If I was being flippant, I would say that this year’s Cannes Lions was much the same as previous years, but with fewer scandals and angry headlines. The pursuit of brand and business growth remains, albeit with a bit more emphasis on how we might lean into ‘purpose’ to make customers feel better about consuming products that are marginally better for the environment. We might say that the demand for human creativity as a counter balance to the data obsession was a little louder. We can certainly say the demand for greater diversity was repeated with gentle, patient, and dare I say it, bored acceptance that we still have so long to go.
After all, some improvement is better than none at all and that’s progress, right? But tepid summaries are not my thing. I got into this business to change the world and I believe it’s the role of our team to bring back the very best from events and extract the most magical elements that moved us from the blur of panels and presentations. To inspire, ignite, and shape the opinions of those who will guide brands and marketers to make better decisions that result in a better future.
This this is what we learnt:
What moves us most matters, but we must measure it to drive impact and accountability
We want to cry and laugh, to be utterly captivated, and feel that what we do has an impact. As I sat in the dark, watching the global film created by Sir John Hegarty for the United Nations World Food Hunger Programme (UNWFP), tears streamed down my face. The statistics shone a harsh light on how the world has regressed over the last 2 years. This underscored how passion and purpose must be harnessed in equal measure if we are to tackle systemic issues and break each one down into manageable steps that enable people to take meaningful and measurable actions that lead to better outcomes. In the Art + Activism session, we heard how the power of film can be used to change legislation, with Oscar-winning film Roma held up as the shining example of art propelling a change, ultimately prompting the National Domestic Workers Bill of Rights that would give all US domestic workers the same legal rights afforded to other workers. What’s impressive is the tangible progress that has been made, which takes us to our next point.
Purpose-Driven, Connected Communities are good for business and life
Radical collaboration and total transparency are critical ingredients to delivering demonstrable and positive shifts in society. Governments cannot do it alone. Nor should they. Brands have the potential to form genuine and galvanizing connections with fans and advocates who can propel their mission, but it must be done at scale. CMOs agreed that while their brand can contribute to addressing important issues, for example Dove’s latest Real Beauty partnership with Getty Images to create the world’s largest database of images of people self-identifying as women, or P&G applying the GEM (Gender Equality Mainstreaming) framework to all copy testing to remove unconscious bias in the representation of audiences within ads, such efforts are just the start. It will take a community of clients, brands, platforms and agencies willing to foster the reciprocity of shared learnings to overcome public’s cynicism. The launch of the Global Alliance for Responsible Media has already gained headlines with critics describing it as ‘more talk’. It will be through the regular publishing of results, being totally transparent about the progress, that the alliance will be able to prove it’s a force for good rather than an add-on for the optics of annual reports.
Develop better tools and celebrate the craftsmen and women who wield them
When it comes to technology and people, both are of equal importance. We need to continually educate ourselves on the latest data opportunities and technological advances. We must collaborate with our colleagues and clients to move up the business transformation curve together. It’s neither smart nor convenient to sequester the hard stuff to the ‘experts’. The commitment to learning should never stop, otherwise you’ll start blaming tools like AI for the evils of the world, rather than placing the responsibility on every person who wields it. Moreover, it is the thoughtful use of data to achieve a more empathetic understanding of audiences that allows us to create those more valued and valuable experiences that will lead to better business results. And perhaps even results that will one day earn their place on the awards table at Cannes Lions.
Commit to the Long, Measure the Short, and Share the Outcomes
At the CMO Growth Council series, it was clear that marketers need help. They need to better understand the latest technology, to learn from other industries, to be both supported and pushed to make better decisions, faster. They also need help with balancing short and long-term goals and we need to do a better job collectively of practicing both patience and sharing transparently what it means to practice long-term brand commitment. We recognize that creativity and purpose are drivers of sustainable and positive brand and business growth, but purpose and values are not short-term gains. Yet the awards we celebrate are often the bold expressions of creativity delivered over the past 10 months. Long term achievements that move in small increments may not feel terribly sexy, but they are the moves that will transform our future.
Decide your Purpose, focus on the fundamentals, and commit to learning
I was asked repeatedly how we navigate change in an increasingly complex and attention-starved world. There has never been a more urgent time for excellent strategic thinking and doing. Your clients and teams need to make Better decisions, faster and you need to keep learning. So, as the sun sets on Cannes Lions, take a pause, be grateful for the week, consider what’s your agencies or brand’s purpose and what you want to do in your week in the South of France to make it worthwhile. Do you want to enter awards that dial up Purposeful Performance, or do your clients want to share their pearls of wisdom on stage, or do you have brilliantly opinionated fresh voices who want their chance in the spotlight? You can’t do it all, no one can, so make smarter choices and commit to them.