How the Cannes Design Lions shows that purposeful brands are here to stay

The Design Lions at Cannes gave us a view of the world far removed from the superfluous nature of the Cannes Lions week itself, says Jim Prior, chief executive, Lambie-Nairn.

The Design Lions at Cannes gave us a view of the world far removed from the superfluous nature of the Cannes Lions week itself. This was design without decoration; the triumph of purpose over style.

Almost all the winning work was socially motivated – improving health and wellbeing and raising awareness of injustice were awarded themes – and work that didn’t make a real difference to quality of life didn’t make the cut. Whilst the glamour and excess of the delegates continued unabated outside, inside Le Palais we took an hour to recognise that something more important was at stake further afield.

A Gold Lion was given to work from Colgate that brilliantly repurposed cardboard boxes into teaching aids in Myanmar. Targeting primary school children with very little or zero access to traditional or digital media, the creative idea was for a set of classroom posters that explained the importance of good oral health and how to achieve it.

With the Colgate distribution network growing into the deepest pockets of the country, it was decided to print the posters inside the large cardboard boxes in which toothpaste cartons are shipped, knowing they would reach the rural areas that conventional media could not. Interactivity was added through a toll-free phone number that teachers could call to listen to recorded educational materials.

Other Golds went to an awareness campaign for cleft palettes in India that used a wonderfully insightful and shareable text device, a donation system for homeless people in South Africa that created a shop out of almost literally nothing, and a poster the size of Nelson Mandela’s former prison cell that communicates more through its physicality than any number of written words could achieve.

None of these pieces of work were particularly beautiful in craft terms. But all of them served a higher purpose that rendered aesthetics irrelevant. When what’s at stake is as fundamental as this, the suggestion is that beauty might even be detrimental to success.

What we saw here was a concentrated distillation of the broader trend that many brands have begun to embrace: the quest for purpose. In the aftermath of recession, many organisations have chosen to focus effort less on defining what they do, or how, but on why they exist. Whilst not every organisation will be able to claim that it makes such profound, life-changing difference as the winning work at Cannes, Design Lions has given clear evidence that purposeful brands are here to stay.


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