So what was really new at Cannes this year?

Posted: August 26, 2014

Human truths don’t change, but everything else has. Josie Fisher, MD of MetropolitanRepublic Cape Town, reflects on Cannes 2014

There are more reasons to love Cannes than I have space to list, but now that we’re back in the saddle and re-acquainted with the Cape winter, we unlock its true value in an agency that comes up with ideas, rather than ads, to solve problems.

The world has changed, and the world’s problems have changed. New problems need more creative solutions. Cannes is not just a showcase previewof the best creative work in the world, it’s a forum for the exchange of ideas and challenges facing the global industry in its broadest definition.

which leads directly to the first big theme this year: our world is converging. Many have lamented the growth in client attendance at Cannes (and therefore account management) over the years. 2014 saw another big shift: agency networks were overshadowed by the new-media giants as Google and Twitter and the likes shamelessly used their gazillions to lure us to their side of the Croisette.

While the proliferation of new media and digital innovation has placed creative possibility into the hands of more people, it has also brought tremendous upheaval to agencies in the way they connect with audiences. As one speaker mused, if advertising were invented today, in this age of content where people watch only what they choose,on multiple platforms, agencies would be built around three pillars: ?story, application, distribution. The Cannes work this year makes it clear that the boundary between good advertising and entertainment has all but disappeared.

So too has the boundary between marketer and consumer, with real-time conversations now shaping brands. Wendy Clark, head of strategic marketing at Coca-Cola, obsesses over strategies to manage live conversations with anyone who chooses to engage the brand on any given day. She estimates that 85% of Coca-Cola’s social content is generated by consumers. But silence is not an option for brands, and this demands big resources and a different modus operandi to listen and respond to consumers. As everything needs to happen in real time now, speed trumps perfection. Ignore this at your peril.

And so to the second big theme: the fixation with storytelling. Yes, storytelling has been around as long as humanity itself – because it works. It moves people. But live storytelling on a mass scale, often on a global stage, is perhaps the greatest shift to get our heads around. It demands a creative process that is faster, more flexible and more open. We’re part of a feedback loop, in real-time, with the audience taking a seat at the writer’s table. It’s relentless. It requires a new kind of commitment and stamina from marketers and agencies alike.

So we know what has changed our world. Technology is the new frontier of storytelling, with its vast array of options to pull people in to participate (if they feel it’s worth it). But if we wonder who changed our world, blame it on the millennials. An apt quote from a speaker: “Millennials and teens have two states of being: they’re either connected or they’re asleep.” Four billion queries on Google daily, half a billion tweets daily, 800 million Facebook users checking in daily, 100 hours of content uploaded to YouTube every minute of every day … all of this content is shaping our world.

So the next theme is no surprise: 2014 is the year of mobile. What is surprising is that no one is getting it right yet.

Even the great David Droga admits: “We have to crack mobile. Very few have. Bad ads on mobile are just offensive as it’s so intimate.”

Mobile offers massive advantages over desktop (PC) for marketers – higher engagement, on-the-go access, much better for social discovery. While the rest of the world frets about how to shift adspend to mobile in line with consumer eyeballs, here in Africa we went directly to mobile, so we have an opportunity to lead the charge with native solutions for mobile platforms.

The big mobile winners at Cannes aren’t just ads, they are ideas to solve human problems in ingenious ways. Grand Prix winner Nivea took its positioning beyond sun protection with its Nivea Protect app to protect kids from getting lost on the beach. By inserting re-usable paper bracelets fitted with small transponders into magazines being sent to subscribers who are young mothers with smartphones and living near a beach, Nivea can alert mothers via mobile when their child is more than 50m away.

Samsung’s genius S-Drive saves drivers from the perils of using a cellphone while driving, using the device itself to monitor and reward safe driving. It has effectively and dramatically driven down the death toll.

Theme 4 is a “note to industry”. Doing good is winning across all categories. Cause-related work is a smart strategic move that doesn’t have to rely on a brief. Grand Prix for Good winner Sweetie, a computer-generated 10-year-old girl, did much more than raise awareness of webcam child sex tourism, it identified and led to the arrest of online sex predators.

Does the proliferation of cause-related work have something to do with the millennials in our midst? Millennials are different. They are less motivated by money, they want to make a difference and they want to make stuff. They aren’t scared of failure. Apparently they will change careers 10 times before they’re 40. And they will take our brands to more meaningful spaces.

Theme 5: the idea remains front and centre. With tech and content in abundance, the bar has been raised and the same old problem just got bigger – we still need to get consumers’ attention, and move them to do something. That takes an idea. A good Idea is based on a good insight. This is not a new theme, it’s just more important than ever. Content without insight is pollution. So we need to start with something true, and something that resonates. Then consider why anyone would care (the “give a crap” factor) to make the brand matter and to become part of the conversation.

Emotion is the key to unlocking human response. This year’s most awarded campaign, from Cannes agency of the year adam&eveDDB, is for Harvey Nichols’ hilarious Christmas campaign. “Sorry, I spent it on myself” is an unapologetic, irreverent homage to selfishness, flying in the face of retail convention and Christmas cliché. Rooted in a real insight, it was brave, it was integrated, and it paid off in spades – at the awards and at the tills.

To sum up, it’s still about the idea and emotion, but human truths are being mined in incredibly innovative, collaborative and technologically novel ways as our world changes at warp speed. 2014 was a good year to be at Cannes.