The journey to Cannes Lions is both a privilege and an exercise of extreme discernment. A privilege because for five days, a richness of ideas and provocations will be strewn across beaches, yachts, and cabanas as some of the brightest minds share their learnings and insights regarding creativity, innovation, and the evolving challenges facing our industry. And yet, it’s also a challenge. In the abundance of ideas and events taking up every moment of the day, it’s easy to lured away from the pearls of wisdom strewn before you.
The mid-year timing poses the further challenge of spotting what’s genuinely new. The topics tackled in panels and fireside chats have often already been raised at events and conferences earlier in the year, making the Palais presenters less predictors of trends but rather, confirmers of them. Yet that confirmation of consumer priorities is critical because it prompts us to consider what we should do to guide our clients to make better decisions, faster.
At CES, SXSW, Mobile World Congress, AdWeek, and the World Federation of Advertisers, our on-ground OMD reporters explained that the headlines around fake news and ad fraud were pushing some consumers to take greater control of their digital destiny, whilst many more were simply struck by fear and confusion. Those headlines had ignited a crisis of trust in digital platforms and emerging technologies such as AI, and we noticed that brands and industries were starting to consider how they might construct a charter for re-building that waning trust.
Unsurprisingly, from the planned agendas, one of the key themes of Cannes will center around the continued tension between data and privacy. This shows no sign of abating, despite the recent questions being asked around whether privacy is even a realistic expectation these days. It’s clear that consumers want to exert some level of control over their digital destiny, despite industry push back that users should have “zero expectation of privacy”. And it is comments like these that deepen consumer mistrust in media and technology, which in turn highlights the urgent need for the application of Empathy. The ability to uncover a richer understanding of consumers, to unearth their unmet needs and untapped desires, and determine where a brand should use communications to fulfil those needs. This sits at the very heart of OMD’s application of Empathy at scale.
It’s worth noting that the word ‘Empathy’ has been trending at Cannes since 2016, when virtual reality was first described as an ‘Empathy machine’. Since then, the word has been used in the context of diversity of representation, as well as how Empathy is the key to delivering truly compassionate storytelling. Media owners, agencies, and consultancies have been jumping on the Empathy bandwagon ever since, talking about how they’re being Empathetic through more emotional messaging. We should expect a lot more Empathy chatter this Cannes. At OMD, we offer a layered and nuanced definition regarding our application of Empathy. Not only is it baked into our end-to-end process, but it’s a foundational principle of the way we think, iterate, and act. Our perspective around Empathy informs how we collaborate with partners to mine for differentiating and better consumer insights. Insights that lead to more creative, more effective, and more efficient outcomes. We’ll share further details around our Empathy Framework over the course of the Cannes Festival.
But for now, let’s return to the point about diversity because it’s an important topic, and one that I will be reporting on. My 5-year old daughter is learning about remarkable women and last night we read about the American activist Marian Wright Edelman, who famously said “you cannot be what you cannot see”. I’d heard this quote before, but it feels more urgent now. I’ll be attending ‘Smashing of Stereotypes’, and the ‘50+ Goldmine: Sparking Creativity’s Coming of Age’ amongst many others, and distilling the learnings for our teams around the world as we commit to dynamic diversity, ensuring we always have a breadth and depth of perspectives and experiences in our work. For it is through our diversity of thought that we deliver better insights, faster.
I’ve been asked what’s my top tip for Cannes and it’s this: don’t lose your focus at a festival that invites you to simply bask in the sun. The work produced in 2018 and judged in 2019 holds within it the predictions of what might be in 2020, if you’re ready to shift from casual appreciation to intentional reflection. Consumers and brands are grappling with complex challenges and need to find a way through. Events such as Cannes hold within them lessons and insights that can power your thinking, as long as you’re focused on mining for the signals that matter most.
So, listen, learn, distil, and share with your teams the most relevant points that will enable them to make Better decisions, faster. Once you’ve done that, you can enjoy la plage!