Creativity at the Core

October 15, 2018

A conversation with Simon Cook, Director of Creative Excellence, and Louise Benson, Executive Festival Director at Cannes Lions: a glance at the trends observed at the Cannes Lions 2018, their perspectives on why creativity matters today and what they see coming next!

What were the main trends in advertising creation this year?

Simon Cook: What became really apparent at the festival this year was that the definition of “creativity” seems to be expanding. We saw technologists, futurists, brands and media owners discussing the many facets of creativity, but all very much aligned in sentiment. As a tool, creativity is the great differentiator. Trust was a big trend this year, along with the need and demand for more transparent frameworks and ways of working. Louise Benson: Diversity and inclusion continue to be a big area of focus, both in terms of the industry and what it produces. Marketers are waking up to the fact that diverse teams with inclusive cultures make better work that reaches and speaks to more people. The many examples that now prove that this positively impacts the bottom line make it a priority more than ever before. Partnerships are an interesting trend to watch. Media fragmentation, ad blocking, time shifted viewing, attention scarcity and the influencer economy are all having an impact on traditional business models. Brands, media owners, entertainment companies, sports property owners, talent agencies and advertising agencies are having to move beyond buy/sell models of advertising to more complex and sophisticated partnership models. These are increasingly important, alongside more traditional advertising, for building successful brands.

Who were the nominees and multi-award winners?

S.C.: This year, we made a lot of changes to the awards’ architecture, retired some older Lions and introduced some new awards to reflect the rapidly evolving landscape. We also put a cap on the number of times a piece of work could be entered. Our juries were more diverse than ever and were very nearly 50/50 in gender balance. As a result, we’ve been given feedback that the work was of a much higher quality this year, richer and more distinct. There were fewer multi-award winners because of the focus on specialism.

What countries distinguished themselves?

S.C.: With entries from 90 countries across the globe, it’s very exciting when a country wins a Lion award for the first time. This year Luxembourg won their first ever Lions, Morocco won their first Silver and Gold Lions and Ireland won their first ever Grand Prix.

What makes a good ad today?

S.C.: Our experts and juries tell us that it is still about simplicity. It’s the big ideas that have the potential to cut through because they add real value to people’s lives. Sometimes that’s a life hack or something that taps into existing cultural practices and rituals. This year, we witnessed a funny ad renaissance. Following years of ‘goodvertising’ and very sombre subject matter, we saw heritage brands take a more light-hearted approach. They tapped into the ridiculous, the irreverent and the silly to tell stories in a refreshingly honest and humorous way. A lot of the award-winning work is underpinned by an effective use of data and technology; not as a shiny add-on, but as another tool of the creative palette. You’ll notice in the really successful work that data and tech are an inherent part of the work’s DNA. It’s a shift away from tech for tech’s sake. L.B.: Also, we see more and more brands supporting culture and society. Whether they are working with talent, supporting talent coming through, or enabling conversations that otherwise might not happen, brands are increasingly recognising their importance in society and going beyond marketing communications to take active roles in trying to positively influence how we live our lives.

How do you make people want to watch advertising?

S.C.: For traditional advertising it’s still about great storytelling. For everything else it’s about work that transcends the medium and functions outside of the normal advertising framework. Products, design, transformation and new messages that enhance or elicit human reaction and response. Likewise, you’re more likely to engage with something if it’s a part of culture rather than an instruction to buy. Your question is an interesting one because it assumes that advertising is still something that we watch, like TV. Increasingly it’s about experience, convenience and the customer journey. L.B.: Shareability and participation continue to deliver engagement when brands get it right, and smart brands are looking to provide what is additive, rather than interruptive.

How do you make young people still love advertising?

S.C.: They don’t love it or loathe it. There is an indifference or acceptance there. They just don’t think about it in the same way that we oldies do. They consume it differently and are much more willing to tolerate it and engage with it in return for something that adds value or access. They are much more comfortable with that trade-off than most. L.B.: And they are more interested than any previous generation in what brands stand for at a corporate level. It’s why brand purpose remains really critical in the industry.

Effectiveness: How do you measure the impact of a creative?

S.C.: As we know, measurement can be a problem. One simple way to measure impact is quite simply, share price. If you look at all the recipients of our Creative Marketer of the Year award (an annual award that Cannes Lions gives to a brand marketer who has amassed a body of highly creative or Lion-winning work over a sustained period of time) they were all experiencing an all-time share price high at the time when they received that award. Also, if you look at the S&P 500(note at the end), brands that have won a Grand Prix or Gold Lion at Cannes have a significantly higher share price than those who don’t. So you could say that Lion wins are a useful tool to measure the effectiveness of creativity!

What is successful on the big screen and on a mobile screen?

S.C.: This year’s Mobile jury built themselves a very simple judging criteria, or lens, with which to judge the work: “Is this idea reliant on and better as a result of depending on the channel of Mobile?”. As a result, they have curated a very tight body of work that says a lot about the key characteristics of work that plays out on a personal screen. Check out the Mobile winners at

Can you be impactful with a 7sec format?

S.C.: Yes. It’s all about efficiency. A 7-second timeframe forces you to distil your idea and brand message down into its simplest, most visceral form. It’s not dissimilar to the advice we give our entrants. The limit for a Case Film is 2 minutes, but 2 minutes is not a GOAL! It’s not a window of time that simply must be filled. If you can tell your story in under a minute, do it. You’re fighting with attention span. 7 seconds isn’t the Holy Grail. It’s one way of communicating. We have juries that quite happily sit through a three hour movie because the content demands it and the audience are spellbound. L.B.: What’s so exciting for all of our customers is the infinite range of formats and media at their disposal. It can be challenging for some of our juries to judge such seemingly disparate work, but creativity can take infinite forms and it’s about choosing what’s right for your brand and what you are trying to communicate. The incredible range of what wins at Cannes Lions now would be unrecognisable to our juries 10 years ago!

What are the formats of the future?

S.C.: Experience. Convenience. Commerce. Customer journey. Service design. Entertainment in its many forms.

Where do you observe more creativity?

S.C.: Creativity comes from everywhere. The reason we have many Lions is because creativity touches every channel and specialism. Each specialism is valid and needs to be celebrated in order to elevate the category. They all contribute to a large multi- faceted consumer experience. However, we also know that creativity thrives under pressure and in situations where there are limitations or restraints. Our Health Lions winners embody that. L.B.: It’s a fundamental human act, and it’s fascinating seeing it applied in every aspect of what our customers do. I think it would take several of Cannes Lions’ famous jury room all-nighters to even start to answer that question. In fact I don’t think our jurors would ever resolve that!

What about interactivity in advertising? Is it the future?

S.C.: A few years ago we introduced interactive film categories. They died out a few years later. The new interactivity is about understanding what consumers want – quickly – and responding. Interactivity is about next-level customer service rather than an outdated model that allows you to influence a brand narrative. Audiences don’t want to do that. They want to trust the content they are watching and have very high expectations of the content makers. They want it to deliver immediately. If it doesn’t they’ll go elsewhere without giving it a second thought. L.B.: On the other hand, consumers interact with brands far more than they ever have. Our touch screens have enabled that and it’s what people expect at some level. It’s a question of when, and how… but most importantly, why?

Ad invasion: native ads, automatic reading of ads, how not to be invasive? How do we overcome adblockers?

S.C.: I’m told that you can overcome this by introducing ads, or more importantly brands, that people are glad to exist in the real world. Create communication that people want to engage with rather than beating them over the head with volume and
messages that don’t add value to their lives. This year women’s empowerment and pride movements seem to be at the core of creativity. How does advertising contribute to changing mentalities in your opinion? L.B.: The Glass Lion for Change rewards work that addresses gender inequality in branded communications, and shows where the global bar is currently at. All entries and winners are viewable at I would say that people are mistrustful of bandwagoning when it comes to brands trying to make a positive change, and consumers are looking for considered, long-term commitment to equality rather than flashy posturing. Advertising touches millions of lives across the world and therefore plays a critical role in shaping cultural norms. More and more brands are stepping up to the responsibilities inherent in that, and are seeking to shift perceptions and eradicate harmful stereotypes. It’s why we and many of the biggest advertisers and agency groups in the world belong to the Unstereotype Alliance, the UN Women supported, industry-led initiative that is committed to creating and celebrating unstereotyped branded content.
We are currently supporting a big global research project looking at how gender stereotyping intersects with other forms of discrimination in different cultural contexts across the world. We are also introducing UA guidelines into our jury briefings for Cannes Lions 2019 and beyond.

What do you foresee for next year?

S.C.: We’re excited to see what the shape of work looks like in an era of such rapid change. I imagine GDPR will have an impact. There are new players in the mix now offering creative services. It’ll be interesting to see how their offering develops and what manifestations their own version of creativity will take. I’m sure we’ll continue to see a reassuring resilience of specialism and craft. I predict that brands for Good will be expected to provide increasingly meaningful and scalable solutions, and we’ll see a continuing shift towards long term vs. short term creative problem solving. L.B.: I think brands creating and inhabiting entertainment, from film and TV to eSports and gaming, is a huge growth area. It’s still early days, and there are so many different models, plus it can be really hard to get right. But I think there’s a lot of really interesting stuff to come, and I look forward to those conversations!


Note: The Standard & Poor’s 500, American stock market index based on the market capitalizations of 500 large companies having common stock listed on the NYSE or NASDAQ.

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