My Cannes Sojourn: A Young Lion's Learnings

Two hundred sessions, over 300 speakers, seven days completely dedicated to creativity, inspiration and innovation. As a Young Lion and a first-timer at Cannes Lions the prospect is a daunting one: Industry legends, celebrities and CEO’s all offering their personal insights and learnings on what makes creative successful. How do you decide which sessions to prioritize? While many promise great content, who will deliver?

Throughout the conference seminars, this seemed to be the reoccurring question: What generates great content? Will it be having an organic experience with a brand? Is it through the art of storytelling? Maybe it’s multi-dimensional integrated experiences?

What I came to understand was that while all these are important aspects that help deliver great content, what the best creative minds shared was a passion and a purpose outside of meeting a new marketing challenge. That’s difficult to admit since I’m an account guy, a “suit” as people incredulously reminded me upon introduction. While it is my responsibility to ensure our creative is meeting our client’s marketing goals, the first thing I realized was that Cannes is a celebration of creativity, not numbers.

Out of all the seminars I attended, not one discussed reach, ROI, metrics, analytics or budgets. The emphasis was clearly on great creative. 

Our industry is evolving--we are pioneers in integrating brand experiences with emerging technology, and the way we communicate with consumers is drastically changing. Brands and consumers have developed close-knit relationships, where developing loyalty is key. Content needs to provide value to nurture that relationship, if we expect consumers to trust us. They need to feel that we are able to offer them something unique, not a sales pitch. If there is purpose and value to the content, if you are able to address real needs rather than carefully constructing wants, you won’t need a pitch because you will already have their loyalty.

Take a look at the work R/GA did for Beats by Dre, work that has won them an armful of Lions at the festival this year including a Gold Lion for best use of integrated media. The buzz around the festival on Wednesday afternoon was the R/GA and Beats seminar, and how people only wanted to see more. The content was engaging, it was relevant and it all stems from Beats and R/GA having a shared purpose – to cultivate a better listening experience.

A prime example of the importance of content, and the motivating purpose behind it was Marissa Mayer’s presentation at Cannes. A session that heavily expounded on Yahoo’s technical capabilities and offerings, Mayer was harshly criticized for having a scripted presentation rather than addressing the audience’s desire for an authentic experience with an industry VIP. Conversely, speakers like Jared Leto, a celebrity with zero ad industry experience, or Michael Lebowitz, PIC (pilot in command) of creative juggernaut Big Spaceship, led some of the most well received seminars at the festival because they encouraged audience participation offering honest moments that provided strong takeaways. 

Overall, the biggest successes to come out of Cannes were simple concepts that were in tune with the brand identity and relevant to consumers. Since Twitter has entered our lives, the personification of brands has become even more pronounced-–allowing consumers to interact directly with brands. Understanding your brand’s personality at the core is essential. During a panel discussion with HBO writers and producers, Veep’s Armando Iannucci, quipped, “Write what makes you laugh, not what you think will make someone else laugh.” Content creators need to intimately know their brand and their creative work will reflect that, making the consumer experience a genuine and natural one.

Creative content and inspiration wasn’t limited to the seminars, many of my greatest learning experiences actually came from time spent outside of the Palais. Cannes attracts the best talent and industry leaders from around the globe and taking advantage of this networking opportunity is paramount. Editors, creative directors and CEO’s all offered me their learnings and experience freely over a glass of rosé-–anecdotes and advice that won’t be found in books or trade publications.

Leaving Cannes, I am beyond inspired. From the beautiful beaches and hotels to the delicious food, and of course, the overwhelming opportunity to tap into professional knowledge, the festival is a necessity if you wish to foster creativity. Coming home from Cannes it’s important to ask, “How will you empower content creators?”

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