Cannes juror reflections: humour in short supply as brands join 'purpose parade'

Abbott Mead Vickers BBDO's #WombStories won four Grands Prix
Abbott Mead Vickers BBDO's #WombStories won four Grands Prix

Campaign spoke to members of the jury to see how this year's winners caught their eye.

Becoming a Cannes Lions victor ensures a lasting legacy for winners – but what of the decisions that secured such accolades?

Campaign spoke to some Cannes jurors to explain the reasoning behind their choices, the trends they noticed and what this year’s entries say about the direction and creativity of the industry as a whole.

One trend noted by some jurors was that purposeful ads dominated while there few laughs to be had, perhaps reflecting the testing times of late.

This is what they had to say:

Digital Craft Lions

Jax Ostle-Evans

Managing director, Stink Studios, UK

The first big trend we saw was around gaming. Astronomical won the Grand Prix because it was such a powerful, intuitive, unique experience that could only exist in a game, and it sets an incredibly high bar in the gaming world — it’s an inspiring example of what you can do if you really show up there.

We saw a lot of gaming entries that were very much not up to Grand Prix standard. Just because gaming is a relatively new metaverse, it shouldn’t be a bun fight for everyone to be on that platform. Astronomical shows it can be done in a powerful and relevant way, and provides a reference point for brands venturing into that space.

Data and creativity also really came together this year, thanks to the levels of AI and deep learning. Spotify's "Alone with me" showed how to make the most of owning all that first-party data, using it to speak one-on-one to the customer in a way that adds real emotional value. Many clients are still figuring out the whole data equation, which made this campaign a particularly relevant piece of work.

It was great to see the fun, entertaining entries, despite the challenges we’ve all been going through. It wasn’t so long ago that a human being dressed up as Burger King’s subservient chicken was winning all over the place at Cannes, so although the industry is going through a necessary over-correction, I like to think we have kept sight of the idea that the winning work has to be something that people genuinely want to spend time with.

One of my favourite "fun" campaigns was "Drawn closer", which was a wonderfully playful use of technology and, at the same time, made a lot of home-schooled children very happy. Thurman White Middle School in Nevada had its play cancelled due to Covid, so Nexus Studios and cable TV company Cox Communications reimagined it as an animated film, making CGI versions of the children and getting them to do the voiceovers for the characters they were supposed to play in real life. Although it was mighty in one way, it was probably too small-scale for a Grand Prix, but it won a very well-deserved gold: it was a pure piece of joy that made us all smile.

Titanium Lions

Trevor Robinson

Executive creative director, Quiet Storm

This year there have been lots of powerful cause-related campaigns. I've seen real strength and depth in work that's addressing social issues. I think the pandemic has crystalised the importance of strong brand values for lots of people. There has also been incredible outside the box thinking. We've had to think on our feet because the rules changed due to the pandemic. Through adversity, you often end up with outstanding creative work. We've definitely seen that this year.

"#WombStories" was incredible. I thought, how could they better last year's "Viva la vulva", which is impactful, outstanding, multi-award winning? But this one was even stronger. These incredibly creatively visual stories were informative and memorable. What stuck out to me most was the way the campaign took on the medical field in terms of questioning women's pain threshold with their #painstories. I think that's what gave an overall edge that made it feel more challenging of the status quo.

My favourite campaign of all was Beats by Dr Dre "You love me". It's reflective of a conversation that's happened many times in the black community. I often think I'm creating campaigns that have people in hysterics, yet those same people are terrified to sit next to me on the Tube. So it felt like an especially important piece for me after the resurgence of BLM and George Floyd's murder. A beautiful but provocative film which could only have happened this year.

Alex Grieve

Chief creative officer, Abbott Mead Vickers BBDO, UK

Titanium is Top Gun. The best of the best. So, what does it take for your idea to be Goose and Maverick? If this year is anything to go by, it’s about being prepared to take on a fight everyone else has ignored or, in some cases, not even realised was there.

Most brands sit on the sidelines violently agreeing that things need to change but are secretly happy to wait for someone else to actually do it. The brands that win at Titanium just get on and change shit. Also, it’s the way they conduct that fight. You can’t just bludgeon the audience, you have to spin and pirouette and feint and weave. You have to fight beautifully, float like a butterfly, sting like a bee.

And the way you do that is through craft. Craft is back. In truth, it never went away but now, hallelujah and amen, it’s superpower is, like the ideas it serves and elevates, coming out of the shadows and into the light.

Creative Effectiveness Lions

Neil Dawson

Chief global strategy officer, Wunderman Thompson, Global

A Cannes Creative Effectiveness Lion is one of the most prestigious Industry awards and undoubtedly one of the hardest to win. First the work has to have won for creativity, then you have to prove that the work drove measurable business(or other)results. “It’s A+ for creativity and A+ for effectiveness”, as a fellow juror reminded us.

We saw three key trends in the winners this year:

The predominance of short-term activation-focused creativity. It is clear that – alongside the proven long-term, brand-centric model of marketing effectiveness – a new, more agile alternative is emerging. This is characterised by regular, high-impact activations that energise a brand within a longer-term strategy or purpose to drive results.

The power of emotional storytelling. The most effective work connects with human beings at scale using emotionally driven ideas that resonate broadly beyond any specific target audience. Connecting at scale creates growth.

The business impact of taking a stand. Businesses and brands are increasingly expected – with inherent risks and opportunities. The winners show the effectiveness dividends for those who show bravery. (It is worth noting that our sample of entries covers the pre-Covid years 2017-19, and the expectation for brands to be more purpose-driven has only increased since then.)

Beyond any trends, these awards are a timely reminder of the power of creativity to solve problems and make the most mundane products or services meaningful. Whether it’s how to get people to download and use an app, buy a discounted ticket, buy a commodity product with no discernible innovation, or donate to an unknown charity, simple tasks are better executed with creativity.

Innovation Lions

Grace Francis

Chief experience officer, Karmarama, UK

This year in Cannes Lions Innovation, we’re seeing concepts, innovations and products that drive collective positive change for society, reaching beyond our own backyards and barriers to participate in seismic shifts that benefit all.

Equally, we’re seeing more and more initiatives that are driven by lived experience. Empathy alone is not enough to ideate well, we must make space for those with lived experiences to lead. This is a real benchmark moment in our industry as we move toward greater inclusion. These two themes are a testament to our humanity and our collective capacity to give and grow.

Lastly, a year on screens had moments of surprising closeness, sharing a window into our home lives across different time zones as well as technology supporting accessibility.

Creative Business Transformation Lions

Jon Wilkins

Global managing director of Accenture Interactive's Creative Council from the jury of the inaugural Creative Business Transformation Lions category 

One of the hardest things about judging the Creative Business Transformation category was differentiating between a short-term transformation and something that lasts. Our thinking looked something like this: If you did an ad campaign, a digital platform, and affected positive transformation in your staff, stakeholders and supply chain, you were really getting somewhere. If you did all of that, and made a positive impact in the world, you were a winner.

Our category winner was Carrefour, with its "Act for food" mission – an idea conceived by Marcel that has led to dramatic, systemic change across the entire Carrefour business, and the associated supply chain. An action bigger than any communication it represents a shift from statements to active brand acts to make the planet a better place, financing 6,000 farmers and becoming the leader in sales of organic foods in France. Ultimately, "Act for food" has changed the company’s constitution, and shareholders voted to engrain this change in the company’s bylaws. This is a proper transformation if ever we’ve seen one, and most worthy of its Grand Prix.

Consumers are ever-more cynical of storytelling without action. The task for brands is to take meaningful, transformative action and build creative storytelling into that process. Successful brands have always been storytellers – but in a modern context, those stories must be based on provable, meaningful actions.

Another great case, and gold winner was AB InBev, which could see how the agricultural crisis in the farming would hugely affect its need for organic produce for its products including Michelob Ultra Pure Gold. Its solution? To provide farmers with long-term commitment to allow them to shift from conventional to organic farming, over a three-year period, guaranteeing subsidies for product, and pre-purchasing their organic product ahead of transition to give farmers comfort and commitment. A true contract for change, putting AB Inbev’s money where its mouth is to make the big changes needed.

Purpose-focused brands like these are finding that the clearest expression of that purpose is to look within, take responsibility, and act to create change.

Film Lions

Richard Brim

Chief creative officer, Adam & Eve/DDB, UK

Great creative ideas are what we do best in the advertising industry, and when there’s a problem, we answer it with extraordinary ideas that change the way people see the world. As president of the Cannes Film Lions jury, I saw how the ad industry globally rose to the Covid challenge and smashed it out of the park.

This was a special year, so we did something unusual for the film jury and awarded three Grands Prix, one for 2020 and two for 2021. Each of these ads was met with a stunned silence when they finished as the jury tried to take in their mind-blowing content. That was definitely the case with the amazing "Crocodile inside" by BETC Paris for Lacoste, likewise Nike’s "You can’t stop us" and "#Wombstories" for Bodyform/Libresse by Abbott Mead Vickers BBDO London.

This has been a hard and trying year across the world and there wasn’t as much humour as you’d usually expect in the film category. The few laughs to be had tended to be quite slapstick and lacked subtlety. But we can congratulate the advertising industry on outstanding creativity made in the most difficult of circumstances.

Film Craft Lions

Laurent Simon

Chief creative officer, VMLY&R, UK

As we step out of our very first virtual Cannes Lions week, there has been one thought that has overwhelmed me over and over again – how truly creative and inspiring our industry really is, especially in the face of adversity. Across all categories and disciplines, this year has shown the true impact our industry has on the world.

And while this was hugely humbling to see, in a year where 24 months of creativity was being judged and awarded, there were two things that could not be ignored.

First, a great number of this years’ entrants were very familiar to us all, often big brands who have had great success in previous years. One of my favourite things about judging Cannes is coming across those smaller or traditionally less creative brands that come way out of left field and really astonish you. Sadly, far fewer seemed to make an appearance. Maybe a casualty of difficult financial years.

And second, the direction is clear for the future. For agencies and brand to succeed both at the festival and with their consumer they must stand for something bigger than themselves. They must create brave work that drives real and lasting change.

In truth, I cannot wait to see what our wonderful industry comes up with next.

Direct Lions

Al Mackie

Chief creative officer, Rapp, UK

It was hard not to notice just how many brands are desperate to get the attention of gamers. There were some truly great entries but it’s no secret that the Grand Prix-winner, Burger King’s "Stevenage Challenge" on Fifa 20, was the unanimous choice. Personally, I loved how well it was executed and that by supporting some of football’s underdogs, it tied in perfectly with the Burger King brand.

The other huge trend is probably no surprise to anyone – brand purpose. One of our gold winners, "#StillSpeakingUp DeepTruth" for Propuesta Civica and Reporters Sans Frontieres, was an innovative use of deepfake technology to drive engagement and protect free speech. It did such a great job highlighting the daily risk of life for journalists in Mexico that it resulted in six murderers being convicted for crimes against journalists.

But the conversations we had as a jury reflect, I think, a lot of the issues with purpose-led marketing in the wider world. It was often hard to differentiate from charity work, and too many campaigns relied on reactions, rather than measured responses to claim success. With so much purpose-driven work out there, there’s a real need for clarity about what it is trying to achieve.

Creative Strategy Lions

Zaid Al-Zaidy

Chief executive, Above & Beyond UK

As a Cannes Lions juror, I feel like I've just been triple-dipped in creative and strategic brilliance. After reading hundreds of case studies, I am overwhelmed by the quality and diversity of the entries to this year’s Creative Strategy Awards. The business of growing brands through the power of creativity is alive and thriving.

From what I've seen, many brands are joining the "purpose parade". The equality, diversity and inclusion movement and the fight to save our planet are ubiquitous in advertising. Starbucks’ brilliant “What’s your name” diversity campaign won a Creative Strategy gold, while Dove’s "#StopTheBeautyTest" campaign won a silver.

Perhaps "purpose" is one of the few ways that brands can connect with what audiences really care about. We are entering a new age of borrowed interest, where the interest of audiences lies in making the world a better place.

That said, a campaign that did very well this year had no purpose engineering whatsoever. Cheetos’ Popcorn “Can’t touch this” won the Creative Strategy Grand Prix. They gave their cheese dust a name, cheetle, and flipped it from being a nuisance into a great source of entertainment. Sometimes it is more honest and authentic to celebrate what you actually do, rather than to jump on to the purpose parade.

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