Cannes Lions 2016: An Exclusive Review

by: Navjot Singh on 22 July 2016

An expert analysis on the key digital trends that fueled the Cannes Lions 2016 Festival, and a showcase of how these campaigns and innovations drove inspiration

“Creativity is at its most potent as a business tool when a business is under threat” - Robert Senior, CEO, Saatchi & Saatchi

From the 20-23rd June, Navjot Singh, Editor of 12ahead.com, and Niall McKinney, Editor-in-Chief of 12ahead.com, visited the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity held in the southern French city of Cannes. The Festival is a seven-day global event for those working in the creative communications, advertising and related fields. It is considered the largest gathering of worldwide advertising professionals, designers, digital innovators and marketers.

Each June around 15,000 registered delegates from over 100 countries visit the Festival to celebrate the best of creativity in brand communication, discuss industry issues and network with one another. The team from 12ahead.com, which is part of The Knowledge Engineers, which itself is owned by AVADO, have been visiting Cannes Lions every year for the past number of years to witness the key trends that are shaping the future of the creative world.

So, what was everyone talking about this year?

Some of main key takeaways that we saw this year were that Cannes was not necessarily about the growing tension between ad tech, content marketing and advertising – these trends have made their presence already well felt in a creative pact –but that there is a growing tension between a conventional popular idea and a particular innovative idea. Creatives need to understand the technology and that was the gist of the conversation which revolved around at the Festival this year. There was a lot of buzz around Virtual Reality (VR), Data, Mobile and Social Media. In the latter we saw Snapchat investing over US100million for sponsorship for the event, clearly making their presence felt.

There was also a bit of hype around Search, with Bing launching a new set of Bing insights, found online by following the #BingBites hashtag, which explored how brand sponsors’ campaigns were effectively translating into intrigue with consumers, and therefore search volumes online.

We caught up with Ravleen Beeston, UK Head of Sales for Bing at Cannes, where she emphasised the importance of how much can actually be revealed by using Search properly and how agencies can fully benefit from Search. "Search is a really powerful tool for a number of different reasons and for a number of different uses. That's where I see smart marketing strategies and smart moves by businesses when they really harness the power of that insight and for the data and what it can do for the way they can engage with their consumers". Said Ravleen.

AR, VR, Data, Content marketing were a big part of Cannes this year. There were some great activations including the opportunity to explore Mars on a school bus, as well as the opportunity to ride a surf wave or ski in the Alps with Samsung’s latest VR equipment. Google seems to think that these are the technologies that will impact our lives in the next year. But can you imagine wearing a VR set and walking around the city? Steve Vranakis, chief creative director at Google said: “creatives need to distinguish between VR and YouTube 360 because they are not the same thing and creatives also need to better understand the user in order to make sure they really apply the technology and embed it properly to provide a better user-experience.”
 
"VR is an extremely multidisciplinary medium. It takes a lot of things for VR to work its true magic.” Said Björling, Global VR Director, MediaMonks. Indeed, the key message this year was that technology is no longer enough to impress humans.
 
In a landscape that is more competitive than ever, the talk of Cannes this year was that it now expected as a standard as part of the marketing mix that there is an AI or VR element. ‘Digital Marketing’ has almost become obsolete as a term or offering, marketing is now just ‘digital’ and is expected to be so. 

Now, VR definitely has the potential to connect people with information and experiences and places in a way that is unbounded in how you can scale it. The creation of the Google Cardboard is a perfect example, which has only recently been released in Europe despite having been devised in Paris by two Google engineers who broke down the crucial elements of a headset and adapted it to work around their mobile devices. That creation is turning the smartphone into a makeshift VR viewer.

More than five million had been distributed by the end of last year, according to Google. VR is connecting the real world with the virtual and becoming more accessible. It was a hot topic at Cannes with everyone from Samsung to Google making sure their latest VR products were on everyone’s heads. Google recently introduced the 'Jump' app which creates 360 video through mobile devices and is being used by media such as the New York Times to create stories and videos to fully immerse audiences.

Antoinette Hoes, CEO, Wunderman Amsterdam, also pointed out that she would not be surprised if the future is dominated by Augmented Reality (AR), where people may be influenced to use a AR body part instead of your own biological body part, a leg for example, because the AR leg would be able to do much more and make smarter moves than your biological leg!

DATA

The constant importance of applying the usage of data and the internet of things (IoT), as a topic, has had marketers jumping for sheer joy for a number of years now. With the speed of processing improving exponentially and with our ability to harvest data being the stuff of science-fiction, it comes down to the next step, which is that we’ve had Big Data, we’ve had Smart Data and according to Haydn Sweterlitsch, the global director of VR at Hacker Agency, the next step in the evolution is Beautiful Data. This would be data that informs you and data that is digestible, and one that eventually becomes actionable. That is beautiful data and that is the future of data. And this was highlight perfectly at Cannes this year by many. Antoinette Hoes also mentioned that if big brands, such as Pepsico, Coca-Cola, are able to leverage the usage of data to understand the user more, then a similar strategy needs to be adopted by everyone else because at the end of the day it is all about enhancing the user-experience. 

FACEBOOK

Away from Data and VR, the other key trend which everyone was talking about was Social Media. Apart from Snapchat being the dominant force at the event this year, Facebook used the Festival to take the wraps off several new advertising-related products and features. The social network announced the beta-test of its new Audience Insights API; updates to its Canvas full-screen immersive ad product; updates to its Slideshow ad product; and the launch of the Facebook Creative Hub.

We saw similar announcements from other social media and internet platforms, including Yahoo for example.

GENDER EQUALITY

Apart from the technical know-how issues, one of the most important issues was revolved around gender and racial equality. The tech industry has long suffered with a significant gender and race imbalance that many leading advertising and marketing figures are attempting to redress, and the subject was high on the Cannes agenda. Yet as with any complex issue, progress is mixed and industry-wide alignment is still crucial to reach a solution. It was pointed out that the industry is still dominated by white men from a middle class background. A sad part of the event was pointed that while several thought leaders called for greater recognition of female achievement, shockingly there were still Cannes Party invites seeking 'Attractive Females Only', which - quite rightly - received a very negative media response.

There were talks by many influential speakers who were calling on for greater gender equality, including executive Madonna Badger and well-known columnist Cindy Gallop, who both delivered passionate speeches about the sad fact that ads objectifying women as sex symbols are not just damaging female self-perception, but are also causing much unwanted brand damage and not good for the industry.

Cities are becoming nation-like in size and importance and that they are coalescing into large urbangeas (a term coined in a report from Ogilvy) which will be able to attract investment and brands because of their massive populations. In a panel with PwC and Ogilvy at Cannes, which Niall moderated, well-known columnist Cindy Gallop, John Gerzema, Chairman & CEO, BAV consulting and Justin Sturrock, People & Organisation Leader at PwC discussed the commercial potential of the global urban middle class.

HIGHLIGHTED CASE STUDIES

There were thousands of entries and hundreds of winners. From the technology side, we have picked a few to showcase the reasons why they won.

GOOGLE ALPHA DEEPMIND

Let’s start with Google’s DeepMind, which won the Innovation Lions Grand Prix for AlphaGo. It is a smart computing system that for the first time beat the best human player at Go, an ancient game that is much more complex than chess. The Artificial Intelligence system was developed in the U.K. by DeepMind, a Google acquired company. So, why did it win? Well, AlphaGo by any measure -- complexity, simplicity, potential use – is simply incredible. It really brings about the best of how much work can be achieved by the smart usage of data. The fact that it has been awarded this year at Cannes signifies an indication of what the future is about: data.

WEARBLAE TECH GOOGLE TRUCKER JACKET

As further evidence that fashion and wearable tech can perfectly mix (yes, they can!), Levi’s new Commuter Trucker jacket, designed with Google’s Jacquard technology, essentially enables cyclists to wirelessly access their phone and mobile apps to adjust volume, silence a call or get an estimated time of arrival for their destination. If this is stuf of science fiction movies, then you just be right. Because, in actual fact, this technology enables gestures including tapping or swiping on a sleeve to activate functionality. There’s no doubt that there’s despite the challenge of creating smart clothing (apparently you can wash it, too), Google has created something truly amazing here. The winning ad highlights what we all may be wearing and taking for granted, just as much as we have started to wear hearables and walk around talking to ourselves (who would’ve imagined that in the 1980s!?).

NEXT REMBRANDT PROJECT

Next up is a brilliant case study about data-driven creativity. We actually fell in love with this concept from JWT Amsterdam that uses data derived from Rembrandt’s body of work to 3D print the Next Rembrandt. It’s a project on behalf of ING bank to stimulate a conversation about data and creativity in the art world. The amazing thing about this complex project is that it is easy to understand, or at least JWT have made it easy to understand for the user. This is why it is was very effective. Everyone- and I mean everyone, easily understood it. No wonder why this was the winner of the Creative Effectiveness Lion.

KEY MESSAGE THIS YEAR: TECHNOLOGY NO LONGER ENOUGH TO IMPRESS US

Ad agencies, media buyers and the holding companies that own them are slowly waking up to a future that has been upended and reshaped by two technology companies. The bulk of spending by brands on digital advertising is going to Google and Facebook. Combined, they accounted for 75 per cent of all new online ad spending in 2015, according to eMarketer.

This matters because digital is fast becoming advertising’s biggest source of revenue. It will eclipse TV in the US next year, according to eMarketer, the research firm, with the lion’s share likely to go to the digital duopoly of Facebook and Google. Executives in Cannes this year put on a brave face on what this might mean for their industry but the consequences of two companies becoming the gatekeepers for most digital advertising are profound.

Google and Facebook compete in some areas such as digital video advertising but are present “across every part of the food chain”, according to one ad executive.

Advertisers like the targeting they get with Facebook and the trove of data it has on its 1.65bn users, just as they like the efficiency of Google search. But they are worried about a concentration of market power in two companies that not only own the playing field but are able to set the rules of the game as well.

There are other digital options beyond Facebook and Google. Snapchat, the messaging app, is becoming an alternative option for advertisers and had a big presence in Cannes this week.

KEY MESSAGE

Creativity is the lifeblood of our contemporary worldwide society. There was much talk of social purpose at Cannes but that is not a substitute for strategy. Of course advertising has the ability to drive social change but why should it? An idea needs to be both popular as well as being creative.

Unless we have great creative strategy, not just creative execution, then we may as well move to a future in which we ask machines to create the next advertisement purely from the data collected. That was the message that both Robert Senior and Kate Stanners were getting across, that when a business is at threat, then the creative industry is at its most potent. It certainly seemed to be the case this year at Cannes.

Another example of campaigns not really applying the technology into the framework was when using VR. The technology was highly spoken this year but hardly won any awards. Why? We personally don’t think people have quite got what VR can be used for yet. It’s not about the technology, it’s still about the idea, the experience, and the story that VR is going to touch everything. It goes back to the ability to put you anywhere, to put you in a different space, to create an object in front of you that as far as you can tell it's really there, it has scale and physical presence and it will touch everything from how we communicate, to how to travel, to how people build buildings and to how we remember things. But one key thing is missing. Creatives are not really sure how to effectively use it in their campaigns.

Countries such as China, which has in the past 30 years grown as a Mobile First culture as opposed to the West, which has grown up as a PC operated culture, are at a distant advantage in terms of forging ahead with digital, and effectively setting an excellent example for others to follow. It was beautifully described by Eric Cruz, AKQA’s Executive Director in China: “The future is Mobile First and Mobile Only -people need to start thinking that way for all campaigns.”

Many experts were pointing out that it would be right to consider 2016 as the year of tech education and 2017 as the year of tech application. It would be interesting to see what the reality would be like and what trends will be exposed in next year's event.