We spent the week at the 2017 Cannes Lions learning from the best creative minds in the world, hearing inspiring case studies, and seeing the latest in marketing tech.
It was a huge week, packed full of talks, awards, and networking. It’s no doubt a whirlwind event, but it’s also a great opportunity to learn new ways to do what we love: doing creative, impactful work.
In no particular order, here’s what we took away from the 2017 Cannes Lions.
1. Everyone cares about truth in the media
There was a lot of chatter throughout the week about truth in media (and for those willing to utter the words, ‘fake news’). The two best talks that captured this were David Remnick’s keynote address (he’s the editor of The New Yorker, a magazine we adore), and an intimate panel discussion hosted by The Wall Street Journal.
Remnick spoke about the importance of the media in the current political climate, as well as the real harm (on both sides of politics) that fake news is having on the democratic process. He (amusingly, scarlingly?) dissected the difference between bullshitting and lying.
The WSJ panel, hosted by William Lewis (CEO Dow Jones), and featuring Richard Edelman (Edelman), David Dinsmore (News UK), John Hornby (The&Partnership) and Sarah Wood (Unruly), was a real highlight of the week. It delved deep into not just why trust in the media is important, but how to go about restoring it. Richard Edelman also spoke about the importance of reporters building their own profiles that the public follow and trust, and to not ‘hide’ in the folds of their papers or institutions.
News UK’s CEO David Dinsmore reminded everyone about the importance of differentiating between different versions of the truth, and actual fake news. He said that different interpretations of the same fact are not just OK, but should be encouraged.
Alongside the chatter there were some deep discussions about how to address this — from better early childhood education about critiquing sources, to new media verification platforms, and everything in-between.
2. Adtech is not living up to its potential
Adtech and Martech platforms did not break through the clutter at Cannes this year.
I put this down to one thing: they overcomplicated their message.
3. People need to disagree more
Too many of the panels and discussions at Cannes lacked any form of debate. Even those that were billed as debates were anything but.
We believe great ideas and insights can come from vigorous debate, and even some passionate friction. A room full of people patting each other on the back and vehemently agreeing other isn’t likely to lead to great things. Too many talks at Cannes had tremendous people and topics, but missed the mark by not encouraging or enabling real debate.
4. The science of creativity is only just getting started
There has been some great work on the science of creativity (take a look at Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s “Creativity”), but it’s clear that this field is just getting started.
Many of the sessions covering this weren’t front and centre — they were on small stages at odd times, but those who attended were treated to great things.
MIT hosted a talk called “The Biology of a Creative Idea” led by Adam Horowitz, a graduate student from the MIT Media Lab. He spoke about the neuroscience of creativity — basically what happens inside the human brain during moments of creative inspiration. He raised interesting ideas like the difference between the brain seeing red and the experience of red (the brain thinking about the redness of red, red spices, tapping into memories associated with the colour red, etc). His best insight though was when he explained why our most creative moments happen when we’re on a run, or in the shower — it’s called transient hypofrontality. Look it up, it’s fascinating stuff.
He was joined by Benjamin Tritt, the CEO of a groundbreaking startup called Artmatr. They’re digitising the process of painting, and the most interesting thing I took from what he shared was this: Don’t be afraid to show the brushstrokes. In our industry, many seem to only want to share work that is gleaming with perfection. I think it’s an important part of client collaboration to share the brushstrokes in the creative process.
The convergence of art and science in this talk was a highlight of the whole week.
5. “Anna Wintour knows nothing about trends”
Carla Buzasi, Global Chief Content Officer of trend forecaster WGSN, shared a great talk that started with a strong punchline: “Anna Wintour knows nothing about trends.”
She wasn’t being rude. Far from it (she’s British). She was pointing out the process by which firms like hers identify trends and movement (largely in fashion, but many other areas too). It was great to get to peek into this industry, that dictates (or identifies) many of the trends that impact what we engage with every day.
What I found interesting was the blend of both qualitative and quantitative inputs that her firm considers when identifying the trends of tomorrow.
6. Commerce is not a dirty word
The interview with Mario Testino in the Lumiere Theatre brought the house down. He was charming, witty, and refreshingly honest about his creative process. We love his photos, and learning more about how he creates them felt really special.
My favourite part of his entire talk, was when he was asked: “How do you define success?”
He really could have come up with any sort of fluffy, blue sky phrase and no one would have minded (he was that good). But he was refreshingly honest in his answer:
“Sales. It’s all about the revenue and the sales.”
I love that he can unashamedly balance creative pursuits with commercial ones. We need more of that in our industry if we want to do great work at scale.
7. Collaborations are king
Collaborations were front and centre at Cannes Lions, and for good reason. The mashing together of brilliant minds can no doubt lead to great creative pursuits.
The best panel on this was with Adidas’ head of creative, their collaborator Alexander Wang, and the namesake of their most famous shoe (and as tennis fans, more importantly, former world number one!) Stan Smith. We loved hearing the idea that their brand is truly never finished, and is “always in beta”. There has definitely been some brave work from them hitting the market in recent years, and it was great to learn how and why that’s happening.
The Brooklyn Brothers (part of our global partner Golin) hosted a wonderful session with none other than Sir Ian McKellan. It was great to hear how, after never doing any work with brands in his entire career, he is beginning to consider it for the right cause.
8. How to tell a good story
Ira Glass has an amazing voice (you’ve probably heard him on This American Life), and it turns out he doesn’t just have a face for radio. His presentation was perfect, partially because the title itself was just the right amount of conference clickbait (attendbait?): Seven Things I’ve Learned.
(Unfortunately, we couldn’t be quite as concise as him.)
He shared the secret to how (and why) you can drop in to any moment of his flagship show, This American Life, and have the potential to be hooked.
It’s brilliantly simple: the forward momentum of events. That continuing sequence of events, with one thing leading to the next, and so on. No matter how banal, it will move you forward. It’s such a useful force, and people will stick around to hear what’s next.
It’s something that more PR professionals could learn from. Walking through the PR lions shortlist, it was dominated by ad and creative shops. PR agencies know how to tell a good story, but they need to get better at doing it for their own work. I’d love to walk the Palais next year and see more PR agencies winning Cannes Lions gold.