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Planners’ Cannes: The ones that won and the ones that got away

Bullshit, insights, Rembrandt, long-term campaigns, diversity, altered reality; it could only be a bunch of planners talking creativity. Well not quite, as we also heard from Simon Cook who is Head of Awards at Cannes Lions and Malcolm Poynton, Creative head at Cheil and mobile category judge. So mix them up with Neal Fairfield who heads up planning at Razorfish and Chris Gallery who does the same for strategy at Mother, and you have a swirling sea of ideas, assertion and some really helpful analysis about why we are where we are creatively and what planners and strategists – or indeed all of us - should be attending to.

Simon Cook started by elaborating some of the themes of this year’s Lions. No surprises that there is no point in trying to be authentic, you just have to be it. And the bullshit barometer needs to stay centre stage. He showed the Swedish Coop campaign for organic farming where the focus was switched from what’s happening to the planet to what chemicals in non-organic foods do to the body, by getting a family to eat organic for a fortnight and testing their urine before and after.

A neat idea, built on an excellent insight, with some memorable cameos of toddlers toting urine samples. It did rather beg the question for me whether removing traces of chemical from our pee was analogous with anything more profound in terms of health, but it certainly did what it said on the tin.

He also talked about trust and risk and how Airbnb had put their money where their mouth was by massively upping the insurance payout for distraught owners of damaged homes. Agencies already bear huge amounts of risk on behalf of their clients so it was nice to hear Simon calling on the client community to trust agencies to take on more challenging problems and thereby create more powerful work.

There is no doubt that diversity – or inclusivity – was a big thing at Cannes and is the theme de nos jours. The UK communications industry has been making genuine efforts to bring the issue to the fore through employment practices and casting. But there is a long way to go – and for me it was a bit of shame that the showcased example of Ariel in India, worthy though it was to get Dads to ‘share the load’, was so over-hyped: ‘Ariel has been leading the conversation on inequality in the home….’ My bullshit barometer twitched a little…

But onto the next thing. 10/10 to Neal for deciding to feature the talks at Cannes as well as the work (and be the first to mention Pokémon Go, if not Brexit). Altered reality was his first theme and he used the stunning Lockheed Martin Field Trip to Mars to make his point that the end-game is seamless integration between digital and real life.

He also neatly framed the question: ‘Is there a code for creativity, and can we crack it?’ using ING’s ‘Next Rembrandt’ creation as his example. It’s a fabulous example of 2 years of hard graft with data and it produces something that looks remarkably like a Rembrandt. But it does rather beg the question, if you have 2 years of money and resource to put behind a creative project, would you start there? And what exactly did it prove? Computers are getting really at copying? I felt this example was the beginning of something more profound that might go off in a completely different direction but it’s certainly not yet a code for creativity. And there was another little shudder from my bullshit barometer as we heard once again that ‘the conversation went global…’

Neal went on to make some trenchant points about diversity – or lack of – in action. ‘The worst thing for creativity is a bunch of like-minded people in a room’. We need more misfits and madmen to make truly brilliant work and the misfit could be an investment banker brought in to help with the problem of making dirty Converses cool. The answer: Get the customer to run through a dangerous urban jungle and if he survives unscathed, he gets the Converses for free….

Bringing the themes together elegantly he noted that now is the time when outlying tech is really coming of age, the ‘code’ for creativity needs a human touch, and diversity does indeed lead to greater creativity. You can’t argue with that.

So on to Chris Gallery and some pure-play creative examples. Sticking closely to theme of the whole evening and commenting on a much awarded campaign as well as two equally worthy but less lauded others, Chris was magnificently on brief.

He set out another fundamental theme, that of the need to laud and award and generally promote campaigns that build an excellent creative idea in the longer term and how these campaigns don’t necessarily win big in awards shows, which tend to favour one-off hits. He was somewhat preaching to the converted with an audience of planners and strategists all of whom have the excellent IPA evidence in favour long-term investment in creativity and the benefits of fame for successful brand building. It remains to be seen whether the Cannes Lions will be explicitly rewarding this in the future but we gave it a good go.

His winning example was the fabulous Under Armour campaign. If you haven’t seen it, make it a priority.

Next up was Brew Dog; not a winner but he wondered aloud whether a business that successful and innovative would be too fussed. Back to diversity again, the example he showed was a new beer called No Label, created to celebrate the diversity of Soho, and made from hops that (apparently) turn male to female. Kerching.

And finally a Sliver Lion from Ireland; more diversity in action, but as much a lesson in the importance of insight and ingenuity as anything else. The Irish Defence Forces wanted to recruit more women and had the relatively paltry sum of €20,000 to do so. Using brilliant data analysis and hyper targeting, matched with a fabulous bit of consumer understanding they convinced the exact number of sporty women that they ‘had been training all their life’ for this. And spending precisely €570 in the process. One happy client, I’ll bet.

So Chris’ formula for creative success? Long term thinking, brave behaviour and small budgets met by hyper targeting…..

….Thereby neatly teeing up Malcolm Poynton, the only speaker with the word ‘creative’ in his title who nevertheless did a great job of masquerading as a planner and speaking to the converted about the power of the insight that gets you there creatively.

These insights, you just can’t get away from them. And not a wince from my bullshit barometer.

Touching again on diversity he mused about the difficulty of judging a multiplicity of entries doing so many different things in different ways. His solution was to look for entertainment and engagement in the world of ‘advertising’ and enablement in new and emerging tech – but most of all to ask the question: Does this matter? A nice summation and a helpful guideline for us all.

Answering the question, ‘what got away?’ (nice to have creative following the brief to the letter) he heeded his own advice to laud things that matter, with a Snapchat campaign offering genuine counselling to young people in difficulty and a “one-second coupon”, and WhatsApp offering German lessons to refugees.

The mobile category taken care of, there was still time to note once and for all the power of film to touch people emotionally and help change behaviour. And if there is a behaviour worth encouraging, this is right up there.

So a powerful dose of altered reality, more diversity than you can shake a stick at, hardly any long-term campaigns, actually not a Rembrandt, masses of brilliant insights leading to powerful work and an underemployed freelance bullshit barometer looking for full-time work.

That’s Planners’ Cannes

Sarah Newman

APG Director

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