- Creative work is moving from ‘feel good’ to ‘make good’: the muscles of the creative community can have a far greater impact if they are used to generate social or environmental good, rather than just advertise it.
- Campaigns have to align with the true ethos of the brand: the informed consumers—and Cannes judges—of today quickly see through the veneer of false association, or flashy but valueless technology.
- Creativity must be met with value and scalability: ideas must be big, not just beautiful. By putting creativity, engineering, and business in dialog from the beginning, this shared emphasis grows organically with the concept.
- Banner ads and microsites are dead: long live content that is useful, creates value, and is sought out—not forced upon.
- Designing for a specific medium, and seamlessly integrating the technology into the creative, makes for the best initiatives. Technology should bolster the creative, not replace the creative.
- Diverse perspectives, be they from different cultures or different disciplines, strengthen a concept—even if the discussion is hard.
- VR is the next big thing, and content is crucial. Replicating the real world is interesting—but why stop there? VR offers a whole new canvas for creativity.
Over eight days in late June, 15,000 people from the far reaches of an expanding advertising and marketing world descended on Cannes, in the South of France, for the ‘Oscars of advertising,’ the Cannes Lions Festival of Creativity.
The event, where outstanding campaigns and projects are selected by industry juries to be awarded bronze, silver, or gold Lions, is a hotbed of innovative thinking and pioneering technology. Catharine and Jerry were pleased to be able to discuss the festival experience from three different perspectives on this week’s Marketing Matters, when they welcomed Marco Vega, Cofounder at We Believers; Winston Binch, Chief Digital Officer at Deutsch North America; and Frederic Bonn, Chief Creative Officer of North America at Mirum Agency.
Marco Vega’s firm We Believers, won four Lions—two gold, one silver, and one bronze—an impressive feat for a smaller, independent agency: “It’s a challenge to be compared with the work from big holding companies, because it’s always easier if a network already knows about your work,” he explains. “Every year we have to try to break through clutter of the best of the advertising world, and for independent agencies, all we can do is have work that really stands out. I think that’s exactly what we did for the work with Salt Water Brewery.”
Working closely with the client, We Believers designed, prototyped, and tested an Edible Six-Pack Ring for beer cans. While the standard plastic six-pack rings pose a threat to the marine environment as animals can get stuck in rings and ingest them, the We Believers design feeds, rather than endangers, marine life. “The concept reflects the growing sense in the creative community that we have a larger role to play,” explains Vega. “I think the industry is moving away from doing pro-bonos or PSAs that make you feel you good, to really making good: a notion that underscores the potential that we have as makers.”
Importantly, the concept of edible six-pack rings is not only creative and ethical, it fits closely with the ethos behind Salt Water Brewery as a brand. “We had met with the client before, and we knew that most of the employees at Salt Water are surfers or fishermen—people who love the sea and are all about ocean conservation,” explains Vega. “After working with two recent engineering graduates who had been studying organic materials, we reached out to Salt Water Brewery and suggested that the best way to build their brand was to make use of this core brand idea. We agreed we should create something that would take a stance on conservation, and would change the conversation around what the beer industry should be doing.”
As the four Lions show, the depth of this approach was recognized for its effectiveness. Vega was particularly proud of being short listed for the Creative Innovation category, as it is a unique experience at Cannes Lions: unlike most other categories, where awards are given based on written submissions only, short-listers in Creative Innovation are asked to prepare a 10-minute presentation about their submission. “It was a fantastic experience.,” says Vega. “You have to prepare to present live in front of 12 jurors—and for our presentation, there were at least 100 people in the room. Presenting to the Cannes Innovation jury is a lot closer to presenting a business model than a concept; it’s no longer just about how creative your idea is, it’s about how scalable the innovation is.”
The core of the success of the edible six-pack was thus the entwined nature of creativity, engineering, and business. The idea was first conceived on March 9—in a text from Vega’s business partner lamenting plastic and suggesting they develop a packaging that can ‘feed the fish’—and has already reached mass-production. “That is another one of the amazing things for the creative community and the entrepreneurs out there the power that we have today—to ideate, problematize, launch, learn, launch again—is amazing, it would never have been possible five years ago,” he explains. “I think the moment you get engineering, creativity, and the business community together, you can truly transform the context.”
Catharine and Jerry’s next guest was Winston Binch, Chief Digital Officer of Deutsch North America, who was both a juror for the mobile category and led the Social Media Academy at Cannes, a workshop of 10 people. “my main message was that no one cares what you have to say: no one boots up in the morning and says ‘I want to interact with an ad!’ or ‘I want to interact with a brand!,’” says Binch. “I love that challenge of trying to make communications, experiences, content, and utilities that people actually seek out, that create value of them.”
Binch led the Academy after his judging session, an experience which helped inform his approach: “Cannes serves as a beacon for the industry and sets the bar for creativity,” he explains. “So I learned a lot in the judging process, and I brought some of the work I’d seen in mobile and put it into our social presentation.” He outlined the five key points he emphasized during the Academy:
- First, have a mission: “something very clear and specific that’s also audacious, challenging, and maybe scares you a bit.”
- Second, fix what’s broken: “Be a problem solver, and adopt a product inventor’s approach to social and marketing.”
- Third, challenge culture: “Great work is brave: without tension, no one pays attention. But not just be provocative for the sake of it—the tension has to be strategic.”
- Fourth, act like a fan, not like a corporation: “the biggest mistake brands make is they act like brands, when they really should be acting like interesting, awesome, fun, human beings—adopting a conversational tone.”
- Fifth, design for your medium: “Brands and agencies need to be designing mobile first, actually designing content experiences that really recognize that.”
As is evident from these key concepts, the purpose of the Academy was to infuse social with creative, and to illustrate precisely how important it is to cater your creative to your medium. Binch, with a diverse background including working as a musician and for sonyclassical.com, RGA, Crispin, and now Deutsch, was well-suited to bringing multiple perspectives into the conversation. “The class was on what creativity can do—how you can use creativity to make social that matters,” explains Binch.
As a juror for the Mobile category, Binch was one amongst a diverse group. “Mobile was a festival unto itself,” he explains. “We had VR, social content, apps and services, and websites to consider. All these things are blurring, and it required us to have a very diverse jury: we had people from media, user experience designers, and a group from creative agencies.” The diversity was both a challenge and a boon: “We all had different opinions about what the nature of creativity actually is,” says Binch. “It took us a while to accept that, but once we did we started moving quickly.”
When asked which were his favorite winners, Binch encouraged listeners to review them all on the Cannes Lions website. He was particularly enamored by mobile-commerce submissions, explaining that “I feel like m-commerce has been left behind, it’s just treated as very functional.” One gold Lion winner was Zambezi USA for Stance Socks, who produced a ‘Uncommon Force’ digital shopping experience, where users turn on their web cam and use ‘the force’ to interact with, and purchase, Star Wars-themed socks. “It wasn’t just a matter of checking boxes, it was really engaging: there was sound, motion, and content,” explains Binch. “And it was also useful, not gimmicky. I think what I loved most was that the service reminded us not to forget the fun—it brought the fun to shopping.”
Binch’s favorite submission—and a Grand Prix winner—was the New York Times virtual reality app. “It stood shoulders above the rest,” he says. “Here’s a 156-year-old brand reinventing itself, and taking VR mainstream. They had over 500,000 app downloads, and 1.3 million got the cardboard headset. And then the content is incredible—it takes you right into the global refugee crisis, or to the top of a cityscape.” If Cannes is a place where the bar for creativity is set, this submission was a beacon for future creativity. As Binch puts it, “I think we all know now that there’s a new fertile ground for creativity and storytelling, there’s a new canvas for us to work with.”
Listeners were offered another peek into the jury room by the final guest, Frederic Bonn, Chief Creative Officer of North America at Mirum Agency. Bonn was a member of the jury for the Cyber category, a group whose first task was to answer a complicated question: what is cyber? “We live in a world where everything is digital, so what does it mean to be cyber category?,” asks Bonn. “When we think about what defines cyber, and what defines a great idea in cyber, we find that it is an idea that seamlessly connects science, technology, and craft—it brings new ideas in a way that’s uniquely possible because of technology, but at the same time the technology disappears behind the creative idea.” For Bonn, cyber is constantly evolving, because it is constantly challenged by the consumer: “It’s the martial arts warrior of categories, fighting against trends and time,” he laughs.
The cyber jury tackled the daunting task of judging 3,200 entries, submissions as diverse as a digital-connected piggy bank and a virtual reality magic school bus. Like Binch, Bonn valued the diversity—both professional and cultural—of his co-jurors, who came from around the globe. “As you judge a global body of work you judge campaigns where you don’t necessarily have the cultural context,” says Bonn. “It’s important to have people who can explain it.”
As with any rapidly-changing field, there is a risk of being wooed by the bells and whistles. “We were very careful of the potential to be overwhelmed by the technology that many times attempted to cover the lack of a big idea,” says Bonn. “We saw a lot of solutions that were very technology driven, but lacked a root in true human insight, and would therefore not truly deliver value.” Before judging began, the jurors came up with their individual criteria, which were then used to form the basis of the groups approach. Four key questions bubbled to the surface: Was it an amazing and powerful idea that makes us feel something? Is the craft of the highest quality? Is the technology so seamlessly integrated that it cannot be separated from the idea? And, will we still love it in a few years?
While three of these criteria—focused on emotion, value, and resilience—are applicable to all marketing and advertising (as outlined in our book, Beyond Advertising), the question of integrating technology into the idea is more specific to cyber. Bonn considered a Gold Lion winner, Dreams of Dalì, produced by Goodby Silverstein for the Dalì Museum in Spain, to exemplify the power of successful integration. “This was a use of virtual reality that wasn’t just a replication of what you can do in the real world,” explains Bonn. “We’ve seen a lot of VR demos where you’re on a rollercoaster, for example, and to me this is not that interesting. The Dreams of Dalì is an experience that takes us into the Dalì painting: you put your goggles on and you enter and explore the painting in a way that you could never do before.”
Two submissions from the Cyber category were awarded the Grand Prix—the highest award offered at Cannes. “What qualifies a submission for Grand Prix is not only all the criteria I mentioned at a higher level, it’s about being iconic,” explains Bonn. “We asked, is the work pushing the boundaries to a level we haven’t seen before? Is the work actually inspiring other agencies and other creatives to move forward in a way that hasn’t been done before? There’s a lot of discussion around the Grand Prix, some of it gets quite heated, but taking other people’s opinions into account is an important part of the judging process.”
The Grand Prix winners were The Next Rembrandt by J. Walter Thompson Amsterdam for ING, and Justino, by Leo Burnett Madrid for Loterias Y Apuestas Del Estado—two very different submissions. The first was data-driven: by analyzing the evolution of Rembrandt’s style, from eye shape to paint strokes, a software system was able to generate an image of what the next Rembrandt painting would have looked like. “This is a completely data driven idea that makes an output that’s completely devoid of technology, that’s only something incredibly emotional and beautiful,” says Bonn. “I’ve seen the New Rembrandt, and it’s amazing to look at it: it’s a 3D print that uses more than 14 layers of printing to recreate the thickness of Rembrandt painting. Its driven by technology, and yet the technology completely disappears in the background.”
In contrast, Justino is a short animated film that describes the life of a lonely night worker in a mannequin factory, who begins setting up the mannequins in surprising ways to create a bond and dialog with the day staff. “What I think is incredible about this idea is that it couldn’t live without digital,” explains Bonn. “It’s not just a film: it’s a story told on multiple channels.” Justino—the main character—has an Instagram account with 100,000 followers—a huge number in the Spanish context. “The brand has been using the Instagram account to tell parallel stories that are contextual and timely—for the release of Star Wars for example, Justino is wearing the Darth Vader mask,” Bonn explains. “It really used the different social channels—Facebook gave the audience another view of the story. So they’re using social in a way that’s truly something only possible through digital.”
On top of this, the craft is impeccable: “The story telling, the way its crafted, the visual treatment, is at the Pixar level,” says Bonn. “And that’s something that’s very encouraging: an audience wants to watch, because the ad is as entertaining as a Pixar movie.” The result is a campaign—or initiative—that has a longer shelf life, where an audience is truly engaged.
Reflecting on Cannes, Bonn pointed to two developments in the advertising world that suit WFoA just fine. The first is the end of the banner ad and the microsite. “As one creates more content, and competes more and more with culture, we need to create things that people truly care about, and distributing things where people are,” says Bonn—a sentiment with which we whole heartedly agree. The second is that we are entering an era beyond the screen. “I think we’re going beyond mobile, we’re in an era of new platforms, interactions, and models,” he explains. “What does it mean to try to create something that people will interact with on Amazon Echo? What does it mean to create a new idea that will interact with AI? What does it mean to think about the voice, the touch, even maybe the smell interaction you have with brands in the future?,” he asks. As we move into a world of ever-increasing touchpoints, the demand—and reward—for creative, conscious, respectful, and relevant advertising will continue to grow. And the impressive and inspiring world of Cannes is sure to grow with it.