Creativity and contradictions on La Croisette

If you want to read insightful comment on creativity and innovation at Cannes 2016, please read the posts on the Weber Shandwick EMEA blog from my creative colleagues.

If you want to read the random thoughts of a sleep deprived (thanks Daily Mail yacht, ya bastards) old PR lag, read on.

So, my 7th Cannes Festival of Creativity and it was the biggest, baddest, boldest yet. With Health Lions at one end, and the new Entertainment Lions at the other, the festival is creeping into being a mind exploding week and a half of new ideas, creativity, innovation, VR, AR, big data pyrotechnics and great work from every corner of the world and every sector. And rosé. Lots of bloody rosé.

(I arrived and headed as always for the screens in the Work Zone. I had a seven year itch. The PR category was dominated by ad agencies again. Didn’t I see that campaign by another brand and agency just a couple of years ago?  It didn’t last long.)Cannes Lions tweet 2

There was also a welcome increase in the number of clients attending. 3000 is a number I heard, around a quarter of the total attendees. Some old advertising hands apparently resisted this. Like the festival organisers, I welcome it. Creativity and innovation is a partnership with our clients, not something we do to reluctant clients.

Some highlights – and the odd low light – for me:

The Future of Brands – Unilever CMO Keith Weed’s annual lecture is always a highlight, peppered with engaging work, original research and insights into one of the greatest marketing organisations in the world. Watch it online. Not for the first time last week the Persil/Omo “Free the kids” film brought a tear to my jaded eye. His “I to the power of n” proposition is brilliant.

Keith Weed

No blockbuster – there was no apparent (it’s still going on as I write) “Like a Girl” or “Dumb ways to die” category board sweeper but that’s ok. On issues like gender equality, a thousand flowers blooming rather than just one great big one shows how seriously the industry is taking it.

(That said…..I was not the only one in the audience who noted yet again the irony of an industry talking about gender equality as all or majority male advertising creative team after creative team took to the stage. Only one in ten advertising creatives are women. Only one in ten creatives listed on Lions winning advertising work are women. Keith Weed’s own analysis of thousands of ads worldwide shows that 50% of ads stereotype women. Only 3% portrayed women in powerful, leadership roles. 80% of women consumers don’t identify with these ads. Guys – and you usually are guys – this has to change. The most talked about influential on social media at Cannes this year was the brilliant feminist marketing icon Cindy “I blow shit up” Gallop, yet huge swathes of the industry still continue to act like Mad Men in beards and bad denim.)

Creativity counts – every morning at ten am the Cannes Lions folks did a presentation on why creativity was now a more valued business asset than ever. As one client said “you sell more product at higher prices if you are creative”. For a decade now the Cannes Marketeer of the Year company has gone on to see their share price rocket ahead of their peers as a result of their cumulative creative work.

Buzz off – The three buzz words last year were Products, Disruption and Culture. It will be fascinating to see what they are this year but technology innovation and cultural change will be the undercurrents.

Winning is infectious – ten years ago the entire worldwide retail industry combined won one Bronze Lion between them, despite being one of the most consumer facing industries in the world. Last year the sector won 75 Lions for over twenty retail brands from fourteen countries, including a Grand Prix. This year a retail campaign won the PR Grand Prix and John Lewis’ love-struck penguin won big.

Don’t break the Internet – you read so many award entries that claim their campaign “broke the Internet” you wonder how the bloody thing works any more. (I know of only two genuine Internet breakers – Emma Watson’s brilliant UN Women speech and my train company’s crappy wifi. Possibly Kim K’s arse as well I am told.) The PR Jury rightly declared that this sort of hyperbole actually got entries marked down in favour of those that demonstrated measurable business or people impact.

The creative divide – as a perma-worrier about the future for young people including my own kids, a chilling phrase rang in my ears from from one creative commentator; “For so much of life creativity is suppressed. If you are not creative you don’t have a future.” When I was a working class kid growing up in Salford, many of my friends were written off at 11 by the education system or left school at sixteen to go into factory and manual jobs that no longer exist. When you look at our education system today, when you look at the ghettoising of what we used to call working class people (brilliantly documented by Guardian columnist Owen Jones in his book “Chavs”), when we look at the lack of social and racial diversity in the PR industry and other professions, has so much really changed? If every one of us gave at least one non/privileged kid an opportunity to unleash their creativity – through internships, through music and arts projects, by supporting projects from The Media Trust to the Marc Bolan Music Project at his old London school ( these are some of mine), the world would truly be a better place. We are already a world divided by money, power, religion, ideology, war, hate, fear. Let’s not add creativity to the list.

Cannes, Cannes – there are two Cannes. There are the industry moguls on their yachts and the hard working, curious and ideas hungry young (and not so young) creatives. There are the great creative campaigns on gender, sustainability, education, sexual violence, racism and the Millennial Goals , and there are the millions spent by media brands on charter yachts, fine wine, celebrity guests and lavish dinners. There are the gender equality campaigns and campaigners, and there are the girls with long legs and short shorts handing out leaflets at the Palais entrance. As “the thermostat of the world” as Bono called the marketing industry in a past Cannes Lions keynote, Cannes is a world of contradictions. As a New Labour supporter and warrior in the past, I know about trying to reconcile contradictions and not always pulling it off. Hey, you lay out a lavish picnic and the wasps and ants will turn up as well as the hungry children. But the festival itself is a unique showcase of the greatest creative work and minds, the game changing technologies, the criss-cross of culture and conversation.

My advice – forget the expensive A list celebrities, spend some money on sending your brightest young creatives and help them immerse themselves and their colleagues in the work and inspiration that is The Cannes Lions & Festival of Creativity,  Davos in shorts and T shirts.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>