Our industry’s tectonic plates are moving faster now than at any point in the past 30 years. Everything about our business is shifting under the weight of the digital revolution. As our world slips and slides, it’s worth taking a moment to pause, to celebrate creativity and the innovative, groundbreaking thinking that clients covet and the human race demands.
The future for the agency business may be simpler, more connected and entrepreneurial, but attracting and exciting the next generation of talent requires the magic that only creativity can deliver.
On the eve of our industry’s greatest celebration of pure creativity, let’s put a spotlight on the brilliant people and ideas creating transformational business impact and forging lifelong emotional relationships with people.
What better place to start than the emotional connection between parents and their children? Mothers having the difficult conversations we don’t want to have, and another mum whose birthday becomes a celebration of little acts of everyday kindness – two films dramatically different in tone, but equally bound by the beautiful human storytelling at their core.
In Procter & Gamble’s "The talk" (BBDO New York), we watch black parents through the ages having that difficult conversation with their children about racial bias in the US. It’s a conversation that’s been taking place for far too long, and one that few outside the black community were aware of. Sharing this painful rite of passage via a beautiful and heart-wrenching film was a bold and provocative statement, made even more powerful by the conscious decision not to show any of the company’s products. The fact that it was integrated into a break during an episode of ABC sitcom Black-ish that centred on the topic gave it even greater relevance and impact.
Someday, I hope, we’ll need only to celebrate more positive traditions – like the one brought to life in Cadbury’s "Mum’s birthday" (VCCP). This undeniably charming tale will win your heart, as a young girl goes to a corner shop in the hope of surprising her hard-working mum with chocolate for her birthday. When she steps up to the counter and empties her pockets, she’s able to offer only an assortment of buttons and small trinkets. In a heartwarming turn, the shopkeeper kindly accepts her payment and even returns the girl’s favourite, a miniature unicorn, as her change. It’s a warm slice of life that feels just right, and is a return to the brand’s family roots.
If the power of using human, emotional storytelling with film feels as potent and meaningful as ever, so does the impact of brilliantly executed blockbusters. Two favourites prove epic is never out of fashion.
Let’s start in London, where more than 250 of the city’s residents – including a host of music and sports stars – make cameos in an audacious, dazzling film that’s made a seismic cultural impact this year. Nike’s "Nothing beats a Londoner" (Wieden & Kennedy London) captures the travails of sporty inhabitants of the capital in whirlwind fashion, masterfully splicing together multiple stories into a rich tapestry of a film that’s a directorial and cinematic masterpiece.
Each individual story is its own work of art, with superb casting, editing and production that make it nothing short of a technical triumph. It netted nearly five million views in its first week on YouTube and captured imaginations around the world.
Across the Atlantic, another epic composed of many stories stitched into one landed with a similar impact, sweeping the US’ annual advertising battleground. Forget the Eagles’ upset of mighty Tom Brady and the Patriots. It was P&G’s Tide that emerged triumphant from Super Bowl LII. "It’s a Tide ad" (Saatchi & Saatchi New York) took a self-referential turn in the big game, with a dozen ads – seemingly for other brands – crammed into four spots that each turned out, hilariously, to be for Tide. The effort swept the social conversation, becoming the second-top-trending topic behind the game itself. Predictably, sales have shown double-digit growth, underscoring what we know – that award-winning work drives business.
Two other films worth betting on are visual stunners – the first, a kaleidoscopic ode to the power of music; the next, a colourful, comic metaphor for the hazards of the road.
Songwriter, dancer, director and all-round tastemaker FKA Twigs stars in the gorgeously filmed "Welcome home" spot for Apple (TBWA\Media Arts Lab). Arriving back at her flat after a grim day, she asks virtual assistant Siri to play a tune. When the music starts, she snaps into an impeccably choreographed performance and yields magical space-shifting powers. The extended metaphor, brought to life by the inimitable Spike Jonze, perfectly captures the HomePod’s expansive sound.
A blunter metaphor can be found in Audi’s "Clowns" (Bartle Bogle Hegarty), a farcical film that stars a cast of clowns to represent the real clowns that drivers encounter on the roads every day. The troupe wreaks havoc on the › streets in exaggerated, comical fashion, throwing dangers in the path of an Audi at every turn. Thanks to Audi’s technology, the antics cause no harm. It’s a joyous illustration of the auto-maker’s groundbreaking safety features, and certainly one to watch.
Many of the year’s top Lion contenders are tapping into the topical and tactical – brands that are seizing the moment, leveraging pop culture at the speed of now, and discovering inventive applications of technologies that are changing in real time.
Staying nimble has become table stakes in modern marketing but, more than ever before, keeping a finger on the pulse can make or break a brand’s fortune. This year might mark the first that a piece of crisis communication is one of the most celebrated ideas of the season.
When 900 of its restaurants were temporarily shuttered after a distribution snafu left them without chicken, KFC demonstrated a level of creative agility that will set the bar for years to come, rearranging the letters in its logo to read "FCK" (Mother London) in a print ad that it ran nationwide. The response was acclaimed across traditional and social media, and deftly turned a moment of potential panic into an opportunity to surprise and delight. This elegantly simple solution helped the brand take responsibility and apologise to its customers in an engaging and humorous way.
The song "Mo Salah, the Egyptian king" has been chanted from the football terraces all season. The Premier League Player of the Year is aiming to lead his country’s attack in this year’s World Cup in Russia. Across the world, as football fever reaches a high, Orange promoted the tournament in a left-field way. In "Now or never" (FP7/CAI), a group of elderly fans deliver a hilarious rap plea to their beloved national team – win the Cup before it’s too late! The men deliver deadpan rhymes about their decades of loyalty, while casually listing the medical conditions that will likely limit the years they have left. With the magician on the team, who knows how far they’ll go? These weary elders could see their dreams come true.
As our tools and technology continue to evolve, it’s encouraging to see our industry leverage creativity to hack and unearth unexpected solutions from these powerful resources. Case in point is Downtown Records’ "Live looper" (BBDO New York), a clever campaign that parlayed a small hiccup in Facebook Live into a captivating music video for indie band The Academic. Knowing that there’s a short delay when broadcasting on Facebook Live, the band recorded each instrument, one by one, timing each to the exact length of the delay as the live feed was projected behind them. The effect becomes mesmerising and, as the song builds, the video morphs into an infinite tunnel of previous loops.
In New Zealand, Pedigree launched an ingenious foray into mobile phone accessories with SelfieSTIX (Colenso BBDO), a phone clip customised to hold a Pedigree Dentastix dog snack. If you hadn’t guessed, the device is intended to capture your dog’s attention – and best side – when taking a selfie. SelfieSTIX was paired with an app that used first-of-its-kind facial recognition technology for dogs to create Snapchat-style filters for the photos. Remarkably, one quarter of the country’s dog-owners redeemed SelfieSTIX, and the effort has led to a remarkable increase in sales.
Snaptivity’s "Snaptivity app" taps into two forces driving modern communications – spontaneity and personalisation – in a fresh and inventive way. Snaptivity’s robo-camera infrastructure was placed in football stadiums including Manchester City’s Etihad Stadium, Chelsea’s Stamford Bridge and Wembley, and the lenses captured spectators during key moments of matches. The app allowed fans to find and share their own image just by using their seat number. Instead of saying "I was there when Mo Salah scored that goal", you could wave a picture of yourself jumping out of your skin when he scored it.
Personalisation takes a more sombre tone in "Prescribed to death" (Energy BBDO), a moving memorial to lives lost to the opioid crisis in the US. To bring attention to the › over-prescription of dangerous painkillers, the National Safety Council launched an exhibit featuring 22,000 pills, each carved with the face of someone who died from an overdose. A new pill was etched on-site every 24 minutes, reflecting the chilling pace at which the crisis is claiming lives. The effort also included a brilliantly simple solution to the problem that one in three users of prescription opioids don’t even know they’re taking them. A simple "warn me" label was created that anyone could affix to their insurance prescription card. This alerts pharmacists to call out and explain the dangers of opioids if a patient is prescribed one.
One of the more curious phenomena to emerge from the YouTube era has been the popularity of reaction videos, in which users film their first response to anything from music promos to viral clips. It strikes at a human truth – that we like watching other people react – and is perhaps why Skittles’ "Exclusive the rainbow" (DDB Chicago) proved fascinating.
Three weeks before the Super Bowl, the brand announced that its commercial would be screened for only one person: Marcos Menendez from Canoga Park, California. Everyone else could tune into a special half-time broadcast on Facebook Live to watch Menendez experience the spot for the first time. So what was the film? Menendez shared that it involved the actor David Schwimmer, with laser eyes, turning people into bags of Skittles, but beyond those details, we’ll likely never know. Despite the mystery, the effort earned 1.5 billion impressions and is now the most-talked-about Skittles ad to date.
The best creative work for athletic wear has long demonstrated a commitment to helping athletes surpass their greatest potential. Nike took it to another level last year with "Breaking 2" (Wieden & Kennedy), an ambitious attempt to use advances in shoe design, training and tech to empower three elite athletes to achieve a record-breaking feat – to run a full marathon in less than two hours. The immersive, engaging experience brought viewers in, let them study these athletes’ remarkable path and run in their footsteps. Not surprisingly, the live stream captured more than eight times the audience of the New York, Chicago or Boston marathons.
One could imagine the great Sir Roger Bannister – an amateur and junior doctor at the time he broke the four-minute-mile barrier in 1954 – almost chuckling over the fuss.
The entire "Breaking 2" project took more than three years, involved more than 20 scientists, and really does beg the question of where an idea like this might fit.
That question, of course, is what makes Cannes what it is as a festival of creativity: it’s the celebration of the undefinable and never-been-seen. It’s about honouring the unique – ideas so powerful and fresh that they leave us inspired by possibilities and motivated to return with our own.
On that point, it’s worth acknowledging that it’s a year of great change for Cannes Lions. By all accounts, its organisers have arrived at a radical distillation that reflects how our industry and the client community work. The new, simplified tracks will no doubt help focus on what we need most from our industry’s most important creative festival – a celebration of big, bold thinking, brave ideas, impeccable execution and, ultimately, business results for brands. Because as the ground continues to shift beneath the industry’s feet, that will forever remain our bedrock.
Mark Tutssel is the executive chairman and chief creative officer at Leo Burnett Worldwide