system on the agenda of the world’s media and pressure was put on the German Minister for Finance. A petition on received more than 150,000 signatures and the German legal system is now officially debating the tampon tax.

So we have moved beyond the “campaign” to the “solution”. Solving problems first rather than just telling stories because the stories (like growth) follow the solutions.

Positivity - “Less stuff, more joy” was the title of Marie Kondo’s session and within 2 seconds of walking on stage she managed to immediately command attention in a serene Kondo-like way… kneeling down with her eyes closed whilst at the same time saying how happy she was to talk to us, she encouraged everyone in the crowded Palais to all close their eyes and think about gratitude “for this place and for their hopes at Cannes Lions”. She left us thinking in silence for a good 60 seconds and then asked us if we all felt better? Kondo’s philosophy of letting go of anything that no longer serves you, which is bringing behavioural change across cultures, reminded the industry in Cannes the value of living a de-cluttered life. As consumers under assault 24-7 when it comes to content and message bombardment, our society (the one marketing influences every second) is ready for much “less”. It appears the Kondo way can even save marriages, Marie shared a story about someone who wanted to divorce her husband but after tidying up her things and then only surrounding herself with items which sparked joy, this friend touched her husband and felt joy so changed her mind about the divorce! Kondo also spoke about how Japanese culture uniquely promotes discovery, beauty and longevity and as marketers we should be thinking more deeply how these can be applied to the way we engage consumers.

Following on relinquishing the need to buy more stuff to spark joy, New York University academic (and sometimes comedian) Scott Galloway spoke to us about his Algebra of Happiness – the equation of a life well lived or a series of equations which distil insights regarding failures and successes in business, relationships, parenting and health. According to Galloway we are at our happiest between birth and 25 years old – he calls this the “Disney magic life stage” but after this time, and right up until around 50 years of age things get much tougher and he calls this the “shit gets real stage”. However there is light, as we head into the later stages of our life (over 50) you are likely to find more joy in simple things like nature, climate, food and other people – these things start to get more meaningful to you. But be warned marketers “The amount of time you spend watching television, is a direct correlation to what a loser you are, something you won’t hear about here at Cannes, but is evidenced with a number of studies,” Galloway adds “The more ads you see, the shittier your life.”

Essentially Galloway believes we overestimate the amount of joy we get from things and underestimate the amount of joy we get from experiences and he concluded the formula to happiness is family, friends and work recognition. Quite simply, happiness is love.

Now before you think all we did at Cannes was stare at our navels and chant Lennon’s All you need is love, there was something else I noticed when it came to the winning Lions awards, and that was the ‘seriousness of tone’. Maybe this is a reflection of how we all feel given the anxious state of world affairs, because along with happiness and joy presentations, earnest appeals also seemed to be the flavour of the week. Aussie expat David Droga who was Sustainable Development Goals Jury chair said “every category the judges looked at was emotional, because everything mattered that much and we all cried at different times during the jury.”  Weeping Lions judges... brings a new vision to emotive advertising

People - Cannes Lions reminds us marketing is not an industry made up of agencies and brands alone, every person on the planet is marketing something, themselves first and foremost.

During the week we heard from people who are both influencing global audiences and at the same time each is constantly learning from culture; Ryan Seacrest, Cheryl Sandberg, BigSean, Dwayne Wade, Laura Dern, Jean Michel Jarre, John Legend, Cindy Gallop, Kerry Washington, Marie Kondo and Jeff Goldblum were just a handful of insightful speakers we had access to. And despite their various talents, every one of them had a similar piece of advice - curiosity is the key to being successful. Constantly asking questions, thinking differently, never settling for the status quo, seeing alternative opportunities. Here are two of my favourite questions posed to the audience at Cannes…

1. Ask yourself honestly, what would the world miss if your brand did not exist? How important are you to the lives of your customers? I found this an easy one to answer on behalf of Visa, however the point does reinforce the danger of ever being complacent in a world of disruption, so this question should be one every marketer asks themselves weekly.

2. Do you know your TAP? Don’t start with the total addressable market (your target audience) but instead think about the total addressable problem (TAP) consumers have.

The Partnerships - The ripple effect of brands... one starts something and others also get on board. This has powerful outcomes for societal issues. Whilst we all want to come up with the BIG idea that’s new and different, the days of seeing success as having not been copied or joined by other brands are over... the more groundswell support you can generate around your idea that does good, the more powerful the outcome.

Enter P&G who is calling on the industry to lead disruption by joining forces with many other creative worlds and announced several new partnerships across creativity, humanity, courage and collectivity:

  • A creative partnership with John Legend that integrates multiple genres to explore various aspects of humanity and the human experience – such as parenthood, modern masculinity, music and social justice –with P&G and its Pampers, Gillette and SK-II brands.
  • A humanity-based partnership with Arianna Huffington’s Thrive Global, which embeds “micro-stephabit stacking” into P&G brands such as Oral-B and Crest, Pampers, Venus, Secret and Pantene, blending cognitive and behavioral science with life science to help consumers reduce stress and improve daily health.
  • A courageous partnership with Saturday Morning, a ground-breaking, socially conscious creative collective who, together with P&G, will preview a new short film called “THE LOOK” that tackles head on the issue of racial bias, building on the success of “The Talk” which won several Lions, including a Grand Prix.
  • A collective partnership to relaunch Free the Bid into Free the Work, a curated talent discovery service founded by award-winning filmmaker Alma Har’el, designed for women and underrepresented creators to develop new-to-the-world stories never experienced before – because creativity loves diversity.

P&G creative partner and singer, song-writer, actor, activist and producer John Legend told us “Now more than ever, it’s critical that those of us with influence use it to make a positive impact on the world. I’m committed to connecting people, opening their hearts and minds and helping them see each other’s concerns and aspirations”. 

And of course, I can’t forget the entire point of the Cannes Lions is to acknowledge and amplify award winning marketing work. Work that inspires and entertains, informs and encourages action. Work that changes the game, work that makes a positive difference to communities, which fosters conversations to make the world better. Work that makes already good marketers want to try even harder and ultimately be remembered for creating something of value.

This year there were 35,000 entries into the 2019 Cannes Lions, of which just 10% got short-listed and a mere 1% won an award… so if you had anything to do with the 10% which got shortlisted this year then congratulations. And if you were one of the 1% of the Lions Legends who won an award this year, then we are all the better for having your thought provoking creative work driving change in our life-time. Work that came about thanks to those 4 P’s… Purpose, Positivity, People and Partnerships.

Long live Cannes Lions.

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