Behind the scenes: Media Lions jury chair Philippa Brown on this year’s crop of entries

The CEO of PHD Worldwide talks about major themes from this year’s Media Lions shortlist.

Cannes Lions is all about creativity, but media still has a place in the show.

On Tuesday, the Cannes Lions jury revealed the winners of the Media Lions, which honor “the context of creativity” by highlighting “work which is enhanced and amplified by a game-changing channel strategy,” according to the entry webpage.

Context is more important than ever as media fragments, and media agencies have a whole new playground of channels to explore and integrate in wildly creative ways. Just look at the Grand Prix winners, announced Tuesday morning, which incorporate media as an element of the creative idea.

“Part of the challenge with the Media Lions is trying to decouple it from a great creative idea,” said Philippa Brown, CEO of PHD Worldwide and jury chair of the Media Lions awards. “But when the targeting is wrong, or you choose the wrong media, or don't have flawless executions or pick up on some of the new technology, it's not successful.”

Purpose, gaming and COVID steal the show

It’s not surprising that purpose was a big theme in this year’s awards entries. From climate change to racial equality to female empowerment, big companies are spending a lot of time trying to contribute positively to society. Many of the entrants leveraged new technologies for good to advance communities and culture, Brown said.

“Consumers are expecting big brands and companies to talk about, in an authentic way, how they can help and what they can do for good,” she added. Authenticity is key on these campaigns, as “we can spot quite quickly when a brand is just attaching itself to a cause without really knowing why,” she explained.

Channel fragmentation means cross-platform executions also stood out, especially campaigns that tapped into new platforms such as TikTok. But gaming executions really stole the show, and Brown said the jury is recommending that Cannes create a separate category for gaming next year because the entries were so strong.

Given the nature of the past year, campaigns in response to COVID-19 were prominent — but not overwhelming. “Of course, there are some, but it's not a COVID Cannes at all,” Brown said.

In 2019, the last time Cannes Lions was held, influencers were the trend du jour. But they didn’t show through as heavily this year. “It could be that brands and influencers are much more selective and curated now,” Brown said. “Authenticity is also a factor.”

Virtual judging takes longer, but debates were healthy

On Wednesday through Friday last week, Brown and 11 other global jurors convened on Zoom at 10:30am EST to discuss the shortlist. The debate was healthy, but navigating conversations among jurors took more coordination virtually.

“As a chair, you have to be so focused on what's going on,” Brown said. “We can't have everyone talking at the same time.”

While the jury was “as serious as ever” about its responsibilities, something was missing from being unable to sit together and debate the work in a room. “It's a shame, because you miss some of the nuances,” Brown said.

While Cannes was right to include work from 2020 that didn’t have its chance to shine during the pandemic, doubling the number of categories and the nature of Zoom discussions made the judging process take longer, Brown said.

Cannes is ‘incredibly important’

People muse about the death of awards shows, but for Brown Cannes is still “incredibly important” for the industry.

“Celebrating great work, whether it's creative or media, is the heartbeat of our industry,” she said. “It's a time where we sit back and spend time with the work. That should always be celebrated, because that's what we do day in and day out.”

Beyond that, unfortunately, some of the magic of the week is lost when you can’t bump elbows with clients, prospects and partners on La Croisette.

“Even though people say it's expensive, it's actually a very good way of seeing lots of clients in one go. It's so efficient,” Brown said. “I mean, it's frantic, but my gosh, you get a lot done.”

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