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Embracing diversity, humanity, and more thoughtful machines at Cannes ’17

The 64th iteration of the Cannes Lions Festival was as vibrant and full as ever, with incredible speakers, talent, and brands playing an ever more invested and present role. While the security got tighter and the queues got longer, the content was, as ever, totally worth the extra effort.

But as always, this year saw some key themes emerging across the speaker content and the work—which left us thinking about how Cannes will evolve next year.

Diversity, authenticity, creative data, and cognitive technology were perhaps the strongest topics throughout the Palais and the Croissette. Notably, there was a shift from female empowerment to universal diversity, demonstrating a positive trend towards brands and businesses embracing a fully inclusive mindset.

L’Oréal’s talk with Dame Helen Mirren and Adrien Koskas, General Manager L’Oréal Paris UK & Ireland, focused on diversity—not as a trend, but as a value that needs commitment, highlighting the need to declare and act on empowering individuals, especially the young. “We are Superhumans” for the Paralympic Rio Olympic Games by Blink Productions—which portrays “superability” over disability—was a spectacular demonstration of appreciation of diverse talent, driving greater awareness globally.

And Heineken revealed how true collaboration can diminish prejudice. The work dealt with complex issues of diversity and inclusion with sensitivity, while integrating Heineken’s product in an organic and authentic way: “Worlds Apart OpenYourWorld”

“Our job isn’t done until we never see an ad that diminishes or limits the role of women and men in society. We want to work with our peers across the industry to develop new ways of working, to share knowledge and approaches, so that we can scale the Unstereotype commitments.” – Keith Weed, Unilever Global Chief Marketing and Communications Officer

Authenticity was a strong thread through many speakers’ presentations. Photographer Platon, famed for his inspiring and honest images capturing the candid dignity of some of world’s most famous, spoke about “cutting out the bullshit and [going] to the truth. If you can get people to see themselves in your story, then that is true greatness.” Christine Lagarde, Managing Director of the International Monetary Fund, was equally frank when discussing “Can Creativity Change the World?” She received a standing ovation for stating clearly that her success was never about her being the best person for some of the challenging roles she has taken, nor even because she was female, but because she was the only person who stepped up to the challenge.

Christine Lagarde, Managing Director of the International Monetary Fund, during Can Creativity Change the World?”

The work that best reflected this trend was a print campaign by Getty Images. “The best and the worst photos” showcased the disruption that our world has faced in the last few years, with respect, highlighting the need for us as a community to faces the harsh truths represented in these pictures.

But the conversations that changed the face of Cannes this year centered on data, technology, and machine learning, highlighting how creativity is driving new ways to interpret human data and, when in the right hands, tell powerful and emotional stories.

The Cognitive Creativity Playbook, delivered by Alex Jenkins, Editor at Contagious and Christopher Follett, Executive Creative Director of Cognitive Experiences at SapientRazorfish, explored our fears about technology killing creativity, and the opportunity we have to embrace, be curious about, and exploit technological advancements through our creativity rather than opposing or fearing them.

Cognitive Creativity PlaybookOne of the key conundrums raised in the cognitive playbook talk by Alex Jenkins, Editor at Contagious and Christopher Follett, Executive Creative Director, Cognitive Experiences at SapientRazorfish

Samsung’s panel was a delightful surprise, delivering a rousing session—with three of their many agencies in tow—about moving from “product porn” to humanizing technology and giving the product a more relevant role in the story. Samsung is ultimately aiming to deliver on its new mission statement: “meaningful progress comes from daring to defy barriers.” Persuading its agencies to work together with nothing but a sketchbook and removing barriers between agency disciplines has ensured the work succeeds, not because of the technology and tools, but because of the creativity at the heart. And by building a personality around the Samsung brand, they’re inviting more people in. Samsung’s latest Ostrich ad, “#do what you can’t,” engages through humor as well.

On the subject of machine learning for all, Google Engineering VP David Singleton said, “We’re using machine learning to explore the boundaries of creativity.” The powerful intelligence Google is using to illuminate toxic conversations online is also truly spectacular.

During “Melody, harmony, and metadata: Understanding people through music”, Adam Bly, Vice President of Data for Spotify, spoke with Dita Von Teese, world famed burlesque dancer, about how on Spotify “You are what you stream,” and delved into her streaming patterns. The brand’s“2016 Wrapped, thanks it’s been weird” was a simple, personalized campaign that brilliantly achieved making data meaningful and engaging in an on-brand way.

The Nike Unlimited Stadium—the first full-size, intelligent LED running track from BBH and Nike—creates powerful experiences by taking runners’ data (lap time, speed, lap count, etc.) and turning it into a digital on-screen avatar that you can run against and train with.

BBDO Melbourne’s “Meet Graham” campaign harnessed decades road safety and medical data to capture attention in a creative way—designing an interactive “human” sculpture, enhanced by Google Tango’s augmented reality experience, whose makeup would allow it do survive the impact of a car crash. The results were spectacular, and startling.

John Rudaizky, Partner and Global Brand & Marketing Leader at EY, summarized many of the concerns we have about how to leverage technology and AI: “I think we’re living in this era of humility and we don’t know all the answers, and I think we have to spend more time understanding the technology available and then develop great content, great storytelling around it. But, we must educate ourselves more and more every day,” he said.

And after all the craziness, queuing for talks, and 6am dips in the sea post-rosé, it was Axel Schwan, CMO of Burger King who talked about the role of agencies in evolving these trends: “Agencies are not vending machines, right? You cannot throw in money and then hope they’ll create work that comes out. It doesn’t work like this.” Brand builders and leaders must take all these new learnings and test the limits of our creativity in ways that will create even richer conversations next year.


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