Cannes predictions 2017: The modern-day alchemists

As Leo Burnett reveals this year's Cannes Predictions reel, Mark Tutssel looks at the campaigns turning ideas into gold.

It's as predictable as our annual predictions. As the allure of Cannes grows stronger each year, we’ve grown accustomed to hearing familiar groans about new industries and players crashing the conversation in the south of France. 

Indeed, in recent years, we’ve witnessed an influx of social platforms, start-ups and technology companies making the pilgrimage to the world’s largest celebration of creativity. This year, we can expect a similar rise in representation from across the entertainment sector.

To me, this has all been a welcome development, and it has never been more important to make room at the table for new partners who can co-create and amplify our ideas, help us reach new audiences and realise un-imagined possibilities.

And as our annual Cannes Predictions demonstrate, more than ever alchemy is at the heart of our business: the alchemy of creativity and technology, the alchemy of brilliant content and social media distribution, the alchemy of pop music and branded entertainment. The list goes on. 

Of more than 40,000 entries, we can expect less than 3% to leave with a coveted Lion. As we consider this year’s contenders, it’s clear that the precious few that collect metal will be those that embrace an increasingly collaborative world.

Without further ado, let’s dive in, starting with a pair of sculptures poised for alchemy of their own – namely, to transform bronze into gold. 

The first is a small figure that made a big impression in Lower Manhattan on International Women’s Day. Under the cover of night, a statue of a young girl was placed directly in front of Wall Street’s iconic "Charging Bull". Staring down the beast with grace and defiance, State Street Global Advisors’ ‘Fearless Girl’ became a clarion call for female representation in the corporate boardroom.

On the other side of the planet, a grotesque character named Graham delivered a powerful message to drivers about buckling up on the road. Conceived for Australia’s Transport Accident Commission, ‘Meet Graham’ [top] was a collaborative effort between an engineer, an artist and a physician that brought to life in rich detail the incredible features the human body would need to survive a traffic crash. This fully interactive sculpture spotlighted human vulnerability in a fresh way that grabbed headlines around the world.

Beyond sculpture, installations made big impacts in every corner of the globe. In Singapore, Nike delivered an incredibly immersive experience with the ‘Unlimited Stadium’, a 200m LED track that measured runners’ times with radio-frequency identification chips and offered them an opportunity to race against virtual versions of themselves or an assortment of digital avatars.

To keep sunny Mexico top of mind with winter-weary Germans, Mexico Tourism unveiled the ‘Tequila Cloud’. Launched in Berlin during the height of rainy season, this marvel of science used ultrasonic humidifiers to vaporise the liquid into a cloud that rained tequila. The invention incorporated weather data so its showers were synchronised with local precipitation. 

Meanwhile, when Storm Gertrude wrought real havoc on forests in Northern Ireland’s Dark Hedges, a film setting for HBO’s Game of Thrones, the wood from felled trees was transformed into ten custom doors hand-crafted to depict story-lines from each episode of the show’s sixth season. The Tourism Ireland ‘Doors of Thrones’ were installed in key locations across the country, creating a one-of-a-kind tour that spanned the nation. 

As we know, engaging audiences in an age saturated with digital content is no easy feat. Two contenders broke through by delivering twists that were clever enough to captivate.

A young romance is the ostensible narrative in Sandy Hook Promise’s ‘Evan’. Two teenagers exchange flirtatious messages on a library table before they meet in real life on the last day of school. It’s just moments before one of the students’ peers enters the gymnasium brandishing a machine gun. A rewind reveals the troubled young man was there all along, hidden slyly in the background of several key frames. The film proves out its stark message that gun violence is only preventable if you notice the signs.

Instagram followers of photogenic French jet-setter Louise Delage saw snapshots of the 25-year-old’s highly styled and glamorous life. In just weeks on the platform, she accumulated nearly 17,000 followers. But behind the glamour, a troubling thread ran through her posts – a closer look revealed that, in each one, she was holding a drink. ‘Like my addiction’ for Addict Aide sparked a dialogue about the nature of addiction. Like the inconspicuous subplot running through Louise’s feed, real addiction can be easy to miss. 

Not all of our favourite social media work was as subtle. In fact, one contender stood out for capturing attention on the most ephemeral of platforms – Snapchat. Gatorade’s ‘Serena Williams’ Match Point’ was an 8-bit multilevel game that allowed users to replay each of the tennis star’s Grand Slam singles titles. The first of its kind on Snapchat, the game got users to engage for more than three minutes on a platform where three seconds is the norm.

As expected, the battle for hearts and minds at Christmas played out across the UK, with a range of superb work that raised the bar. Once again, John Lewis took the crown for sharing stories that resonate and reward with ‘Buster the boxer’, a charming tale about a longing, house-bound pup that was viewed more than 28 million times on Facebook and YouTube within 24 hours of its launch.

But the boxer steps into the ring facing a formidable foe. Hailing from just across the Bay of Biscay, the Spanish Lottery’s ‘December 21st’ follows a tradition of heart-warming tales that celebrate the magic of sharing. The follow-up to last year’s "Justino", a Cyber Grand Prix winner, was a beautiful and warm human story about a beloved retired school teacher who mistakenly believes she’s won the big prize. The campaign tagline, "There is no bigger prize than sharing", extended into real life as the film was viewed more than six million times without paid media.

The unifying magic of these two efforts is how they’ve transcended film to become experiential moments that their audiences eagerly anticipate. Each has captured the imagination of its respective country and woven its way into popular culture. By harnessing an emotional connection with people, these holiday contenders provide a masterclass in immersive and integrated brand communications.

When it comes to music, familiar tunes win the day this year, as reworked covers of classics are du jour. Coca-Cola modernised a famous nursery rhyme to help Egypt learn the names of its new football team. In ‘The Line-Up Song’, an absurd group of serious-looking men sing/chant this repetitive anthem, drilling each syllable into the nation’s collective consciousness in advance of the Africa Cup of Nations.

A staple from the Rat Pack’s Sammy Davis Jr gets an update in ‘We’re the superhumans’, a dazzling spectacle of a film for Channel 4’s coverage of the Paralympics. Starring a cast of more than 140 disabled people who are impeccably choreographed performing extraordinary – and ordinary – feats, this anthem of empowerment is fuelled by a swinging cover of Yes I Can, performed, of course, by The Superhuman Band, a 16-member big-band ensemble of musicians with disabilities. 

Curiously, a few of our film contenders shared a common distaste for physics – and, more specifically, gravity. In the visually stunning ‘Gravity cat’ for Sony Interactive’s Gravity Daze 2, a Japanese student writing her thesis finds her world literally turned upside down by a mysterious feline.

Finally, an accidental encounter with a virtual-reality headset inspires the namesake star of ‘The ostrich’ to dream of greater heights. To the consternation and confusion of its flock, the determined bird trains night and day to reach the skies as Elton John’s Rocket Man provides the perfect soundtrack. When our hero finally takes flight, a super reminds us that Samsung makes "what can’t be made" so that we can "do what can’t be done".

In an era of alchemy, the metaphor of leveraging technology to achieve the impossible is an apt one to conclude with. Above all else, while we’ll certainly celebrate innovative collaborations and new partnerships, let’s hope juries this year choose to champion the ideas that represent our industry’s true magic and the festival’s enduring purpose: alchemy that transforms a business’ fortunes through sheer creativity.

Bonne chance!

Mark Tutssel is the global chief creative officer at Leo Burnett Worldwide and creative chairman of Publicis Communications

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