Last week was the most important event in the marketing calendar: the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity. The much-coveted prizes, the Lions, are a way for agencies to measure up and convince their clients that their steep hourly rates are justified. But why should you care about backslapping and champagne-popping by marketers, invading the Riviera to celebrate themselves?
The Festival of Creativity offers a snapshot of the marketing year 2014 and a thermometer reading of global markets. No advertising festival or awards show plays a more powerful role in the industry, receiving more than 37,000 entries and attracting more than 12,000 advertising professionals from 93 countries.
But the big question is: how was 2014?
Epic splits or epic ignorance?
I would like to say the following to agencies: a commercial with Jean-Claude Van Damme doing what’s been dubbed “the epic split” between two Volvo trucks is a bombastic dramatisation of an incremental product difference and entertaining as hell, but your clients are facing bigger challenges.
They’ll soon have to welcome up to two billion new consumers to the market and most resources are already scarce. They are faced with new types of consumption where it’s not about owning a car, but rather the experience or the service you get, or travelling from A to B in the smartest possible way. Collaborative models are a growing market, and digital and tech thinking has completely disrupted business as we know it, for example Airbnb challenging the hotel industry, and hitting $1.7bn (£1bn ) in sales in just six years.
Your clients (and you) are met by virtualisation, where products that were an everyday part of our lives in recent memory no longer exist. Think about paper calendars, alarm clocks or photo albums. Add to this a shift in mindset where a recent survey tell us that around 70% of people think that businesses should come up with solutions to some of society’s biggest challenges, such as unemployment and climate change.
How will agencies respond to these challenges? More “epic splits”? More tomfoolery? This year’s ad fest showed few examples of agencies understanding this new reality, compared to the ocean of advertising-as-usual.
Make a mark on the world
Let’s look at some of the work where brands (and agencies) dare to make a mark. In a campaign by Whybin\TBWA for ANZ Bank’s sponsorship of Sydney’s Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras, regular ATMs were turned into unique GAYTMs encrusted with rhinestones, sequins, studs, leather, denim and fur to deliver the free-spirited civil rights message of equality.
Lots of brands are leaving the closet and jumping on board the equal rights wagon and Honey Maid’s This is Wholesome campaign is another well-crafted example, deserving its share of Lion statuettes.
Less barking, more beautifying
But there’s so much more brands can do than just bring attention to important issues. Just like any ad break, the festival itself had star-studded appearances. Kanye West, for example, had his say about the state of flux in ad land: “The thing younger people are begging for is a more beautiful world where brands help people achieve things rather than simply barking at them.”
Brands have a unique opportunity to play a bigger role in people’s lives and to deliver on real needs rather than just creating wants. One such campaign, Speaking Exchange, was for a language school in Brazil that used Skype to facilitate dialogues between senior citizens in the US to improve their students’ language skills while building a bridge over a generational gap.
Another campaign took on the food waste agenda with a clever solution preventing perfectly fine vegetables and fruit from being discarded because they didn’t fit our image of what nature looks like. Supermarket chain Intermarché (Agency: Marcel, Paris) rebranded them as Inglorious fruits and vegetables. They even cut the price by 30% to make fruits and veggies more affordable for more people.
Colgate Palmolive (Agency: Red Fuse Communications, Hong Kong) made a cunning upcycling initiative, using the boxes from their products as educational materials for under-financed rural schools to educate kids about proper dental hygiene. In another upcycling initiative, Raw for the Oceans, G-Star Raw worked with Pharrell Williams (Agency: FHV BBDO Amsterdam) to turn the plastic waste in our oceans into a pair of jeans made from reclaimed plastic (33% bionic yarn).
The power of creativity
These are examples of agencies that dare to decipher the complex reality of their clients’ businesses and come up with more than a quick-fire solution to a marketing challenge that will be forgotten when the next YouTube video goes viral.
A good example of the shared value gained from this thinking is the Dove Beauty sketches (Agency: Ogilvy Brazil) that won an effectiveness award. The creative thrust of the campaign is a testament to its long-lived effectiveness. Chipotle is another brand showcasing the mileage in making a real difference with their follow-up to Back to the start (Agency: CCA, Los Angeles) called Scarecrow. As well as pushing the boundaries of advertising by launching a series of webisodes, Farmed and dangerous mixes information with entertainment.
It’s amazing to see what a difference creativity can make, if it’s applied to a cause beyond beefing up an agency’s self-esteem. Creativity can and should do far more than dramatise incremental product differences. If applied with insight, big ideas can build resilient, trailblazing businesses, which are much more exciting in the long term than watching the muscles from Brussels doing the splits. Brands must demand more from their agency partner.
I value the strong focus on charities and worthwhile causes like Act Responsible, the Grand Prix for Good and the Cannes Chimera at the Cannes Lions Festival of Creativity, but agencies need a guiding hand on the shoulder, rather than just a pat to make the transition from insecure, attention-seeking lion cubs to kings of the ad Savannah.