Here we are again, standing on the precipice of five days on the Côte d’Azur, which has been reserved to turn our collective gaze towards the most important aspect of this business: the creative product and the impact it made for our clients.
Next week in the south of France, the conversations that unfold on the Croisette and the work deemed worth gracing the Palais will set the tone for the next 12 months.
This is the 32nd time Leo Burnett has published its annual Cannes Predictions forecast reel and the 17th that I’ve had the honour of curating. It has provided an amazing vantage to have witnessed this industry’s incredible, ongoing evolution. Over the course of a decade-and-a-half, we’ve seen a proliferation in categories, the rise of new mediums and fresh possibilities that would’ve been unimaginable at the start of the millennium.
This year’s collection of contenders might be best described as a patchwork quilt – a colourful assembly that reflects a rapidly evolving, increasingly broadening communication landscape. It’s a collection that’s more diverse, more spontaneous and more "guerrilla" than ever before. But, despite its myriad fabrics, textures and colours, it’d be a mistake to miss the one common thread that has woven through this tapestry – if there’s a common denominator we’ll see on stage this year, it’s work that truly adds value to people’s lives.
Before we dive in, a quick update on what’s new. After a year of streamlining, the festival will introduce two new prizes to the mix, with the Creative Strategy Lion and Entertainment Lion for Sport making their debut. Let’s start with the former – a welcome addition that will help properly honour the insights and thinking that serve as the bedrock of so much brilliant work.
Importantly, the Creative Strategy Lion will also be awarded to work that makes an impact across "wider culture" – the critical distinction that represents the most important frontier for all brands.
Burger King has brought itself into culture by trolling its competition and its "Whopper detour" not only generated huge earned media buzz, it also drove app downloads and resulted in sales growing threefold. The simple activation offered a coupon for one-cent Whoppers, but users had to be within a 600-foot range of a McDonald’s to unlock the deal.
Work that aspires to be part of culture meets people where they are. This was certainly true of many favourites this year, including two that created connection on the streets in different ways. Summertime lemonade stands are a rite of passage for children across the US, but when local officials began shuttering the small shops, Country Time Lemonade vowed to help with free legal counsel through "Legal-ade". In Paris, Centre Pompidou sought legitimacy where it really mattered by creating statuettes that were sold alongside those of the city’s other architectural landmarks.
Brand acts abound this year: Ikea demonstrated its furniture was so adaptable that it surreptitiously placed pieces in Spain’s Museum of Romanticism and challenged visitors to find them; The New York Public Library brought its shelves to mobile phones by transforming classic novels into beautiful, engaging editions offered free on Instagram; and Microsoft Xbox delighted fans by translating the action of footballers on the field into real-time controller commands in "Football decoded".
The best technology-empowered creative from the year rewarded people for the time spent with it. HBO developed an Alexa skill to promote Westworld; "Westworld: the maze" allowed fans to explore an interactive universe with more than 60 storylines and 400 in-game choices. Carlings delivered an immersive experience of a different sort for its "adDRESS the future" effort, which launched a digital wardrobe that users could wear on social media to curtail the physical waste of gratuitous shopping.
Two streaming services leaned in to unfortunate realities about our digital culture. Amazon Prime acknowledged our true binge-watching nature with the "Great shows stay with you" campaign – films that follow viewers whose lives begin mirroring plot lines in some of the platform’s original television. Meanwhile, Netflix embraced Thailand’s strict censorship laws and created a trailer that was even more titillating for "Narcos – the censor's cut".
One brand has consistently delivered value in the form of an annual Christmas gift: John Lewis & Partners. This year, its present to the British public was "The boy and the piano", a beautiful retrospective following the career of Elton John, all through the lens of the most important gift he received as a child. The film presents a whirlwind spin through the Rocket Man’s most iconic moments, brought to life with impeccable production.
Another slice of top-notch filmmaking from the UK challenged stigmas around feminine hygiene marketing. Essity followed its provocative "#BloodNormal" campaign with a taboo-tackling ode to vulvas that’s not easily forgotten – and it will be a formidable contender.
Across the pond, not everything originally conceived as film wound up as one. For Super Bowl LIII, Skittles eschewed the big game altogether and took to Manhattan for "Broadway the rainbow", a brilliant, comedic interpretation starring Michael C Hall.
If you consider the most iconic newspaper advertising over the decades, you’ll find a raft of brilliant thinking, from The Guardian’s legendary "Points of view" to The Independent’s "Litany". What I love about this year’s work from The New York Times is that it unapologetically embraces the truth as its core purpose and dramatises its relentless pursuit of it in a way that’s captivating, refreshingly original and worthy of standing alongside the legacy of great work in this category.
In an age in which facts, news and objectivity are facing constant assault, the work cuts to the heart of the matter in a beautiful, intelligent and deceptively simple way and invokes an apt quote from the great Bill Bernbach:
"The truth isn’t the truth until people believe you, and they can’t believe you if they don’t know what you’re saying, and they can’t know what you’re saying if they don’t listen to you, and they won’t listen to you if you’re not interesting, and you won’t be interesting unless you say things imaginatively, originally, freshly."
When we talk about the holy grail of knowledge and intelligence sought after by our clients, it’s common to liken data to oil. It’s a great metaphor, because it invokes the process where the real magic with this precious commodity is revealed. If data is oil, then it gets its firepower from the refinery where it’s distilled.
A brilliant case in point is the moving "The time we have left" from Pernod Ricard Ruavieja, a campaign that leveraged data to inspire people to act. Having just won the top prize at the AICP Next and El Sol, this effort proves that the more intelligence at our disposal, the better-equipped we are to emotionally connect. The most-viewed and shared brand film in Spain’s history, it translated a unique data point into a poignant and urgent message that reinforced the brand’s ambition to bring people together over a glass of spirits.
Let’s conclude by returning to one of those inaugural prizes, the Entertainment Lion for Sport. As any red Liverpudlian will testify, sport is religion, as well as a realm that has fared well in the Palais over the years. Athletic brands have long voiced strong POVs about the world, while superstars of sport have played a role in our work since the dawn of the business.
The competition for this Lion should be fierce; expect to see a host of work that’s infused with purpose, like Adidas’ "Billie Jean King your shoes", a celebration of the trailblazing tennis icon that helped fans transform any pair of kicks, whether Adidas, Nike or Gucci, into a pair that’s coated in trademark Billie Jean blue. The brand leveraged a cultural moment to spotlight a figure whose message of social justice is still relevant today.
But what a year to be competing on a social purpose platform in the world of sport. We toss around the word "bravery" a lot in this industry, but it’s hard to fathom a client willing to take the magnificent risk Nike did with "Dream crazy". People burned real products and real money was lost when the stock price fell 3%. The brand held fast to its conviction and in the end will be celebrated as one that not only stood on the right side of history, but also one that earned $6bn in brand value in the process.
Against a new mandate that demands brands create real human value, Nike has delivered something that transcends the transactional exchange we’re accustomed to seeing brands deliver. In this celebration of athletes who have pushed sport further, it has managed to push the world further. And through this values-driven, authentic campaign, it has no doubt pushed our industry too.
Most importantly, it represents our industry’s greatest charge – to use creativity as a tool to create human value and move people to act.
Game on. See you on the Croisette!
Cannes predictions 2019
- Nike "Dream crazy", Wieden & Kennedy (Portland, US)
- Pernod Ricard Ruavieja "The time we have left", Leo Burnett (Madrid, Spain)
- John Lewis & Partners "The boy and the piano", Adam & Eve/DDB (London, UK)
- Chicken Ramen "Akuma no kimura", Dentsu Inc (Tokyo, Japan)
- Mars Wrigley Confectionery – Skittles "Broadway the rainbow", DDB (Chicago, US)
- Amazon Prime "Great shows stay with you", Droga5 (London, UK)
- Centre Pompidou "Souvenirs de Paris", Marcel (Paris, France)
- Burger King "Whopper detour", FCB (New York, US)
- Essity "Viva la vulva", Abbott Mead Vickers BBDO (London, UK)
- New York Public Library "Insta novels", Mother (New York, US)
- HBO "Westworld: the maze", 360i (New York, US)
- Kraft Heinz – Country Time Lemonade "Legal-ade", Leo Burnett (Chicago, US)
- Adidas "Billie Jean King your shoes", TBWA\Chiat\Day (New York, US)
- Shiseido "My crayon project", R/GA (Tokyo, Japan)
- Ikea "Museum of Romanticism", McCann (Madrid, Spain)
- Microsoft Xbox "Football decoded", McCann (London, UK)
- FELGTB "The hidden flag", Lola MullenLowe (Madrid, Spain)
- The New York Times "The Truth is worth it", Droga5 (New York, US)
- Carlings "adDRESS the future", Virtue (Copenhagen, Denmark)
- Netflix "Narcos – the censor’s cut", J Walter Thompson (Bangkok, Thailand)