Seeing Cannes Through Rosé-Colored Glasses

After all my years in advertising (more than I care to admit), this was my first time to the Cannes International Creativity Festival.

It’s not that I didn’t want to attend. In fact, I’ve followed the Festival for as long as I Cannes remember, (OK, now that’s out of my system). After all, it is the Academy Awards of the advertising industry with all the superstars, agencies and creatives in attendance. But still, I had no idea what to expect.

My overall impression: Just wow. Not only is there brilliant work on display, but there is so much of it. In every category. And of course, the rosé was flowing. There’s even a saying, “rosé all day.” But I was here for the work.

Beyond the shock of it all, I sensed an important theme that weaved through this year’s Festival: storytelling. Brave, authentic storytelling.

As marketers, storytelling is one of the most effective ways to connect a brand to the consumer. But rarely is it accomplished. Instead, advertising agencies go straight to the sell instead of honing in on the simple human truth that is at the heart of the brand, and that leads to a very inauthentic dialogue with the consumer.

Much, if not all, of the work that made this year’s shortlist was genuine and honest. It connected with the reader in a deep and meaningful way, regardless of whether it was heartfelt or if it was humorous. The communication allowed the consumer to connect the dots for themselves and were rewarded for doing so.

And now a short story.

One of the best things I experienced was meeting advertising executives and creatives from around the world. After one lecture, I turned to the person sitting next to me and asked what she thought of the presentation. I asked about her take on being bold in everything we created. She was a CMO of a large Finnish brand and her reply took me aback. She said, “I keep asking my agency to bring me these kinds of ideas, but it seems they are not getting the message. I’m not sure if the work is being stifled internally, or what, but I’m going back and demanding this kind of work.”

Of course, my immediate reply was, “I know an agency that can help you out with that.” After we shared a laugh, we went our separate ways, but it brings up an important question: How does bold, mind-blowing work get produced?

Does it get stalled inside the agency? Are creatives not taking risks? Is it a nervous account supervisor? Or, is it a client who doesn’t want to make waves internally?

It’s all of the above. In my humble opinion, it all starts with strategy. Without sound insight, it’s nearly impossible to create great work; without it, the work becomes subjective and, in the end, dies a horrible, gory death.

But, if there is a sound strategy, greatness follows. When a strategy is agreed upon by the client and the agency, “risky” work doesn’t look risky at all because it was grounded in insights and human truths.

Case in point: one campaign that won a Gold Lion was the outdoor campaign by Burger King— the darling of this year’s show. The work was rooted in a simple human truth, “People are frightened by clowns. Especially, creepy clowns.” Taking that insight, the agency created a series of posters that expertly trolled its main competitor, McDonald’s.

Photo Courtesy of AdAge

This execution would scare the pants off a client. I mean, a crying child? But it was developed with the insight in mind, and voila! Not risky at all.

Strategy and insight ran through all of the Grand Prix winners—Nike’s work featuring Colin Kaepernick; Burger King’s mobile and outdoor work (a masterclass in trolling their competitor); or IKEA’s “Thisables” campaign
that must be seen to be appreciated and one of my top five campaigns of the year.

All in all, I recommend attending the Festival at least once in a career. It’s inspirational. It’s astounding. And, if you use the learning correctly, you just might end up on stage receiving a Gold Lion instead of attending the Gold Lions.