Day 5 Cannes Lions 2023

Before the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity took place this year, it was already clear that generative AI would dominate conversations, among many other topics that have been challenging the advertising industry recently. Cannes is renowned as the most significant global celebration of creativity, attracting leading professionals to discuss the future of creative endeavors and the hurdles they face. The event's defining glamour is showcased against a backdrop of luxury hotels like The Carlton, JW Marriott, Martinez, and Majestic, and the beaches sponsored by major companies including Google, Meta, Amazon, Snapchat, TikTok, Netflix, and Spotify.

The 2023 Cannes Lions Festival not only met but exceeded everyone's expectations. In this piece, we highlight four creative themes that emerged from this year's expert discussions and award-winning projects, offering marketers valuable insights to propel their brands and businesses forward.

The Necessity of Effective Creativity

With economic pressures mounting, lots of marketers are leaning into performance marketing to get quick sales. But at the Cannes Lions, the conversation was all about the power of branding. The big takeaway? Branding isn’t just fluff—it’s crucial for long-term business health. In one standout session, Unilever’s Conny Braams made the case that sustained brand building is a major growth driver, and the real threat for brands today is losing their distinctiveness.

The vibe at the festival was clear: creativity isn’t just about making things look good—it needs to drive growth and set brands apart. Marc Pritchard from P&G talked about their "Next Reset," putting smart, impactful creativity at the heart of their strategy to not just attract but grow their market. There’s been a lot of debate about the balance between building a brand and pushing for performance.

Integrating Inclusion

This year, the conversation around how to weave inclusion, diversity, and equity into advertising took a more nuanced turn. Brands have shifted their focus from wondering if they should be inclusive to figuring out the best ways to embed these values internally and in their dealings with partners like agencies, suppliers, and creators. Winners at the Cannes Lions festival have shown that getting creative can seriously boost a brand’s inclusivity.

Take Dove, for example. They’ve committed to lifting women's self-esteem in various ways. Their “Cost of Beauty” campaign, which scooped up six Lions, tackles the harmful impacts of social media on young women’s body image. They also hit the mark with their #turnyourback campaign, which calls out the unrealistic beauty filters on TikTok, and even picked up a Grand Prix Lion in Media.

Alessandro Manfredi, CMO of DOVE and Conny Braams Chief Digital and Commercial Officer at Unilever deliver main stage presentation at Cannes Lions 2023

Brands are also getting smart with technology to create positive impacts for diverse groups. There’s the Mouthpad, which lets users move their mouse cursor by moving their tongue, and Vaseline's See My Skin, which is shaking up the usual dermatology visuals. Apple’s campaign “The Greatest” showcases how accessible their products are designed to be. Even with these innovations, the industry knows it has more work to do.

Danai Gurira from the Unstereotype Alliance has been vocal about needing real engagement with communities to smash stereotypes that are all too common in ads and entertainment. It’s time to rethink how men are portrayed in ads, moving from a single stereotype to a broader spectrum of masculinities to reflect real-world diversity and men’s evolving societal roles.

Entertainment is back

BBDO's CEO Andrew Robertson delivered a compelling presentation, advocating for humor as a powerful tool for brand impact. He urged the industry to embrace humor more extensively and proposed that Cannes Lions introduce a new awards category dedicated to effectively using humor.

"Let’s embrace humor and make advertising fun again" - Andrew Robertson CEO BBDO

Although in the previous year, only 10% of Lions were awarded to humorous content, there was a notable exception this year. One of the Grand Prix awards in the Film category was won by Apple for "R.I.P. Leon," a humorous commercial that cleverly showcased its feature for unsending messages. This win may indicate a changing perspective on humor and entertainment among the award juries.

R.I.P. Leon, Apple

Apple's 'R.I.P. Leon' wins Film Grand Prix at Cannes 2023

Several standout winners demonstrated that humor and entertainment in advertising can be effectively utilized by any brand, across all categories. For instance, in the B2B sector, which traditionally might not seem like a space for humor, the HR system Workday effectively used a lighthearted approach. They launched a campaign filled with stars and laughs, centered around the quirky use of the term 'rockstar' by employees.

In New Zealand, Partners Life, a life insurance company, faced a unique strategic challenge as the country has one of the highest rates of underinsurance globally. They addressed this issue by incorporating dark humor and references to popular culture in their ads. By bringing characters from a well-known murder mystery series to discuss their reasons for not having life insurance, they created a memorable campaign. This approach is particularly notable because humor is rarely used in financial service advertising, yet Partners Life demonstrated that it can be an effective tool to achieve business outcomes.

Generative AI: The Talk of the Town

Generative AI was undoubtedly the buzzword of the week at the Cannes Lions Festival, where its potential and pitfalls were debated. As marketers and brand executives from around the globe gathered, the focus was not just on how generative AI could enhance creativity, but crucially, how it could drive commercial growth for the brands they manage. This technology is viewed as a powerful addition to the marketer's arsenal, capable of increasing efficiency, scaling production, and—if used strategically—yielding significant commercial benefits.

Despite the hype, generative AI did not capture many Lions this year, especially in the AI storytelling category of Digital Craft. This outcome suggests that the advertising world is still in the early stages of adopting generative AI. However, this is expected to change rapidly. The discussion at Cannes highlighted a growing recognition of generative AI’s role in future advertising practices, predicting a surge in its application and interest in the coming years.

Adding to the excitement, NVIDIA founder and CEO Jensen Huang described generative AI as a technology that will "supercharge" creators across all industries and content modalities, including text, images, 3D, and video. Speaking at the festival, Huang emphasized that while generative AI can facilitate content creation on a massive scale, the creative community must guide it to produce work that aligns with specific brand values and tones.

"Infinite content doesn’t imply infinite creativity" - Jensen Huang

The potential of generative AI was further underscored by the announcement of a significant collaboration between NVIDIA and WPP. They plan to develop a content engine powered by generative AI, utilizing the NVIDIA Omniverse platform—a tool designed for building and operating metaverse applications. This partnership indicates a substantial commitment to integrating generative AI into the fabric of digital advertising and content creation.

Conversation between NVIDIA's founder and CEO Jensen Huang and Mark Read, CEO of WPP

In summary, while generative AI has yet to dominate the advertising awards, its impact on the industry's future is undeniable. With major industry players investing in its development and deployment, generative AI is set to revolutionize how content is created and how brands engage with their audiences. The key to its success will lie in balancing technological capabilities with human creativity and ethical considerations.

So what's next?

This year's Cannes Lions Festival highlighted the importance of remaining sharply focused on the impact of creativity, amid revolutionary technological advancements and challenging global socio-economic conditions. The impressive work that took home awards demonstrated how creativity can harness innovation for both commercial gain and societal benefit.

That concludes our coverage of the 2023 Cannes Lions. We look forward to seeing what next year holds. Join us again in 2024 for more groundbreaking insights and creative inspiration.

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