Cannes 2017: Has advertising woken up to its conscience?

“I was lucky enough to be born with an imagination and a conscience,” the words of David Droga, winner of the Cannes Lions of St Marks award at this year’s festival, resonated with the general sentiment across the week, which focused on authenticity, diversity and social value.

e3 was at Cannes Lions to pick up a commendation in the AdMap Prize and took the opportunity to attend a wide range of inspirational sessions. Often chiming with Droga’s statement, much of the awarded work had a social bent and many of the (wonderful) new directors’ films shared a solemnity that made us wonder whether, even in an unstable world, a greater sprinkling of humour would not go amiss.

Either way, we learned that advertising is concerned by its brand affinity, is aware that audiences in this post truth culture won’t be readily hoodwinked and the key takeout from the festival for us is that they are all striving to find a way to that personal one to one conversation that is taken forwards by the audience, peer to peer. Digital communication is at the core. With young people smartening up to their own ‘social security’, creating more closed communities and making up their own minds, the challenge is only going to get harder. With that in mind, here are our top take out from this truly inspirational global festival of creativity.

1: Authenticity in a post-truth culture is more than ever a key driver for brands. “It’s time for brands to come out of the closet and be true to themselves”, urged Sir Ian McKellen. We loved the fact that the Pride party at the YouTube beach drew one of the biggest crowds of the festival and the mood was particularly open and celebratory.

2: Storytelling is not dead. Sir Jon Hegarty raised the bar on the importance of a good yarn, referencing a general reaction to its value at Cannes Lions last year, stating wryly, ‘none of those idiots still attend the festival.” Not just content but context was a key talking point all week, the difficulty of measuring impact across social channels of primary concern to many and the use of UGC as a key campaign asset prevalent amongst brands.

3: Diversity is a value not a trend. Wise words from the ever-glamourous Helen Mirren in conversation with L’Oreal attracted much attention, a sentiment reinforced by the equally arresting Christine LaGarde, MD of the IMF, who urged, “it’s not just morally right, it makes economic sense”.

4: Content needs to be alive to be shareable – it needs to contain an element of surprise and the platforms you use need to keep pace with consumer demand. Insight we agree with came from the excitable Shingy at a surprisingly interactive session with this self-proclaimed ‘Digital Prophet’ from Oath (formerly AOL). He doesn’t just talk the talk, this guy really walks the walk.

5: Audience drives engagement. A$AP Rocky, the king of influencer marketing drew a huge crowd in the midday heat, to tell us all, “I only do what I believe in, what is true to me and what I know my audience wants.” Fundamentally it seems to us, what the audience really wants is A$AP Rocky – who clearly has the Midas touch. Therein lies the power of influencer marketing. Authenticity in this case surely lies in the fact that you can’t replicate the original.

6: If you start a campaign with a story it won’t necessarily reflect a behaviour. We were impressed by the rationalisation of the agency model in this new age of innovation, shared by the Nick Law, RGA, who urged, understand your audience, build a platform then apply story telling to it. This talk was one of our real highlights of the festival.

7: Women often rise to the top when men mess up and run to the hills. Again the wisdom of Christine Lagarde, MD of the IMF, who urged the audience to hire more women on merit not only in a crisis. Sound familiar? She encouraged agencies to take on more female creative directors, pointing to the continuing gender gap in this critical industry role.

8: Instinct, not insight, drives our creative strategy. A candid interview with Adam&EveDBB and John Lewis on the process of creating the most successful TV ads in the world – the Christmas ad last year even bumped Trump into second place on Twitter. Who would have thought a fox, a squirrel and a badger on a trampoline could have such an impact against the leader of the free world?

9: Research counts but not on its own: Burger King’s global team shared their collaborative approach and mantra that their ‘guests’ drive the strategic agenda. “You do all the research you can, huge amounts of insight work, but ultimately there comes a point where you have to apply your instinct to that – otherwise we’d get monkeys to deliver on the briefs.” Only one question here, why on earth would you call customers at a burger joint ‘guests’? Is that really being authentic to your brand or to your audience – surely you don’t expect your guests to pay?

10: To make a real difference you have to be creative, to take risks, that’s how you make seismic shifts. We had to mention her again and give Christine Lagarde our own Lioness of St Mark award, for searing insight, honesty and mostly for raising the bar at Cannes Lions 2017 to a global, economic level where, creativity really does meet a social conscience that we can all truly admire.