Media Lions 2021: OMD’s Chrissie Hanson on the industry’s ‘frightening love affair’ with youth
Chrissie Hanson
29 June 2021

This article was originally published on WARC.


Chrissie Hanson, Global Chief Strategy Officer at OMD Worldwide, shares insights from the virtual judging room at Cannes Lions.

What was it about the Media Lions Grand Prix winners that stood out for you?

We are always looking for craft, we’re always looking for deep understanding of cultural nuance, and business results and purpose. But there is that extra level up that you seek in a Grand Prix.

With Telenor Pakistan, millions of children are unregistered at birth. There’s nothing that says their name, date of birth, nationality – those are fundamental human rights. And the impact is lasting. They developed a digital birth registry, supported with on-the-ground efforts. It was a standout example of lives being changed through the impact of technology.

For 2021, ‘Boards of Change’ by the City of Chicago symbolised a historically important moment. It sought to change culture around voting rights and increase the number of registrations and voters in Chicago’s black community, taking the ply was that used as barricades during Black Lives Matter and turn that into messages of unity. It drove social behaviour and transformed those boards into a really powerful mechanic for change. But, I think, equally significant is that ‘Boards of Change’ worked at a point in time, whereas Telenor Pakistan’s initiative could and should keep going.

Were there any other entries that you particularly championed in the judging sessions?

One that caught my eye from shortlisting IBM’s ‘Second Life’. It was work that tackled ageism and inclusion in Japan. You’ve got the world’s oldest population – one in four citizens are over 65. If you live to be 85 then you’re looking at 20 years of potentially feeling really lonely and unproductive in a country that is youth focused. IBM developed an algorithm that looked at personality traits and gained insights from voice, and then cross-referenced that data with professional occupations, to see what else you might be suited for. They helped 43,000 senior citizens find a path that they ultimately otherwise wouldn’t have achieved.

HSBC’s ‘No Fixed Address’ I loved because you could see the connection to the product. You could imagine the creative agency and the media team looking at this and figuring out the strategy, the right formats that would target people who are vulnerable – so, OOH in areas of homelessness, but also in proximity to where there is a high density so that other people can see it, with a QR code proving information on how to open an account and how to go to a homeless shelter as well. It was a really smart campaign, that also did something good.

A third one from Monash University did really well from creative execution standpoint, even though the results were a little weak. It was a really unique way to drive student recruitment, super powerful. I did tear up a little bit when I watched it!

Any surprises or disappointments that stood out about the entries?

There were also some disappointments. If you look at the body of work from a 30,000-feet view, you could quite easily imagine that our society and our industry is comprised wholly of people under 40. There is a frightening love affair with youth, and while, yes, you want to target and nurture a younger audience because you’ve got you look at projected lifetime value, you also have to pay more attention to older, more financially-fit groups with money to spend. As businesses consider their diversity, equity and inclusion goals, you’ve got to champion that full breadth of what it means to be inclusive, and I’d like to see much more effective targeting around older audiences and actively tackling ageism. That’s a big one.

My other disappointment – and this must be the same for judges year after year – is the impressions trap. Results account for 30% of your entry and all too often it’s just a list of data points, like page impressions, average view duration, number of comments etc. They don’t ladder up to the insight or the strategy that was stated at the beginning of the entry. Be consistent in what you said up front and how you ended.

What trends did you notice in the entries this year?

The data ethics conundrum was debated a lot in the entries. When is precision too personal? It’s a massive challenge, because people are saying, ‘My data is my own’. We certainly felt compelled as a jury to draw a line and set a meaningful example to the industry, but it isn’t a straightforward judgement call. To gain active attention of certain hard-to-reach audiences, you’ve got to target in a way that might be permissible for a certain audience. But if you reward it with a Lion, do you run the risk of sending a message to advertisers that they can replicate those tactics and put at-risk audiences, particularly children, in harm’s way?

A second trend was the explosive growth of gaming. Lots of industries jumped on platforms like Twitch during the pandemic. With dealerships closed, you had automotive brands experimenting a lot. You can travel to new worlds through games. In Brazil, it was getting teens to donate a real piece of clothing in exchange for an in-game skin. On the negative side is the rise of cyberbullying. When you watch some examples of the things that people are writing and saying to each other, it takes your breath away in the most awful sense. I think that trend will just keep getting deeper. We’ve got to exercise our judgement. It gets back to this thing about applied empathy. You have to see the world through the eyes of your audience and their values, exercising no judgement. Only if you do those things can you credibly guide your brands and advertisers to play in that space.

What’s the one thing you learned from the entries that you will apply in future?

In terms of how I would guide my teams, it is process before prose. How are we moving from an understanding of socio-economic, political, cultural context to an insight that connects meaningfully with an audience, and how is the team operationalizing their thinking to apply specific activation that drives active attention and impacts clear business results? For me, logical sequencing and rigour is key. I don’t want to make a souffle that collapses upon inspection.

In a broader sense, personally I felt good about that reassurance and hope that people, purpose and profit can be aligned. I think we saw examples of how brands can play a really active role in driving lasting societal progress, but it requires the application of empathy to drive excellence and authenticity in the craft of planning and activation.

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