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The two sides of Cannes Lions 2019

As the rosé flows freely, the latest edition of Cannes Lions is throwing up fresh ideas — from creativity as a business solution to new takes on technology

Just as religious people visit places like Jerusalem, Mecca and Haridwar to seek divinity, the creative tribes of the world go to Cannes, France, during the holy month of June. Cannes Lions is celebrated with the same fanfare as Christmas or Diwali. So here I was, on the flight to Nice, ticking off something that was on my to-do list for 20 years. Seated beside me were two 20-somethings, who were also visiting Cannes; they apparently wanted to begin their careers with a shot of divinity. I have already begun to feel like a dinosaur.

There are two sides to Cannes Lions. First-timers will love it for everything it is. The atmosphere, the knowledge sessions, the workshops, the jury rooms, the work, the networking opportunities, the parties and, of course, the larger-than-life awards show at the Palais. Where else can you interact with over 600 world-class speakers as they share their experiences across 300 sessions through five days. Imagine rubbing shoulders with the greatest icons of the industry. It’s all work and more fun, at the beaches and fancy yachts that sway till dawn. But the regulars have a different story to tell. The festival has, over the years, been adding layers of excess fat, and they believe it is time the organisers took off the rosé-tinted spectacles and smelled the coffee. That moment seemed to have occurred last year, when the Publicis Groupe decided to give the awards a miss.

Shifting narratives

So, what’s really changed over the years? How has the festival evolved since the time Piyush Pandey made his first visit? Firstly, the narrative has definitely shifted to creativity as a business solution from creativity as a pure art form. Which is why a copywriter from New York, not content with just an award, was telling me about making a “real difference” to his brands.

Another major trend is the emergence of in-house creative teams. Would you have ever imagined competing with a client for a Cannes Lion? I definitely hadn’t. But brands like Facebook, Apple and Google are giving agencies a run for their money. Not only have they made their business more cost-efficient, but they’re now standing on the world’s biggest creative stage with the prized lions in their hand. The festival itself has added new categories to recognize creative brands. The agency must evolve into a business-advisory, besides being a creative service provider, if it must survive this onslaught.

In just two days, I have been exposed to the words “inclusion”, “equality” and “sustainability” more times than I would have heard in a year back home. “If you want to win, make it a win-win” is the new mantra. Socially responsible corporates are the new order. A substantially large proportion of the work that has won so far has been based on socially-responsible ideas, regardless of the category.

The two sides of Cannes Lions 2019

Feminine product ads spent decades peddling shame and discomfort around the way women perceive their bodies. But there’s a new era dawning, and now it has an anthem. ‘Viva La Vulva’, by Swedish brand Libresse, breaks new ground as it celebrates the vagina, and it deserves to be honoured at the highest level. Ikea’s “Thisables” is another fantastic effort at giving “everyone a seat at the table”, as they call it. I had goosebumps watching Eldar, the copywriter from McCann walk the stage and receive the Grand Prix.

A notable trend is that healthcare is now no longer relegated to hospitals and pharma companies. Brands like Ikea and Apple are evolving as dominant players in the segment. Technology that can be humanised is the future. As Shaheed Peera, President of the Lions Health Jury, put it, “Health is now everyone’s business”.

Death of the agency

The brands of the future are immersive, interactive and immensely interesting. And technology has a great role to play in aiding this process. People love experiences. People don’t have patience. People want it now. People want it their way.

My biggest takeaway so far? The agency as we have known it, will be dead in a few years. The proof lies on the shores of Cannes. What used to be once the domain of the agencies, is now dominated by the likes of Facebook, Google, Accenture Interactive, Tik Tok and other technology companies. AR and VR are as real as we are. Gaming is now serious business. AI and Machine Learning will define the future. Podcasts are taking over our ears and minds. Technology and Digital will drive the next industrial revolution.

But does that mean that our life as creative humans is endangered? To be honest, I think quite the opposite. Never have we been more empowered with data, technology and digital to enable our ideas. We can now explore and innovate beyond our imagination. We now have the chance to truly make a difference. Emotions and feelings will never go extinct. And thankfully, we will be mostly dealing with humans as our target audience. Technology is just a tool that will keep changing. The fundamentals will remain, forever.

What would I like to see more of at Cannes Lions? Humour. In an effort to get socially responsible, let’s not forget how to laugh. Advertising, they say, is the most fun you can have with your clothes on, and I would like to see more fun work doing the rounds. It’s also high time that the “lesser mortals” were given a platform. More independent agencies with the not-so-fancy clients must be given a chance to showcase their brilliance. Would the Nike, McDonald’s and Apple campaigns win if they were made for unknown brands? The jury must open up their minds on “inclusiveness” of all kinds of brands and agencies.

In the two hours that I wrote this, I’ve missed the opportunity to attend 24 sessions. That’s how much Cannes Lions has on offer. It’s now time for some Prosecco and pizza as I soak in more food for thought. Cheers!

Abhishek is the Founder & Managing Director of ‘be positive 24’, a Strategy, Creative & Film think-tank based in Chennai. His Twitter handle is @iabhishekdshah.

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Printable version | Feb 22, 2020 2:55:15 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/business/the-two-sides-of-cannes-lions-2019/article28098991.ece

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