WARC: Cannes Creative Effectiveness Lions Winners
Dr. Cristina de Balanzo assesses this year’s Cannes Creative Effective Lions winners and finds that all of them have deployed a human understanding to powerful effect.
The first thing I noticed about this year’s Cannes Creative Effectiveness Lions, was how brands were humanising and successfully resonating with people. Among the winners there were very different creative strategies. But most of these awarded examples were showing a clear and deep understanding of human beings, as well as sharing similar ways to engage and empathise with their audience. From my research and brand strategy experience, the question is: are there any emotional and motivational ingredients to drive effectiveness that can inspire future brand challenges? Based on my research work, I wanted to understand how these awarded campaigns have achieved these outstanding results and to analyse what they have in common by evaluating the reasons why they have been able to engage people so successfully. Here are some of the human insights that emerged from the winners that are consistent with what we have learnt and what we know about people:
1. People aren’t intrinsically interested in brands…
…but they are interested in solutions. This could be a benefit for them that makes the world a better place and enables them to connect with people’s values and beliefs. Savlon’s Healthy Hands Chalk Sticks demonstrates how brands can extend beyond a campaign with a solution that becomes the creative idea. The chalk sticks infused with soap encourage a behavioural change: children washing their hands thoroughly before mealtimes. An action plan was needed to save children’s lives and this inspired the brand to develop a fun product. The way that Savlon brought to life this human issue helped it to connect the brand with people’s values and beliefs, making this emotional connection stronger which, in turn, increased market share, brand equity, usage and sales. Small brewery Saltwater managed to both emotionally connect with its audience and change behaviour. The solution fits the category, challenges bigger brands and generates the personal relevance that this brewery hopes will save ocean life. Most of the research we have carried out shows that people are not interested in brands, but they are engaged with the stories or solutions that they bring. When we use neuroscience techniques and analyse the emotional engagement, we often observe, on a millisecond by millisecond basis, that the emotional part of the ad describes an emotional crescendo. However, as soon as the brand is introduced, this engagement drops and there is no way back. A way for brands to avoid this is to provide engaging stories that give the brand a real role to play. When the brand is well embedded and has a good reason to exist, the emotional crescendo is guaranteed. Many of this year’s Cannes Creative Effectiveness winners show that providing a solution to make the world a little bit better or simply, making us happier, is an effective route to take.
2. Humour is emotionally rewarding
There are many ways to emotionally connect with people through humour, and it is a reliable way of offering more rewarding brand experiences. However, it is important to understand if your brand can own it. Humour is an emotional weapon to bring people in, but it needs to be used carefully. We have conducted research analysing campaigns using humour. Some of them were examples where humour was not the natural brand territory and the results did not benefit the brand. While techniques such as facial expression were showing joy (basic emotion) and smiles were given throughout, brain imaging (high-order emotions) said something slightly different. The campaign could entertain, creating what we called a short-term activation, but it could not motivate or engage in the long term. This is what can happen when humour is not well supported by the brand. As a result, you end up with no impact on your brand equity, lack of motivation or even a brand misattribution. Nevertheless, scientific research draws a parallel between humour and what storytelling does in your brain: it puts the whole brain to work, activates memory processing and brings personal relevance. While actually getting the joke involves the brain’s reward system and the way the concepts are delivered generates the engagement and attention that the campaign aims for. Behind the humour there is always a truth and this is what brands need to own: the brand insight that will support the correct brand attribution, otherwise the effectiveness and the long-term brand impact will be missed. The Cheetos Museum turned the cheesy snack food into a piece of art. It was another humorous campaign that was loyal to its product, generated traffic and increased footfall. The campaign engaged and motivated people to buy the snack and at the same time have fun searching for real shapes. The brand delivered a consistent brand experience across touchpoints, which facilitated memory processing and increased the effectiveness of the campaign. The campaign resulted in the strongest sales week in Cheetos’ history. Pedigree’s Child Replacement Programme used humour and a positive approach to stand out from the usual charity campaigns. The way it flipped the category convention and provided the solution for Empty Nest Syndrome allowed it to achieve more online dog adoption enquiries in six weeks than in the previous two years combined, also increasing sales during the campaign period. John Lewis’s Buster the Boxer also shows how to use humour to match brand tone. The narrative follows the structure of previous John Lewis Christmas campaigns: emotional and moving. The story highlights the importance of giving and sharing but, crucially, did not bring Britain to tears. This was the retailer’s intention, given that 2016 had been a particularly trying year in the UK. Instead, the film used subtle humour which connected and motivated people. John Lewis showed, once again, that it does not sell products in these ads, but rather sells more through the shared values portrayed by these stories.
3. Search for simplicity: a clear story Brains look for ways to make information easy to process, prioritising, ignoring or making assumptions in a matter of milliseconds.
The reality is that we prefer simple, rather than complex, stimuli. The New York Times brought this processing fluency (the ease with which the information is processed) using black and white contrast, delivering its main message using simple, visual words, prioritised with motion that matched the voice-over. Further, its usage of easy fonts – alongside its very distinctive and iconic ones – helped to trigger the underlying memory structures. The tone was consistent and emotional and this created the perfect hierarchy, helping the brain to process and retain the information. State Street Global Advisors made a simple and visual statement with the Fearless Girl statue confronting Wall Street’s Charging Bull. The simplicity of the statue, installed to challenge women’s equality issues in the US, managed to speak without words and generated wider, public conversations. The creative team achieved a clever cognitive dissonance, positioning this girl opposite Wall Street’s Charging Bull and managing to disrupt an iconic symbol with these two opposite concepts. The Fearless Girl caught people’s eyes, making them think and feel the message behind the simple idea.
4. Novelty, surprise and unexpected elements are winning formulae to motivate and engage
We all love novelty and our brains are attracted to what is new in the environment. The brain deals with novelty in a region that is linked to memory and emotional processing: novelty plays an important role in memory as well as learning. The first thing our brain does when encountering a new element is to contrast it with existing memories (searching for patterns), before appraising which emotional reaction it should respond with (withdrawal or approach). Our brains like familiarity, but also want to be challenged with new things as these could make them feel good. Novelty provides the dopamine rush that is translated in the search of this reward. Novelty is emotionally powerful as well as motivating: it makes us move towards a potential source of reward. Because when we find or show something in an unexpected way, it will make the brain pause and engage. This is what these awarded campaigns have done. Most of the examples we have seen used elements of novelty and surprise. This is the heart of creativity, bringing new ways to communicate, entertain and subvert. Here we have seen brands that have been able to break category norms (for example, Savlon, Pedigree, SickKids or Amnesty International) or stand for something that differentiates them (adidas, The New York Times, State Street Global Advisors) and all have been successful. We are drawn to novelty without being conscious of it.
5. People want authenticity: be genuine
Being genuine is an important motivational ingredient for brands and helps create a strong level of emotional engagement. This sense of realness helps brands to create a sincere relationship with the people they are talking to. Using a mix of implicit and explicit signals, e.g. facial expression, tone, body language etc., our brain can establish if something feels real and genuine. Our brains are constantly processing micro expressions and signals and we are wired to detect something that is fake. Evolution dictates that our brain needs to be able to detect if someone is authentically experiencing an emotion, as this is all about learning. Authenticity is also important when it comes to products or scenes, not just people. In our research, we have seen how the brain disengages when a product shot, scene or person does not feel genuine. Brands should bring realness if they want to ensure that stories also feel authentic. As a brand and as a person, you should be true to who you are. All campaigns awarded this year have featured this authenticity element, but two used it as part of the creative idea. SickKids is a good example of how a charity can bring people into its cause by connecting it with realness and active commitment. In other words, not just being an observer, but a doer. All the kids in the advertising were real patients fighting real diseases, lending both poignancy and authenticity to the creative idea. This detail brought personal relevance to the audience, who chose to be part of the fight. This, in turn, created an emotional connection through a clear message, helping to increase the effectiveness of the fundraising call to action. The activeness of the attitude of these patients also helped create greater emotional activation, which helped drive donations. The New York Times campaign brought realness to the meaning of its main truth message, showing work from on-the-ground journalists that used the actual shots and sounds captured at the location of the stories. These audio cues further enhanced the power of the visuals and made the whole experience more real, automatically helping to deliver the brand message and increase its effectiveness. Having revealed these human insights, I do not want to fall into a state of neurodeterminism that can potentially kill creativity, when what we want is to be able to fuel and enhance it with what we know about human beings. Everything I’ve learnt from research tells me that there are no creative formulae. However, it is absolutely the case that the campaigns awarded do seem to have the right human ingredients to drive effectiveness and generate a long-term engagement with people. Brands that are triggering the right feelings and are coherent with what they represent. Brands that take a position on what is happening in the world and make a statement: some are trying to make the world a little bit better and others are simply bringing fun – an extremely emotional ingredient. Brands belong to people, not marketing. Human marketing, when it is well executed, allows brands not just to honour creativity, but to impact people’s behaviour, brand equity and, obviously, sales. Job well done.