Cannes Lions 2017 — the Creatives Still Want to Change the World

The 64th Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity is over! Hundreds of lectures, thousands of delegates and submitted projects. Virtually the entire global creative communications industry spent over a week at the Côte d’Azur to review the past year and to reflect on what the future it co-creates might look like.

To have a go at summarizing this crucible of ideas, issues and their proposed solutions would be a task near to impossible to complete. A challenge that I’m not even going to try to take up. I will, however, limit myself to briefly describing some of the PR campaigns that aroused exceptional interest and gained the greatest acknowledgment of the jury members or are in a way special as to my subjective evaluation.

Social issues. This term was on the Cannes speakers’ lips exceptionally often. Brands do want to offer solutions to real social problems. Looking at campaigns that won awards in almost all categories, one may conclude that this question clearly dominates in modern-day marketing communications.

Edelman’s Mark Renshaw presented the following data during his lecture: 67% of consumers stated that they’ve bought a brand for the first time because they agreed with its position on a controversial topic. Furthermore, 65% of respondents said they would not buy a brand solely because it stays silent on a social or political issue they consider important. How are these declarations translating into actual purchasing decisions? Sadly, I don’t know. These data may, however, provide an explanation as to why there is a rise in interest in social issues among marketers and creatives, don’t you think? So let us see what it was like in the case of PR campaigns that won big at the Cannes Lions this year.

“Fearless Girl” — State Street Global Advisors

“Fearless Girl” (click here for full project description) is one of the most highly honored campaigns of this year’s edition of the Cannes Lions Festival. It also took home the Grand Prix award in PR. State Street Global Advisors, global provider of financial services, committed itself to start a debate on a very important (and at the same time very mediagenic) issue, that is not enough women in leadership positions in business. The idea was very simple: on International Women’s Day, a statue of a girl debuted opposite the Wall Street’s Charging Bull. The little girl proudly and boldly challenges the symbol of the “strength and power of the American people.” The statute is also as an advertisement for an index fund comprising gender-diverse companies that have a higher percentage of women among their senior leadership and work towards strengthening the position of women in business. This powerful manifesto and simple message allowed the company to scoop up an issue that many before have tried to handle.

“The Wheelchair Hour” — Akademia Auto Świat

Young drivers cause 1/3 of all traffic accidents. There have been many campaigns that tried to teach responsibility through shocking content. The results weren’t however good enough. The main idea behind this campaign was as follows: find out for yourself what may be the consequences of a moment’s inattention. In selected driving schools, in addition to completing a 30-hour driving course, future drivers had to attend a unique one-hour driving lesson and learn how to move around in a wheelchair. Again, a simple and practical solution turned out to be the best. This was the only (Bronze) Lion in PR for Poland.

„Aland Index/Baltic Sea” Project — The Bank Of Åland

This campaign was created by RBK Communication in collaboration with Hill+Knowlton Strategies Sweden for the Bank of Åland (and won a Cyber Grand Prix). The Swedes are crazy about ecology. Many firms are implementing CSR activities that aim to prove to consumers that a brand really cares about the environment. However, one could ask whether they have access to tools to control the impact of their purchasing decisions on the climate. The Bank of Åland decided to calculate the true consumption cost of each of their customers’ purchase.

By way of detailed data analysis, the Swedish bank developed a formula to track the carbon footprint of all its users’ financial transactions. All information is stored in the credit card records and delivered to card users with each banking statement, together with options on how they can compensate for the costs of their consumption. The bank leveraged its analytical tools and capacities to help its clients live more environmentally conscious lives. The campaign (here’s the full project description) skillfully used the product’s capabilities, while at the same time addressing the needs of the society.

“Cheetos Museum” — Cheetos

Is there anything special about snacks? Their flavor? Well, fine, let’s have a chat about taste. It may be problematic without enhancers, though. Cheetos has discovered marketing communications strength in a feature of its product that at first sight may appear to be its disadvantage. Each Cheeto has an entirely different shape. It seems as if this matter is of the least concern to the manufacturer—we get what we get, just bag it and sell it. How to turn this into an advantage? We all know the stories about somewhat miraculous and mystical appearances of saints on window glass, walls, etc., right? Cheetos has followed a similar pattern and figured to engage the imagination of its consumers in the campaign: is your Cheeto shaped like a famous person, character, or just something bizarre? There you go, this is your recipe for a great social campaign (click here to see the video submitted for the Cannes Lions Awards). This is how eating Cheetos have become a joyful and pleasant adventure. And to make this even more spectacular, the oddest-looking Cheeto shapes were not only presented and promoted in social media. The brand even organized a real life art exhibition for the campaign finale at the Grand Central Terminal in New York. Cool.

“Google Sheep View” – Faroe Islands & Atlantic Airways

What do we know about the Faroe Islands, whose name in some languages translates as “the islands of sheep”? That they have got plenty of sheep. That their soccer team always gets trashed by every other team in any qualification match for any tournament. And that, supposedly, it’s a truly remarkable place. It’s hard to tell, though, because their location is so distant that Google Street View has not yet made its way over the Norwegian Sea. So the islanders decided to do things their own way and put a 360 camera on… a sheep (watch the full campaign video here). A sheep as a tour guide to “the islands of sheep”? It just couldn’t get any better. And the result? Gigantic global media coverage with zero-Faroese króna budget and sold out holiday destinations. All this effort led to Google finally flying over to relieve the exhausted sheep of her campaign chores.

To somehow sum up this year’s Cannes Lions Festival, let me recall a discussion that took place during a lecture with a rather significant title: „Is the creative industry losing its ability to sell stuff?” In this brief discussion, the interlocutors, Malcolm Poynton (Cheil) and David Kolbutz (Droga5), among others, made it pretty clear that excessive involvement of brands in social issues leads nowhere. For it is undeniably true that brands should aim at making the consumers’ lives better, this observation must not lead us to think that commercial companies are here to save the world. Laundry detergent should make the stain on your T-shirt go away, but trying to get it involved in the fight against racism is just going too far. Social issues are important, and if a specific issue corresponds with the philosophy of a given brand or product, then, by all means, this should be leveraged. But consumers will detect any off key in a flash. And this may end with having a forced sip of popular soda in the company of Kendall Jenner. So how about trying a more laid-back approach?