At this year’s Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity, the most awarded campaigns echoed the sentiment that consumers want to engage with brands with a higher sense of purpose.
Sustainability and the environment came out top in that regard, with two initiatives scooping five of the top prizes. But other concepts continued a broader marketing focus particularly relevant to those in the consumer retail fields, from playing with the rules of what conventional advertising looks like, to evolving the notion of online and offline commerce in new ways.
Here, we highlight the ones to know from this year’s festival:
Stories with purpose
The idea of purpose and its continuing impact on creativity isn’t new to Cannes Lions. While the big talk on stage this year was around how brands can stand for something authentic all the while driving true action, award winners throughout the week highlighted some particularly innovative ways to do so.
The small nation of Palau took home not one, but three Grand Prix awards (Direct, Sustainable Development Goals and Titanium), for Palau Pledge, for instance, a campaign that asked tourists visiting the Pacific Island to sign a pledge to protect its environment. Those arriving in the country now have their passports stamped with a pledge to be considerate of the environment they are visiting. The campaign extends further with a video playing on every flight arriving, and the nation’s Ministry of Education creating a program to educate their children on sustainability.
Meanwhile, Trash Isles, a campaign partnership between Plastic Oceans (a plastics pollution organization) and media company LADbible, also took home two of this year’s top awards – the Grand Prix for PR and for Design. It did so for its aim to highlight the problem of plastics in the ocean by registering the patch of trash as its own country, including a flag, (recycled) passport and currency, and then taking the concept to the United Nations.
The idea was that as soon as the area was registered as a country, people would start taking the problem seriously. Within the first week the country had 100,000 people signed up to become citizens, making it the 26th smallest country in the world – honorary citizens include former US Vice President, Al Gore, and Dame Judi Dench.
This notion of purpose and sustainability also trickled down to fashion where Lacoste won a Gold award in the Design category for the way in which it played with its iconic logo in a bid to help raise awareness about species’ conversation. The limited edition “Save our Species” collection it created, saw the crocodile logo it is known for replaced with 10 of the world’s most endangered creatures. To add a level of urgency, the number of polo shirts available for each species corresponded to the number of them known to remain in the wild.
Rewriting the rules
The second trend this year came from brands challenging public perception of what is known about them – from remixing their visual identity, to speaking to such niche audiences that they risked alienating a majority.
Nike has particularly played in that field by tapping into niche cultures with its Nothing Beats a Londoner campaign, which took home a Grand Prix in the awards’ new category, Social & Influencer. This initiative honed in on London youth culture with an energetic spot that pays homage to urban living, highlighting how challenging it is to practice sports in the city. The campaign was well received as an anthem to young brand fans who recognized many of the 258 athletes and influencers featured in the full three-minute piece.
Meanwhile, Diesel’s Deisel launch, which popped up in New York’s Chinatown with a series of real ‘fake’ goods, took home Gold in the Outdoor category. The campaign showcased the brand’s sense of humor, which has been a part of its DNA since its inception, while modernizing it for a younger generation who is keen to tap into irony and subversion.
The Adidas Originals by Alexander Wang season two launch was also noted by the way it took inspiration from underground culture to create a shopping chatbot, in doing so taking home Bronze in another new category at this year’s awards – Creative E-Commerce. Consumers had to text a number found on billboards across the city to begin communications with the bot and complete their purchase. Items were then home delivered by bike couriers wearing the collection head-to-toe. The idea of bootlegging retail follows on from the collaboration’s season one launch, in which shoppers could only purchase items off the back of a truck, and then carried them home in trash bags.
As retail giants including Amazon and Alibaba set the benchmark for what a good retail experience is, this year’s winners from Cannes also brought differentiation by navigating between creating learning experiences in brick-and-mortar, to playing up to the consumer’s digital nature.
As previously covered, Apple took home the Grand Prix in the Brand Experience & Activation category for its Today at Apple programme, which hosts over 18,000 in-store classes globally a week. On-stage at Cannes Lions, Angela Ahrendts, SVP of retail at Apple, described the retail spaces as Apple’s biggest product, explaining: “Retail’s not dying, but it has to evolve, it has to continue to move – and I think it has to serve a bigger purpose than just selling, because anybody can do that faster, cheaper.”
The Creative E-Commerce category inevitably also brought relevancy here, with Xbox taking home the Grand Prix for its “The Fanchise Model” project, a store that allowed gaming fans to not only design and buy their own controllers, but earn commission through subsequent sales to their peers. Users who customized their own controller could claim ownership of it and share their artwork on social channels and forums. By co-creating with consumers, the brand encouraged a sense of ownership and opened up the conversation to a much bigger story that spoke to their fans’ lifestyles.
Nike’s AR Jordan launch on Snapchat otherwise picked up a Gold in this new category. The campaign, in which fans could purchase limited edition sneakers on Snapchat and get them delivered in under two hours, reached 2.7 unique users and 9.7m lens views, according to agency R/GA. The activation featured four major elements: augmented reality through the Snapchat partnership, 3D modelling of Michael Jordan, mobile commerce and lastly, express delivery fulfilled by Darkstore. Together, they created a fleeting experience that saw the sneakers sell out in 23 minutes.
Other notable Grand Prix winners highlighted the power of artificial intelligence and the use of data to spread a bigger message. Creative Data winner “JFK Unsilenced” by The Times UK, analyzed 831 speeches by the former USA president to create a AI-powered speech 50 years after he was due to talk at an event before getting killed in Dallas, Texas.
Similarly the ALS Association took home the top honor in the Good category for giving Pat Quinn, the person behind the viral “Ice Bucket Challenge”, his voice back through using a bank of audio recordings to create an artificial voice. Elsewhere in Colombia, the Ministry of Communications and Technology took home the Grand Prix for Innovation for allowing people in remote areas – who only have access to legacy phones – to call a phone line and ask questions to a Google voice assistant, thus connecting them to the Internet and wider pool of information.
Unlike public perception and debate about the threat of AI to humankind, it is quickly becoming clear that for advertising, the technology is more friend than foe. As the majority of this year’s winners show, deploying technologies can only serve to enhance connections, and often add an additional layer of emotion between brand and viewer.