There’s a reason Cannes Lions is billed as the biggest gathering of the creative community in the world—for five days straight, the festival is home to our industry’s most brilliant minds, cutting-edge ideas, and innovative technologies. And 2019 was no different: every day was packed with opportunities to talk about the future of our industry and celebrate the creativity that makes our business special.
Like always, Cannes was full with smart insights, but there are a few that stand out. Here are five of most important ideas that everyone should take home from the French Riviera.
1. Storytelling still rules
Humans have relied on storytelling since the dawn of time. And right now, in a time of profound technological disruption and transformation, stories have taken on a whole new level of importance.
With more content at our fingertips than ever before, only the best stories can break through the noise and connect with audiences. It’s why, at NBCUniversal, a show like Saturday Night Live can continue to entertain audiences more than four decades after its premiere. It’s also why iconic commercials like Apple’s 1984 ad, Coca-Cola’s famous Hilltop jingle, and, most recently, Nike’s “Dream Crazy” (which won the inaugural Grand Prix in the new Entertainment for Sport Lions) loom so large in our cultural conversations. Brands are doubling down on finding new ways to tell stories, too. Procter & Gamble’s Chief Branding Officer Marc Pritchard indicated that P&G is looking to “reinvent” advertising by combining it with filmmaking, music, comedy, and journalism.
TAKEAWAY: Innovation and technology will always be important in the advertising business. But whether your ad is 6 seconds or 60 minutes, it’s the emotional power of a great story—not the predictive power of an algorithm—that inspires people to act.
2. Authenticity drives connections
Increasingly, people are looking for authenticity—from the stories they love, and the ads they see. Today, being authentic means reflecting the world we live in. That’s why, at this year’s festival, diversity and inclusion took center stage. Not only did speakers talk about the importance of elevating diverse voices behind and in front of the camera, some of the biggest winners of the week put a spotlight on new perspectives and important experiences.
Ikea told the story of a man with cerebral palsy and the challenges standard furniture posed to his mobility. Johnson & Johnson commissioned a stirring documentary about a group of San Francisco nurses who opened a hospital ward to care for AIDS patients back in the 1980s.
TAKEAWAY: Both brands understood the importance of authentically connecting with audiences. These brands took a stand and told stories to the people that mattered the most. And they did so in the forms, and with the content, that worked best.
3. There is no replacement for talent and creativity
For the first time in its history, Cannes Lions honored an Entertainment Person of the Year. The inaugural award, which recognizes an individual whose creativity inspires others, went to none other than SNL creator and executive producer, Lorne Michaels. While there are several reasons Lorne has defined the comedy landscape for more than four decades, one of the most significant is his incredible eye for finding and developing talent. Lorne made SNL a destination for brilliant writers and performers to find their voice and learn from the best in the business. It’s a reminder that there is no replacement for the magic that happens when you bring the best people together to create something new.
This isn’t just anecdotal evidence, either. When a predictive marketing firm tested 75 Cannes Lions film category winners from 2010 to 2018, they found that Gold and Grand Prix winners were three times more likely to resonate with viewers than normal TV ads.
TAKEAWAY: The people matter. Advertising is a business, but it’s also an art form—which means brands and agencies need to set the creative bar high and continue to raise it. To produce content that’s as entertaining and engaging as the programming that surrounds it, brands need to start forging creative partnerships with the writers, producers, and talent that audiences love. We know good creative, alongside good content, is good for business.
4. Technology equals smart scale
There is no doubt technology has re-shaped what’s possible in advertising. Cannes was abuzz with augmented and virtual reality experiences as well as the most innovative ad campaigns of the year. One of the most talked about winners this year was Burger King, which used mobile technology – specifically location services and geofences – in a novel way.
TAKEAWAY: This example and others should inspire brands to ask the following question: how can we use new technology to enhance the stories we tell, and how we reach our consumers? Innovative technologies are exciting on their own, but when they’re paired with great stories and brands, technology can do something that looks and feels a lot like magic—and gets real results.
5. Partnership is the way forward
Uncertainty abounds in the marketing and media industry. Whether it’s the future of agencies, the need for new measurement, the question of whether social platforms will take brand safety concerns seriously, or how smarter TV will transform advertising—there are so many questions left to answer. Indeed, for all the talk of data in Cannes, it’s not even clear what kinds of data some companies care about.
But, despite these questions, there’s one thing everyone in the industry knows for certain: we can’t just wait for change to happen. We have to come together to build the future together. Fortunately, there are many promising partnerships already in the works: OpenAP is making it easier for advertisers to buy specific audience segments across different TV networks. Comcast is partnering with Charter Communications and Cox Media to help content distributors target certain ads to certain households, while still protecting customer data. Even the platforms are joining advertisers to form an alliance focused on safety to better police malicious content and misinformation.
TAKEAWAY: When our industry collaborates, we’re able to give audiences better experiences, and marketers better results. On-stage and off, that message was clear all week: the only way to navigate uncertainty, and succeed, is to come together.