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Cannes Lions 2023: not just what wins but what works

This year’s Cannes Lions Festival of Creativity – a vital barometer of the advertising industry – was back to its full glory on the French Riviera. Creative effectiveness – not just what wins but what works – was very much on the agenda

The numbers said it all. Entries were up 6% to 26,992 for 2023. WPP walked away with 165 highly deserved Lions, and new benchmarks were set for excellence in creativity and effectiveness.

But Cannes is so much more than an awards show. This is where the industry enjoys both serendipitous moments of connecting with each other; and the opportunity to exchange ideas. So, what were the big ideas circulating at Cannes, and how are they impacting the industry and what it delivers for clients?

AI was everywhere

AI – specifically generative AI – was not just the subject of chatter; it was very much under the spotlight. NVIDIA’s Jensen Huang in a conversation with WPP’s Mark Read talked about generative AI supercharging creators across industries and content types.

The Cannes session focused on democratising content generation so that brands can generate billions of different ads – all of them tone appropriate and brand perfect – using NVIDIA’s framework for collaborating in 3D.

Away from the main stage, much of the conversation was about how consumer-facing tools have enabled generative AI to become mainstream so quickly, how brands can crossover from using generative AI tools for efficiency to how they can demonstrate authenticity in messaging (using AI as one of the many vehicles for ideas and creativity), and – of course – the thorny issue of disclosure.

But, while machines have a tough job in matching patterns and coming up with optimised solutions, the consensus on the French Riviera was that human creativity is the prize. That was evident everywhere, and so was the continued ascent of the creator economy.

The creator economy is booming

Creators are increasingly present at Cannes. Brought to Cannes by tech platforms to showcase their content, they are more and more visible at Cannes and at other awards shows.

Why? Because influencers engage with consumers in an authentic way, where the consumer shows up, and this is paying dividends for brands. Brands are learning that the creator economy and influencers have real social currency; and when brands are connected to culture, that is where they see engagement.

But the role of influencers will expand. Conversations are shifting to harnessing influencers’ insight and how influencers can become involved in the wider marketing mix.

The prediction from Cannes is that creator work will dwell increasingly outside social media, say in out of home advertising, and this will bring with it a new audience – perhaps an audience that is not digital native, perhaps a whole new demographic.

Data-driven insights remain top of mind

Data-driven insights will never go away. But campaigns will increasingly be built around thinking about data differently – and not only consumer data.  

And the sheer volume of data we have to conjure with keeps on growing – especially on the media side. Connected TV and streaming is a case in point. With so many entrants to this market and the dearth of channel loyalty, insights are harder to hunt down.

That is why buyers are consolidating their technology partners on the supply side. Buyers want to understand the flow of dollars; and they want to buy sustainably, eliminating duplication and reducing complexity. Visibility is key.

Creative is bigger

No one can dispute the importance of data – targeting and data have been front and centre for the last decade. But if Cannes 2023 told us anything, it is that creative is front and centre too.  

Anyone in marketing wants to spend most of their day on ideas, and this year, AI is going to help us do this by removing the grunt work. But the future will be a much more integrated approach.

And brands should be aware there is a movement from brand loyalty (from brand to consumer) to brand trust (from consumer to brand). Creative work must embrace this new dynamic. It means that brand love plus brand utility is what works now – there must be a value exchange.  

Not just what wins but what works

Great work delivers business growth – that is why CFOs are increasingly present at Cannes. Creativity is the great multiplier of marketing effort – nothing else will create a greater impact.  

And this year at Cannes we saw fresh opportunities for marketers to relay their messages, creatively, and informed by data. We learned that women are more loyal to brands that tackle issues that speak to them. We saw less focus on purpose in the less sombre post-pandemic era and a little more emphasis on humour. We heard more about talent but from the perspective of inclusion. And we heard how urgently we need creativity to unlock sustainable behaviour and create societal change at scale.

It is a challenging time to be a CMO. There’s a lot to navigate in this more complex world. But creativity works.

published on

29 June 2023


Communications Experience Technology & innovation

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