Cannes Lions 2022 round-up: The good, the bad and the ugly from Festival in the Cote d’Azur

Jane Stanley, CEO Hearts & Science AUNZ, has spent the last week at Cannes Lions 2022 on the Innovation Jury overseeing entries across the innovation, technology and problem solving categories. Here she wraps up the prestigious event and shares the overarching themes impacting brands and agencies in the current global climate.

After two years off due to the pandemic, the advertising and creative industry returned to the in-person event last week for the Cannes Lions Festival of Creativity. Did it live up to hype around its return and further build the marketing and advertising industry to greater strength? Or, with the world facing cost of living rises, an economic recession plus a war in Ukraine, would an event so linked to opulence be deemed excessive in today’s conscious world?

Despite a few reservations on my part, I packed my bags, braved the airline and airport delays from Auckland to Nice and headed to Cote d’Azur to judge the Innovation category. On arrival in Cannes, there was little evidence of any concerns with most of the networks, media owners and platforms making up for the past few years with their lavish beach front set-ups and parties into the night.  

However, everyone came down to earth with a bump when Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskyy appeared by video call on Day One. This reminded everyone there are bigger issues going on in the world (rather than where to have the next glass of rosé). He called on everyone in the creative industry to use their talents to make a difference. This was later brought to life by the Lions Grand Prix winner in Digital Craft called Backup Ukraine. This app created for UNESCO allows people to digitally scan architecture and monuments in Ukraine that are under threat of being destroyed in the war.

Despite this and a few Greenpeace protests re brand greenwashing, the judging and the awards continued without a hitch. With the likes of Ryan Reynolds showcasing his skills in brand building through to Paris Hilton talking about the power of NFT (as well as giving a shameless plug to her Paris World metaverse!). But moving on from the glamour and celebrities, what can Aotearoa brands and agencies and media owners learn from the 2022 event? Allowing them to follow in the footsteps of the Kiwi 2022 wins for DDB/Samsung with iTest and Special’s ‘David’s Unusables’ campaign on behalf of Motor Neurone Disease.

Lessons from Grand Prix winners

Purpose-led advertising was the main theme of all the winning work. With the advertising industry being put under the spotlight in recent times (i.e., driving excessive consumerism and its overall carbon footprint), this wasn’t really a surprise to anyone. The winners fell into several ‘do good’ buckets – some executed brilliantly and others trying way too hard and missing the mark (although bizarrely still winning some metal). 

Authentic brands demonstrating end-to-end purpose-led creativity.

These included the Grand Prix winner in Innovation ‘One house to save many’ from Suncorp in Australia. To design, test and prototype a home that is truly resilient of fire, flood and cyclone could be deemed as a good stunt or activation by its critics. However, the way Suncorp extended this into their claims/pricing approach, partnership strategy and communication strategy (and more) made this feel so authentically connected to their company purpose. All delivering fantastic brand and commercial results for the organisation as well as helping Aussies fight climate change. 

Other good examples included the Creative Business Transformation Lions Grand Prix Winner Piñatex from Dole and sustainability start-up Ananas Anam, creating a sustainable leather substitute made from the waste pineapple leaves, which is now being used by 1,000’s of brands including H&M and Nike. 

In addition, the Grand Prix winner in Health and Wellness Lions The Killer Pack from India’s Maxx Flashaimed at fighting mosquito-borne diseases in India. The pack is 100 percent biodegradable packaging that kills mosquito larvae when disposed of in garbage dumps and stagnant water and is designed to help fight diseases such as dengue and malaria in India. What was also interesting was they had passed their product innovation over to their largest competitor in India to show their purpose was beyond just the commercial rewards. 

Finally, the Outdoor Grand Prix Lions winner from Adidas is also worth a mention. This Swimmable Billboard aims to encourage women in the Middle East to be more comfortable swimming in public and directly linked to Adidas’ inclusive swimwear collection.

Brands using disruptive creativity to get their purpose-led message across.   

Probably one of the strongest was the Brand Experience and Activation Grand Prix winner (as well as winning in two other categories) The Unfiltered History Tour. Created by Vice World News, the app museum tour offered an unofficial view on the artefacts in the British Museum. All narrated by people from the countries where the items were taken from. Who knows if this will give museums and governments a conscience but an incredible example of purpose-led creativity.

Other examples included the Titanium Lions winner which used e-sports to raise awareness of knife crime. The campaign for the Kiyan Prince Foundation saw Prince, a promising QPR youth team footballer who was murdered as a teenager, recreated at the age he would have been now in FIFA and Match Attax. Plus,the Taika Waititi voiced Grand Prix for Good winner Save Ralph which aims to raise awareness of cosmetic testing on animals.

Brands missing the mark by jumping on the purpose-led bandwagon 

Some of the Grand Prix winners felt somewhat removed from their brand reason for being. Offering good lessons to brands who are about to jump on the purpose-led bandwagon. Maybe these were awarded due their creativity that didn’t shine through in their two-minute video entry, but I still question several of them. The Industry Craft Lions/Media Lions winner Hope Reef from Mars Petcare is one. Although helping to regrow coral reef over five years shaped into the word ‘hope’ is commendable, I still question what this has to do with the brand Sheba and pet food generally The Creative B2B Lions winner Speaking in Color by Sherwin-Williams Coil Coatings offers those looking for paint colours to describe a memory or a feeling and the app will offer up colour solutions to aid happiness. My question is, why do we need more choice in the world and are our creative talents better served elsewhere (referencing back to Volodymyr Zelenskyy call to action). And I had high hopes for the Creative e-commerce Lions, but sadly it went to Thighstop, from Wingstop. With a tenuous link to pandemic shortages in chicken wings, this fast-food brand changed its name and branding to Thighstop for a brief period. Although it delivered great commercial results, it did feel like an idea from many Cannes moons ago and I don’t feel it is representative of the modern world of e-commerce.

Lessons from the many Cannes Lions Festival talks and debates

The major brand players were in town talking about their views on the future of the industry. The big cheese and marketing icon Marc Pritchard from P&G talked about the only answer for brand growth in the turbulent world ahead is creativity. But creativity needs to relate personally to consumers. Also, Unilever’s Dove CMO Leandro Barreto, issued caution re brands ‘woke washing’ as they step further into purpose-led activity. He called for authenticity and the balance of economic and societal growth to ensure the industry in on track. McDonalds Global CMO Morgan Flatley, provided an honest view of the journey they have been on since 2019. Moving from advertising wallpaper (as she put it) to building more meaningful interactions. Although, these huge organisations are protecting their reputation on the stages at Cannes, it did feel like there was a heightened amount of honesty and responsibility (beyond the balance sheet) in the conversations versus previous years.

The digital and technology players were also out in force. From Snapchat and Google to the more newer e-commerce player like Instacart. Google provided a view on the future of Search, stating it was moving beyond just the search box. Showcasing future technology such as Seen Exploration which will use mobile camera functionality in the future to scan retail shelves, providing information to help shopping decisioning. Google also won a Grand Prix for ‘Real Tone’ an innovation I felt should have been delivered many years ago for people of colour.

Probably my favourite talk was on the NFT revolution (non-transferrable digital assets for anyone living under a rock recently). This was delivered by Gary Vaynerchuk and Paris Hilton (yes Paris… although I have to say Gary not surprisingly was the star of the talk). He provided a clear explanation on where the advertising industry is going wrong re Web 3.0. Firstly, he said the industry linkage of the Internet (Web 2.0) to the metaverse (Web 3.0) is stopping progression. He called upon brands and agencies to move our understanding from the cloud to blockchain to truly understand how profound the technology shift is and will be. Secondly, he argued that the marketing industry is still obsessed with reach and is lying to itself about the consumption effectiveness of its messages. Holding back many companies from stepping into Web 3.0 fully. He held back no punches when he said creativity is still defined largely by a TV Commercial (which I agree with), and we must start thinking seriously about the depth of the experience not just the width. Definitely food for thought for many in the industry.     

Finally, Simon Cook CEO of Cannes Lions took to the stage to relay information on Ad Net Zero initiative in the UK. The industry-wide drive is designed to reduce the carbon impact of developing, producing, and running advertising to real net zero by end 2030. He also highlighted this was expanding to other countries which I feel is welcome news to everyone in the industry. This should be a key topic for industry bodies such as the Communications Council in NZ as well as the MFA in Australia. Both are working on initiatives.      

So, 2022 roundup done and I am on a flight back to the colder climate of New Zealand. On reflection I am glad I went despite my initial reservations. Although, I do believe the lavish way events like this will be shaped into the future will evolve as we evaluate the impact. For now, I was honoured to judge as a Kiwi representative and I’m excited about the more purpose-led approach to marketing and advertising ahead. 

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