Over the period of many years that I have now been visiting the Cannes Lions Festival, it has transformed from being a festival of advertising to a festival of creativity. In many ways, this is reflective of the mega transition that the industry itself is undergoing. About five to six years back, the big conversation at such industry platforms was about the rise of digital. But it was still about digital and its role in advertising. The conversation today is about how creativity is solving bigger problems — of businesses and humanity. To my mind it is a function of two things — the first is the increasing need of creativity in solving complex business and social problems. The issues facing us today, whether in business or in life are increasingly getting complex.
There’s a crying need for creativity to solve these problems. Secondly, the industry itself is realising that its ability can be put to greater use than merely amplifying the benefits of a fairness cream or a soap. This was reflected both in the flavour of seminars and the work that won at Cannes Lions 2017.
Here are some patterns that leap at you when you look at the sum total of all the chatter at the festival this year:
Innovation: Using creativity to solve real-life problems is a win-win for everybody. Not only does it give a larger purpose to the brands which are doing it, but it also puts the industry’s creativity to much better use. Amongst the cases being presented at the Innovation Lions seminar, there were a couple that stood out for me. One of them was the case of Humanium Metal — a new metal made of recycled guns. It comes in moulded units, which are available for commercial production of things such as watches, cycles and so on.
They call Humanium a commodity for peace. The other one was GravityLight — a gravity-powered lamp designed for use in developing nations as a replacement for kerosene lamps. It’s a simple innovation that’s being supported by Shell and brings power to homes of millions of people who don’t have access to electricity.
Humanity: The other big pattern that is evident is the greater cause of humanity. Both campaigns that have won big awards in the Health category create an immense sense of empathy. Medulla Communications’ campaign Last Laugh — a stand-up comedy performance by the elderly who are on the verge dying is like a dark comedy, yet hugely successful in driving the need for palliative care. Similarly, McCann India’s Immunity Charm — a set of beads worn by children that doubles up as an immunisation record — is a simple solution driving through culture.
Or take Graham, which is a human body designed to survive road accidents — a powerful reminder of our own vulnerability. Sponsored by the Transport Accident Commission, Australia, this road safety campaign uses data, technology and creativity in a new way to impact our behaviour.
Gender: There’s a continued conversation in the industry that we can perhaps never do enough towards bridging the gender inequality gap. The gap is not only in the society but in the industry as well. For instance, the number of women ad film directors globally, is only 9%. What stood out was the piece of advice by Gillian Armstrong, the award-winning Australian feature film director, who was a part of the panel at a seminar titled ‘Women and Cinema’.
Her advice to women falling out of the race because of the break that they take to start a family — is to find a husband who is willing to take a year off to help raise the family — a new conversation in the gender space, maybe? In the space of gender equality, the most standout piece of work this year is the Fearless Girl — the bronze sculpture depicting a Latina girl looking at the Wall Street bull, executed by McCann New York for State Street Global Advisor. Clearly, bridging the gender divide is one of the biggest challenges that the industry can help solve.
There’s no dearth of articles and speeches that call out the death of advertising for one reason or another. This, however, is not so much about the death of advertising; it’s about the resurgence of creativity with a greater purpose and a larger role in our society. It may be about the death of advertising as we know it, but it’s certainly about rise of the advertising industry with a new mojo.
(The author is chief strategy officer, Leo Burnett, South Asia)