Cannes was more fun than usual this year. Sure, my own mood was regularly lifted by the gigantic ball pit that we set up for the Young Lions students, but I wasn’t the only old-timer feeling the difference.
For one thing, the festival is shrinking. 2018 saw only 75% of the attendance of 2017 and anecdotally, this year felt even smaller. Submissions are way down too. It seems that the recent reduction of participation by Publicis started a trend and exposed a shared “is this really necessary?” attitude among the holding companies.
I understand. The Cannes Lions Festival is a disgusting display of superficial excess and gauche peacocking. Or, it was. See, what Publicis, WPP, and Interpublic are railing against is what they created. If the parties are gross, the panels are stilted, and the events are pointless, it’s time that you look inward, Arthur Sadoun. If it’s all become a waste of time and money, it’s because, at some point, you started doing it wrong. And, guess what, since you scaled back, it’s better. The events are smaller, more focused, more productive, and it just feels less “scene.” In other words, thanks, your absence is appreciated.
Onward, and upward. Quickly filling the gap left by the old guard are tech companies and consultancies like Deloitte and Accenture. According to Adweek, Accenture’s Cannes submissions went from 150 in 2018 to 500 in 2019, and Deloitte’s submissions increased fourfold from roughly 50 to 200.
“We’ve acquired many creative agencies over the past year,” said Accenture’s Head of Interactive Marketing Mish Fletcher. In addition to Droga5, her firm bought Germany’s Kolle Rebbe and the Netherland’s Storm Digital. That adds up to a lot more submissions under the Accenture banner. Check out their Cannes activation Digital Doggy Bags HERE.
Deloitte’s Mark Singer says that they take a very “strategic” approach to Cannes, one of only a “handful” of events important enough for the firm to attend in a visible way. “Every year we’re learning more and more and evolving, doing things with purpose; it’s not just a party on the beach,” he said, noting 2019’s green focus, along with a “longstanding commitment to diversity and education” embodied by partnerships with the Female Quotient and Young Lions organizations.
Another wrinkle worth noting is that in recent years the festival has added new categories to keep up with the evolution of the industry (such as the Experience Lion and E-commerce Lion) which are more likely to align with consultancies’ specialties than traditional advertising. Let that sink in for a minute.
As for the tech giants, Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter, Google, Spotify, and newcomers Target, Twitch, and Tik Tok all made a splash this year. While these companies aren’t immune to the trappings of throwing an inane party, they consistently mirror the more measured approach of the consultancies and skew smarter and more utilitarian with their events. Let’s check out some examples:
Target set up a “cabana experience” across from the Lions school to introduce Roundel, their new, in-house advertising company. At its core, Roundel is all about “Using Target’s rich insights to create smart, personalized campaigns that connect consumers to offers that they’ll find most relevant.” That means working with some of the largest brands and advertising agencies in the world to “reach the right guest, with the right message, at the right time, on the right channel.” Good primer HERE.
Tik Tok headlined a new mini-conference within the festival called CLX – which acted as a global coming out party for their burgeoning app. Since debuting two years ago, TikTok has been downloaded over 1.2 billion times “mostly by teens and young adults seeking snippets of entertainment or looking to share their own entertainment related skills.” It might sound silly, but it’s become a legit meme incubator giving birth to dozens of dance crazes, inside jokes, viral trends, and, legitimate content creators. Here’s some info on how the ad platform works.
For the first time, Twitch sponsored a space on the Croisette with a penthouse decked out in their trademark purple. The company brought only ten people in total, including two influencers. “It’s just about meeting with partners,” says Walker Jacobs, Twitch’s chief revenue officer. “Streamers Pokimane and Sacriel are on hand to participate in two panels and will also be live broadcasting on Twitch from the penthouse.” Check this out. NOTE: If you want to know anything specific about Twitch, ask your boy, Betts. I stream regularly and have recently monetized my channel.
Facebook went big again this year, but was all business. Their beachside space was dominated by chill areas and a stage that hosted some of the best events of the week – including COO, Sheryl Sandberg meeting with ad leaders and addressing the privacy flaps of the past year. “The biggest goal for us is communicating in a way that renews faith in the platform,” says Jeanne Bright, VP of global development.
Okay great, but what about the WORK?
Per usual, there was a definite theme that bubbled to the top this year but before we dive into that, let’s get Burger King out of the way. Unless you’ve been living under a soundproof rock, you’re familiar with the Whopper Detour campaign. It’s a joy to behold and uses technology in the most exquisite way.
The Braze “Customer Engagement Platform” along with Burger King’s agency FCB took home the Titanium Grand Prix, as well as nabbing the Creative Brand of the Year honor for their Whopper Detour campaign. The fun of trolling McDonalds powered customers through the tedious steps of downloading the BK mobile app, uploading payment information, visiting one of the rival’s locations, and then “going the extra mile” to claim a one-cent Whopper at Burger King. The best part is that this wouldn’t have been possible just ten years ago, yet the required technology isn’t in focus at all – it stays out of the way and simply facilitates a great idea. Killer Stuff.
This year’s dominant theme of Social Purpose was predictable. It seems that the collective push for more inclusion, diversity, equality, and accountability in our industry is making its way into the work. Of course, there’s nothing new about brands attempting to inject cause-based messages into their advertising – the dual approach of increasing profitability while bettering society dates back to the 1970s with campaigns like the 7-11 Endangered Species Slurpee cups. But, in the Nihilistic shadow of a divided nation, we may be in the most genuine and meaningful era of this approach yet.
Let’s start with a couple of seemingly disparate stats: Most people would not care if 74% of brands disappeared tomorrow, yet 78% of consumers believe companies should address issues important to society. So, they increasingly don’t care, but they might if things changed. Let’s dig into that:
From Fast Company: “Advertising used to be about perfection—campaigns focused on models, beautiful homes, fast cars, and dream vacations. Consumers are tired of that approach. They’re demanding authenticity, and marketers and brands are delivering—highlighting the challenges and realities of life for individuals facing disease, disability, racism, etc.”
So, activism is going corporate, which involves risk and risk wins Lions. Cannes jury president, Steve Stoute said that the entire Nike campaign, created by Wieden & Kennedy Portland, clearly stood out and “The use Kaepernick in this way was so special we had not only to award that, but it’s also the benchmark of the risk we want brands to take going forward.” Full story on AdAge.
Speaking of risk, Johnson & Johnson celebrated a group of San Francisco General Hospital nurses who, in 1980, developed a ward for AIDS patients at a time when the disease was misunderstood and, frankly, scary. J&J commissioned a documentary to tell the story of those nurses and how their bravery helped spark conversation and understanding of AIDS, and acceptance of individuals with the disease. Check It out here.
The list goes on. Both Entertainment for Music Grand Prix winners (Childish Gambino’s “This is America” and Baco Exo do Blues’s “Bluesman”) focused on racism, violence, and diversity. The jury president Paulette Long noted that her jury “leaned heavily toward purpose and value-driven music projects,” according to AdAge.
IKEA’s “ThisAbles” campaign highlighted a suite of free adapters that make the Swedish company’s products easier to use for disabled people
Microsoft’s Xbox Adaptive Controller also notched a win for individuals with disabilities, allowing almost anyone to experience the joy and challenge of video games.
Black & Abroad, an organization specializing in travel for people of color, developed a data-driven platform that responds to racially charged social media posts with photos of Africa. The campaign aimed to educate social media users about the beauty of Africa and its people while promoting equality, respect, and diversity.
My Special Aflac Duck is a social robot designed to bring comfort and joy to children battling cancer – and my personal favorite Lion winner this year. A company called Sproutel created the device through 18-months of child-centered design, and it’s indented to meet the needs of children enduring an average 1,000 days of cancer treatment. The use of the duck is grounded in the Aflac Childhood Cancer Campaign, developed to evolve Aflac’s 23-year, $131 million commitment to the childhood cancer cause – and it just happened to win Aflac two Silver Lions.
BUT, be careful; you don’t want to be accused of “Woke Washing.” At Cannes this year Unilever CEO Alan Jope warned that brands running purpose-driven campaigns, but failing to make a real difference threaten to “infect” the advertising industry. “It could further destroy trust in our industry, when it’s already in short supply,” Jope said in a statement shared with Marketing Dive. The ability of brands to “walk the talk” of their purpose-driven campaigns will make or break this movement.
So, by all means, let’s celebrate do well by doing good but let’s keep it real.