This year’s Cannes Lions had a real buzz about it. Clients seemed re-energised by the reprioritisation of creative effectiveness and real purpose, and the challenges of addressing sustainability and inclusion. Stephan Loerke, WFA CEO, provides his take-aways from five days in the south of France.
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A trip to the Lions is a once-a-year health check on what matters to our industry. And beyond the headlines about AI, there was some good news for marketers at this year’s event around changing priorities, real action, as well as time for reflection away from the office.
For me there were five big areas where the right issues were being discussed and positive steps were being taken:
Firstly, I sensed the pendulum moving back from the means to the message. We have spent years discussing the plumbing of the digital ad ecosystem, helping to fund all those yachts in the harbour and platform-funded beaches. This year we seemed to be refocusing on why the festival exists in the first place and it was great to see Cannes rediscovering its roots as a festival of creativity rather than a celebration of ad tech.
A great example of the switch around has been Kraft Heinz. Five years, ago their story was all about 3G Capital-inspired zero-based budgeting. This year it was one of the biggest winners at the Lions and could proudly celebrate its new culture of creativity in partnership with Gut, the agency that made the most headlines this year.
Secondly, I think we are coming to a more sensible view of purpose. We know that it has a powerful impact on business results when it is authentic and embedded right through a company. We’ve seen that with Dove, which picked up the Media Grand Prix for Unilever, but too many other companies have tried to claim purposes that don’t hold water.
Greater scepticism was reflected in fewer awards overall to purpose-led campaigns and a greater focus on effectiveness and results. At the WFA, we’ve been very focused on marketing effectiveness, with a flagship report due out this month, and it’s very pleasing to see that reflected in the opinions of the juries at Cannes as well.
WFA's CMO Forum at Cannes Lions 2023
Thirdly, there was continued and justified pressure on our industry to be more sustainable in our work. It was less a case this year of Rainbow Warrior anchored offshore and Greenpeace storming the Palais than Extinction Rebellion invited on stage and serious mainstream discussions on the Croisette led by the likes of Clean Creatives and Purpose Disruptors.
The good news is that the industry is starting to come up with practical solutions to address its own carbon emissions. GARM and Ad Net Zero launched an Action Guide to Reduce Media Greenhouse Gas Emissions, while Scope3 has been demonstrating that campaigns can be just as effective while being less carbon intensive if we manage programmatic buys differently.
But there is clearly still much more we need to do. The next step for our industry is to address not just emissions we directly create but how we make marketing and business more circular in line with Sustainable Marketing 2030, which we launched at our Global Marketer Week in April in Istanbul.
There is still disagreement about how we calculate advertising’s broader carbon impact but we all have a shared interest in finding agreement so that our industry can help lead the solution to climate change rather than be part of the problem.
Edelman CEO targeted by Clean Creatives in Cannes. Credit: Clean Creatives
Fourthly, diversity, equity and inclusion was discussed across the festival in a way that felt more mainstream and less sidelined. Last year, DEI debates felt tokenistic with small bubbles of the same people speaking to each other. This year, it felt like there was a greater understanding that inclusion ultimately affects us all. We can’t afford for one in seven of our people (or more if you are female, LGBQ+, ethnic minority or disabled) to feel they would leave the industry due to discrimination, as we discovered in the second Global DEI Census.
Ironically, the issues around Bud Light in the US and the attack on its choice of influencer partners, may have put greater emphasis on the real DEI agenda and taking real action.
The results of the second Global DEI Census were discussed at the event hosted by the UN's Unstereotype Alliance
My final take-away from Cannes was inevitably about AI. While headlines have been typically driven by doom-laden warnings, marketers in Cannes seemed broadly upbeat, reflecting the views of Brandtech’s David Jones who postulates that it could herald the ‘greatest creative revolution in human history’.
There were no awards for AI-generated campaigns, reassuring for creatives perhaps, but we do need to understand the ramifications of AI for our business in the round before we leap in. GARM in partnership with our members, has produced a first look at the issues raised by generative AI to help CMOs understand where the issues are likely to occur.
Some brands are further ahead on this journey but all of us need to give more consideration to the potentially enormous impact of AI on society and our industry in the years to come.
A word of warning perhaps – but I wouldn’t want that to detract from a week when marketers seemed palpably positive about the challenges ahead amidst a festival that seemed to re-find its roots.