Here's why they won Cannes Lions: the jurors' reflections

Campaign asked Cannes jurors to explain the reasons behind their choices.

Cannes Grand Prix winners: (clockwise from top left) Microsoft, Burger King, Doconomy and The New York Times
Cannes Grand Prix winners: (clockwise from top left) Microsoft, Burger King, Doconomy and The New York Times

The memories of Cannes might be fading along with the farmers' tans, but the Lion winners will always endure as a legacy of the work that impressed the juries this year.

But controversy is rarely far away from winners – particularly in an industry as subjective as creativity, which thereby implies originality. So what was the mood like in the jury rooms? Were the winning entries universal choices and what other observations did the judges have on the quality of the work?

Campaign asked some of those industry representatives who were in judgment in the days up to and during the festival to provide some context on why the winners won.

Jose Miguel Sokoloff, chief creative officer, MullenLowe Group

Radio & Audio

Radio & Audio is still the purest category when it comes to ideas and the one that offers the least barriers. Anyone with a pen, a piece of paper, an idea and a voice can change the world. It is also, at the same time, one of the most traditional and incredibly innovative in terms of formats, platforms and uses.

Our jury saw over 900 entries and awarded about 30 of them. The selection process was thorough and tough. The jury evaluated every single shortlisted piece with exquisite nerdiness and rigorously selected the winners. 

The power of traditional radio to surprise and delight remains intact. On the other hand, the possibilities of innovation with voice activation, streaming platforms, geolocation and audio-delivery technology, to name a few, are immense. 

Our Grand Prix was a reflection of the latter, but with all the values of traditional radio. The idea of creating a voice-activated game was genius for the brand. Additionally, the voices, casting, acting and sound design, which needed to convey completely different scenarios as you progressed through the maze, were all perfect. And all of this was delivered in a new platform, within a gaming experience, and the audio component was not only central, but the only one used. It was an easy choice where we all agreed. 

Audio is not just expanding; it is exploding. 

Katie Keith, first lady, Rattling Stick

Film Craft 

Not surprisingly, there was a noticeable trend for work that mirrored the dichotomy of our times; the cultural, political, social and environmental uncertainty versus the growing awareness and understanding that we all need to be more "woke". Bigoted attitudes, political extremism, online hate, the need for truth etc appeared hand in hand with stories celebrating the triumph of human spirit.

What this has to do with brands is a hotly debated topic, but it felt that brands are being more aware and honest about their importance and roles in our lives and that aligning themselves with social causes was being handled more sensitively; less overtly commercial in message if not in ambition (let’s not forget it is still a marketing communications festival). Perhaps this is where it seems times have moved on from David Ogilvy’s infamous "Advertising reflects the mores of society, but it does not influence them".

Whilst often mooted as the opposition to efficiency, the importance of craft and its role in delivering compelling ideas and stories was refreshingly strong. Also encouraging was the quantity and quality of longer-form brand commissioned work which felt free of brand editorial control. Whilst the obvious global heavyweights were present in full force, there was also plenty of wonderful work from across the world, from less well-known brands.

Perhaps one of my less positive observations was the dip in UK work represented. Our best work is still phenomenally good, but we did not dominate the craft story, as we have done historically. Also seemingly absent was our embracing of longer-form opportunities – aside from a few notable entrants – with our US and European counterparts leading the charge.

And when it came to the Grand Prix, the decision to award The New York Times was unanimous. The campaign is an incredibly powerful piece of work that stood out not only because the flawless craft elevates the idea, but all the different elements complemented each other seamlessly.

So what were my main takeouts from the whole experience?

  • Craft is alive and well. 

  • For the UK to be creatively great again (sorry) and for us to be far more adventurous, ambitious and creative with the type of creative we make. 

  • For us to embrace more longer-form content – especially narrative-based work. 

  • For us be more outward-looking, to look up and around, to be challenged and inspired more by work being made across the globe.

Laurence Thomson, chief creative officer, McCann UK, and co-president, McCann London

Creative eCommerce 

Cannes – nestled on the edge of the French Riviera and host to our industry’s most coveted awards festival. Summer gear on, I board a plane from London and, upon arriving on the tent-lined Boulevard de la Croisette, I stave off the rosé, spending the first three days tucked away in a room with another nine jurors to judge some terrific work in the Creative eCommerce category.

A category, whilst still in its infancy, that is pushing the boundaries beyond the tokenism of ecommerce and the notion of purely giving away free stuff to generate audience spikes. What I love about this category is that Cannes is putting creative into ecommerce – elevating digital couponing by answering the artistic, the imaginative and innovative questions so long left unanswered. It’s giving rise to work and campaigns that are upping audience interaction.

Our chosen Grand Prix winner in payment solutions, "Do black" by Swedish fintech company Doconomy, had the creative edge. Nothing came close to the shape, thoughts and intentions behind this idea that, at its core, lets people understand why they’re spending, rather than just knowing what they’re buying. Instead of using my airmiles to book a flight, I can use them to offset my carbon footprint. Just genius. It aligns brand to purpose whilst getting creative with ecommerce.

KFC’s "Pocket franchise", which took home gold, actually echoed the previous year’s category Grand Prix winner – Xbox Design Lab Originals – in that its essence was user-generated. I was blown away by how much cash this campaign raised through WeChat. Then there was "Car to bike", a personal favourite of mine, as it saw a massive uplift in engagement tackling pollution in Paris.

If I had to observe one trend amongst this year’s Creative eCommerce winners, it was the scope of the work’s geographical origin. Awards went to campaigns in the UK, US, China, Paris, Sweden, India – a true testament to the beauty of this category that creative ecommerce can come from anywhere. The ambition of each and every winning campaign is tantamount to the importance of this young category that’s raising the bar even higher at Cannes.

Elspeth Lynn, executive creative director, Geometry UK

Innovation 

If you make it, you don’t have to fake it.

Gone is the darkened room shut off to the outside world where jurors disappear, then resurface – just as pale – days later.

Welcome to the evolved world of Cannes, where judging innovation is under the bright light, albeit fluorescent; and in front of an audience.

Over three days, the creators of the 25 shortlisted entries, edited from 187, presented their cases. Some truly impressive, such as "ThisAbles", "Changing the game", "Do black" and "#BrailleBricksForAll". It was evident which people created and led an idea getting made, and those who were merely part of the chorus.

This was not the time to hide behind a beautifully crafted case study film. Instead, people were faced by an audience, as well as a diverse and switched on jury. Looking to be impressed. Curious to hear the story.

Then we debated. Was the innovation full-bodied or simply a waif of a notion?

Do we vote for the start-up who needs the PR or the mega-client who can make a global difference? Support the idea "for good" or "for business"? We went back and forth.

For me, the ideal was ideas for good that also created growth for a brand. "Changing the game" and "ThisAbles" were shining examples.

The trend that won the week was clearly "enabling the disabled". What was once a neglected subject culturally and in Cannes now proudly fills the submissions across all categories. Channel 4 "Superhumans" in 2012 opened that door.

The best presentations were by people who were genuinely involved and could answer any question, mostly because they had already tried the answer. And the most honest, brilliant and moving answers were conveyed in sign language by the team behind SeeSound. Universally loved, though not unanimously voted as Grand Prix.

But one thing was clear from the live judging. Truth, passion and determination trumped fakeness every time. All you had to do was actually make it.

Alex Grieve, executive creative director, Abbott Mead Vickers BBDO

Film

I knew it was hard to win at Cannes.  I didn’t realise quite how hard. There were just under 3,000 entries in Film. The most ever. That means your treasured piece of work, entered at an exorbitant price, had a 0.36% chance of winning gold.

If you want to strut La Croisette clutching a shiny Lion like a shit Kanye West, your work needs to be truly special. And this year the golds were.  

As a jury, we felt very proud in the work we selected. There was, to be honest, little debate. Like all great work, it didn’t need us to speak up for it. It spoke for itself.

From a personal point of view, it was humbling to have a piece of work from AMV – "Viva la vulva" – in contention for the Grand Prix.

In the end, it was close but no Montecristo, but if we had to lose to any piece of work there was no shame in being runner-up to the New York Times campaign. It was a cultural grenade styled like a Fabergé egg. A beautiful explosion of craft, idea and cultural relevance. A glorious fuck you to Trump. Chapeau to all at Droga5.

The obvious trend was, obviously, purpose.

And here’s some feedback on that trend. Use purpose properly. Be radically authentic. Don’t just say; do. Be prepared to lose something, if you want to change something.

Please, for the love of all that is holy, stop shamelessly jumping on the purpose bandwagon to enhance your brand or career. You won’t. Save your money. Save your soul. The jury will see through it. And so will the people you’re trying to sell to.

The consumer isn’t a moron; they are your wife, husband, brother, sister, lesbian, gay, trans…

Emma de la Fosse, chief creative officer, Digitas UK

Brand Experience

There are two reasons why being a juror was better this year than when I’ve judged Cannes in the past; where previously a Cannes jury comprised approximately 30 people, this time we were just 10. The reduction in numbers also reduced the opportunity for political manoeuvring and increased time for really good debate. Secondly, all the entries were prejudged in an online round. That helped to cut 2,502 entries down to 354 – just 14% of the total to score for shortlist and metal.

So what was the big news in brand experience? You could say "it’s a broad spectrum open to interpretation". Or you could say nobody really knows what it is. Many entrants came to the conclusion, understandably, that it must be something to do with its category co-habitee, activation, and entered their best trade show kiosks. Others entered stunts with the predictable halo of social media or presented quite incredible tech solutions to human problems. All of which, it could be argued (and it was), affect your experience of the brand and therefore qualify as brand experience.

But of end-to-end solutions, with every touchpoint across the journey choreographed to bring the brand to life, there was precious little. So yes, we did debate long into the night before we awarded the Grand Prix. But I believe we got it right and I’m especially happy that a new product sits at the centre of the work. If the job of the Grand Prix is to point towards the future, "Change the game" does just that. The Xbox controller was developed in a partnership between Microsoft and the agency. It’s proof that mutual trust, respect for creativity and genuine non-partisan collaboration will be essential requirements for both agencies and brands going forward.

Rachel Forde, chief executive, UM UK

Media 

Nike won the Media Grand Prix for transforming São Paulo city walls into graffiti AirMax stores and turning ecommerce into a cultural experience. It’s hard to argue against its efforts in pushing the boundaries of creativity and commerce, but what was clear this year is that there was a renewed focus by judges to explicitly explain exactly why Lions had been awarded for specific work.

There was no vote lobbying here. Every entry stood on its own merits. Every single asset had to be judged and considered before a vote could be cast.

There was another common theme across the entries this year – brands and campaigns that have made a difference and made the world a better place. With all the talk of purpose-driven marketing, it was great to see campaigns that took that concept up yet another notch and identified – and created purpose from – one of the moments that matter. It’s not just about selling products any more.

Many of the best entries also highlighted that humanity is a collection of the strange, the imperfect and the weak. I saw campaigns that recognised and played up our foibles, showing that marketers understood that consumers are people, not just a collection of data points.

Our aspiration as an industry has to be to create better and more meaningful work, to challenge stereotypes and prejudice, and to demonstrate responsibility. This year’s Lions showed all of that in action.

Trevor Robinson, founder, Quiet Storm

Industry Craft

One thing I always look for when judging awards is work that is so moving, clever and beautifully executed, it makes me wish I’d done it. I’m glad to say I got that feeling many times during the judging this year. The work gave me a renewed faith in the power of this industry to elevate brands, and with the Craft Grand Prix winner, Nike’s "Just do it HQ at the church", its ability to transform communities and save lives. Nike gave a safe haven to kids living in neighbourhoods where you can’t even go outside to play basketball for fear of getting attacked. What also impressed me was how respectfully the redevelopment of these abandoned churches was done. For the black community, the church is something you don’t mess with; big, brash logos wouldn’t have worked. The Nike logo is in evidence, but you need to look carefully to see it.

As inspiring as the judging process was this year, one disturbing trend emerged. Standards of copywriting seem to have dropped almost beyond recognition. Ten years ago, entry copy would get the point across in the most entertaining and interesting way. This year, our jury, which had award-winning copywriters on it, were horrified by some of the efforts passing for copy that we had to read through. The writing was generally ill thought through, dull and sloppy. 

The root cause of this is debatable. Perhaps it’s because we are of the texting generation, where the written word isn’t valued and everything is abbreviated or replaced with an emoji. Maybe we don’t feel we have the time to spend crafting what we write in our always-on, tweet-before-you-think culture. While we rightly celebrate the brilliance of the Cannes winners, we should be raising our game considerably when it comes to copy. 

Pelle Sjoenell, worldwide chief creative officer, Bartle Bogle Hegarty London

Titanium

Titanium Lions are the crystal ball of the industry. They show us where we’re going.

But sometimes the world already knows what has won. Nike’s "Dream crazy", featuring Colin Kaepernick, was one of those. My parents, my kids, people who don't work in advertising– they were all talking about it before anyone hit La Croisette. 

There were surprises too. "The last ever issue" for Gazeta.pl, Mastercard and BNP Paribas – a feminist send-off for an ailing pornographic magazine – was one of those. 

To win the Grand Prix, the work has to be flawless. The decision to award it to Burger King and its genius, counter-intuitive stunt, "Whopper detour", was unanimous. It was flawless in its innovation, its use of media and technology and in its execution. It boosted sales. It hacked the system. It was 100% on brand.

We also had the privilege of judging the Grand Prix for Good, which we awarded to Generation Lockdown. 

The difference in judging these two categories is important: Grand Prix for Good rewards ideas that can change the world, whereas Titanium rewards ideas that change our world, our industry. 

One of the biggest trends we noted this year was collaboration; "The last ever issue" being a perfect example of that. Brands working together to solve a problem, sharing the work, sharing the reward and creating impact. We saw a lot of audience collaboration, too. When Microsoft's "Changing the game" was developed by gamers with disabilities, the message was clear: don't do it for people, do it with them.  

For Titanium, the shortlisted teams present to the jurors, in a format reminiscent of The X Factor. If you get to that stage, you know we love the work. But we also want to know about the hurdles and see first hand the relationships with the client or the collaborators. We want to understand the reality; what went into the work and the challenges faced. Truth is stranger, and more wonderful, than fiction. 

Karen Blacket, UK country manager, WPP, and chairwoman, MediaCom UK and Ireland

Media

The jury had done all the hard work to get us to a final decision between two amazing campaigns. In total, there were 2,196 entries from 66 countries, which 38 judges prejudged before Cannes Lions even started. We were handed a longlist of 296 for the eight Media Lions jury members in Cannes to create the final shortlist.

I had the pleasure of working with some of the best in the industry from around the globe. The Media Lions jury was truly diverse; gender, ethnicity, geographical representation and areas of expertise – programmatic experts, creative agency experience, media strategists, media buyers.

Everything is media, but we wanted to ensure we recognised true media thinking – excellence in media execution, not just media placement. As such, we created our 12 Media Lions principles – what the winners needed to demonstrate in their campaigns – to help us separate bronze from silver from gold.

There was some disappointment. Too few of the longlist showed real media planning excellence, craft and detail. So many of the campaigns could have been even bigger, even more famous and even more effective, if as much care and attention had been put into the media execution as the creation of the content.

So, what were the core themes that we saw from the final shortlist? First, big brands helping smaller independents, as demonstrated by Visa’s "All I want for Christmas" from the UK, a silver winner, and "The unaffordable campaign" for Renault Kangoo from Buenos Aires. Both used their brand power to promote small businesses in a way that was authentic and mutually beneficial.

We saw new media channels, such as "Pay per beer" for Anheuser-Busch InBev from Africa São Paulo and Ogilvy Chicago’s "Scent by Glade" for SC Johnson, where packaging had been used as a media channel and closed the loop with an ecommerce opportunity. Lifebuoy Soap’s "Infection alert system" and Foxtail’s "Monty’s cricket" were great examples of data being used to truly enhance creativity and hence results – rather than the data showboating seen in previous years.

Cheerios "Hacking Prime Day" and "Are you seeing this?" for the ESPN NBA finals demonstrated a true understanding of how technology is changing consumer behaviour and took full advantage of resulting audience insights.

We also wanted to recognise those brands that evolved a great idea, rather than chasing the new and shiny. Props to Procter & Gamble's Tide for evolving "It’s a Tide ad" for a new occasion: Thursday-night football.

But back to our hearts. Our head, heart and gut chose our Grand Prix winner from Brazil: Nike AirMax graffiti stores. It was unanimous – we all wished we had been part of that campaign team. We were proud… and bloody jealous.

Rod Sobral, Global chief creative officer, Oliver

Social & Influencer

At two years old, the Social & Influencer category is still in its infancy, but this year’s winning work helped define what that category is all about.  

Social media is about participation. It’s where people go to hang out with friends, so brands have to behave like human beings and earn their place. Great things can happen when you understand platform behaviour and participate in people’s lives in meaningful ways. The 47 Lions we awarded are a great representation of that.  

The star of the show was Wendy’s "Keeping Fortnite fresh" campaign, which beat the likes of Nike and Diesel on the Grand Prix run by giving a master-class on how brands should behave on social/gaming platforms. 

Another highlight for me was Sleeping Giants, a social media activist organisation that targets companies whose ads appear in far-right news outlets, encouraging them to stop sponsoring hate. A true inspiration when it comes to brand activism and walking the walk.  

Gillette’s "First shave" also impressed the jury. It’s a brave, beautiful and emotional film featuring transgender men being taught to shave by their fathers. A must see.