Cannes Lions Festival 2019: human centric campaigns, creative effective and disposable advertising.

Posted by Cristina Balanzo on the 4th July, 2019
Humans and humanity were indeed some of the most used words in the talks and seminars which sparked some sort of realisation that ‘human business’ is the real business we are all in.

An unforgettable experience. An ode to the multi trillion dollar business of advertising and marketing that is what Cannes Lions Festival of creativity is. Firstly, because it was my ‘first Cannes’ and secondly, because I had the honour to be sharing one of the main stages with our partners Hakuhodo and ServicePlan. We took to the stage to talk about the need for a human touch in campaigns and to show our commitment to human truths with all our eccentricities and funny accents.

I must admit that our provoking (and I still think it was great) title : let’s talk about humans, this pathetic but lovable creatures, was not as original as we initially thought, not that it is too important but what it is more relevant was that it went to the heart of the main themes of the Cannes Lions 2019.

Humans and humanity were indeed some of the most used words in the talks and seminars which sparked some sort of realisation that ‘human business’ is the real business we are all in. Other themes and recurrent words: Responsibility, Trust, Diversity, Activism and Purpose were widely covered themes that became a wake-up call for CMO’s especially, but our industry agents too, as it means to take responsibility for the work we do and certainly we need to aim for communications that drive culture.

I tried to be at as many sessions as I could, but the FOMO sensation was always present throughout the time I was there. While you were listening to one seminar another 10 were running at the same time. And I am not just talking about the ones taking place in the Palais, but also across the tech beaches, in the restaurants and bars… literally everywhere. So, you just need to follow your gut and sometimes it is better to not let yourself be driven by the big names or companies, as sadly they were not necessarily giving the best or the most prepared sessions.

I decided to spend one of the days at WARC sessions and these are the ones I am going to give an overview on. Topics covered there were mainly around strategy and the crisis in Creative Effectiveness. These were certainly topics that keep my clients awake and showed how brand building seems to be under threat. Then: how brands can return to brand building as David Tilman stated? Honestly, it sounds to me a very old and classical question for my years in advertising, but it seems that it is in vogue again, as brands seem to have forgotten the importance of it. One result that puzzled me was ‘1/3 of marketers are not confident in how to build and maintain a brand’. This was from The IPA and Financial Times latest report and they stated a lack of credible brand metrics was one of the contributing factors. How can we (researchers) respond to this? What are we measuring, then? Do we need to stop talking with non-sensical marketing jargon and take a more human language as a start even if this means to change trackers, metrics, KPI’s, benchmarks, etc? How can we challenge our clients and their stakeholders?

Peter Field showed how creatively awarded campaigns are now less effective than they have ever been in the entire 24-year run of data and are now no more effective than non-awarded campaigns. Then, what’s the role of creativity? Are we awarding the right campaigns? He concluded we have arrived in an era where award-winning creativity typically brings little or no effectiveness advantage. Bang. That’s bad.

This is a massive wake up call for strategists and creatives that are coming up with creatives that are, as Peter called them ‘disposable’ advertising, but it is also a call for researchers again when we, for instance, accept to test comms campaigns in very specific segments when these campaigns should be targeted broadly in first place. Particularly if the scope is to build brands in the long term. I agreed with Les Binet and Peter Field that short-termism is a silent killer for brands and for businesses, but also for the research industry that might not be measuring the right things, statements, with the right target or asking the right questions in the right context at the right time, diminishing the predictive value of our tools.

Rory Sutherland, who also spoke at a WARC session, gave a masterclass once again about how to make advertising great again. He challenged the views of the industry about the importance of it and asked for an end to talking about its added value and talk about its multiplied value. He described and showed how brains are not designed for accuracy, but for survival. I believe, as I also showed in our keynote, how homo sapiens are the most emotional animals on Earth. I am sure these views should change how we design our messages, describe people, design our brand and product strategies and develop brand experiences.

With regards to my favourite theme: creative effectiveness, I also attended a session regarding the inside views of the Effectiveness Jury, and I took note about how they were awarding these creative campaigns and the protocol that followed. It seems that in a few cases lack of data pre/post-campaign could be leaving cases shortlisted, but without a medal. Good note for marketers about testing their campaigns to fully understand the ROI or more simply, to use research and insights in first place as we share the same subject.

With regards to the Awards, congrats to retailers as they were to me one of the clear winners of this edition with Carrefour winning the Creative Effectiveness Grand Prix with their Black Market campaign: such a human centric, purposeful and driven campaign developed by Marcel Paris. A great and tangible example of brand activism.

Another awarded category was fast food campaigns as multiple players showed not only the magic and value of creativity, but also the irreverence and braveness of their campaigns. Burger King named Cannes Lions’ Marketer of the Year who has won 76 Lions over the years according to Campaign magazine. Nike and The New York times were the other big winners showing that purpose is not only the favourite word for advertisers and marketing, but also for the jury.

Finally, a very positive note about Cannes Lions showed how the UK ad industry is continuing to show its weight in creative effectiveness: winning 4 out of 12 Creative Effectiveness which is amazing news for pushing back the theme about the crisis in Creative Effectiveness. So it seems we still can celebrate the value of creativity in branded communications, but we indeed still need to reflect on some of the topics discussed and have a look in detail to these new reports that might explain where we are and how we can reverse the situation.

That’s all from me, it was amazing to be able to be part of the world’s biggest gathering for the entire creative marketing community. An unmissable event!

Meet the Author: Cristina Balanzo
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