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My key takeaways from the Cannes Lions 2021

Posts from Cannes Lions 2021

Winner BVDW Challenge Award 2019
Büsra and me winning the BVDW Challenge Award @ DMEXCO 2019

It’s been almost two years since Büsra and I have won the BVDW Challenge Award @ DMEXCO. Our prize was a ticket to the Cannes Lions 2020, which finally took place virtually this week. The five days were packed with inspiring keynote speeches, brilliantly creative cases and lots of brain food. Here are my key takeaways from the creative festival of the year

Trend 1: The tech-celeration of consumers due to Covid

We’ve all experienced the past 15 months as a consumer and have seen the impact of Covid-19 on how we live our lives, how we work, how we connect with people, how we buy and consume goods. Almost all of our habits have evolved in this time. While we are all excited that things are opening up again, Pinterest research shows that many of us don’t want to just go back but take our new habits with us.

Consumers’ expectations in the future will be that brands deliver uber personalised products, services and experiences that are contextually relevant. People will buy online and offline from now on and the expectation is going to be raised on both channels. The competition for the best customer experience is no longer limited to the brands within the industry but includes all services the consumers come across. And the lines between B2C and B2B start to blur, too. Moreover, smoothing the path to purchase and removing friction will become more and more challenging as every device will be connected and usable for marketing and commerce in the future. 

The key themes for brands will be to make the lives of the consumers as easy as possible and help them in prioritizing their family and friends, offer moments of joy with shoppertainment on new platforms and sales channels and ramping up for the metaverse with digital realms and an emerging digital-to-avatar economy.

Trend 2: Crisis in marketing effectiveness

Data-driven marketing has helped a lot to better understand the audience and be relevant for the consumers. However, it has also led to being short-term focussed. This short-termism is clearly visible in the media investment habits where brands have optimised into massive efficiency but not really into effectiveness. Covid-19 has accelerated that trend with the rapid shift to e-commerce. Brands have invested a lot in paid ads to guide people safely to their online shops. These ads could be seen as operational costs for being findable online, but they take up more and more of the overall marketing budget and make it harder for marketers to drive long-term growth. However, brands can reinstate creativity as a driver of marketing effectiveness through engaging and inspiring consumers and forming long-term relationships.

Trend 3: New era of value exchange

The increased data privacy is fundamentally changing the marketing world. This consumer-first approach is good and long overdue. Brands have over-delivered on measurement and under-delivered on consumer value for too long. Instead of chasing the consumers through the internet, brands need to open a direct communication channel to the consumers and move from interrupting their experience to enhancing their experience.

Consumers want privacy and personalisation, but they are harnessing the power of their data and expect a high-value exchange. This offers a new angle to building relationships. Hyper personalisation is beyond messaging and not about creativity or targeting. It is about valuing the users, using the integrated view on consumers needs and wants, and serving these. Data is a big unlock on how brands can reverse engineer and design products and services which really address consumer needs. 

This new era of value exchange is based on the equitable contract of brands and consumers. Brands need to make sure that consumers perceive and understand the benefits they are getting from sharing their data. This data needs to be used efficiently to create content that draws attention, to create advertising as a service (with e.g. a virtual try-on for beauty products), and personalise experiences that put consumers at the very heart of communication.

Trend 4: Purpose at the core of business

Purpose has been around for a while in marketing but usually only within a campaign where a brand attached itself to a purpose. Consumers can see right through this “charity washing” and hold the brands accountable to walk the talk. This critical view of consumers has massively increased in the past few years. Not only Covid-19 but also climate change, civil unrest and social media have empowered consumers as never before. These consumers are emotionally charged, intentional, demanding and they care about what a brand stands for.

Successful companies develop a purpose rooted in their category and driven by technology and use this purpose as a competitive advantage. They shift from a transactional and short-term tactics-based approach to a transformational longer-term strategy and re-architect the entire business model by listening to the different stakeholders, from consumers to employees to the industry and society at large. The key factor is the long-term commitment to a strategy and cohesion within the execution. Brands are no longer a facade, they must be a true face.

“You need to be a purpose with a company. Not a company with a purpose” (Simon Mainwaring, We First)

Trend 5: The entangled customer relationship

Brands are always focussed on engagement. But we all know that engagement goes as quickly as it comes - there are just too many options. Therefore, brands should not focus on engagement but on entanglement. Building a deep customer relationship will define the future of marketing. And there are enough successful brands out there to learn from. Their key pillars to success are trailblazing excitement and a non-stop reinforcement of the relationship after the initial commitment of the customer to share information or payment. Netflix is a great example of continuously delivering on that initial excitement. The ongoing development allows the usage of the latest technology to put the customer first, time and again. This makes brands fit seamlessly into the lives of the consumers and continuously strengthens their entanglement with them. Amazon fantastically shows how present a brand can be in the lives of the consumers without them even realising it. Another strong factor is the (digital) empowerment of the consumers where brands have evolved from lighthouses consumer aspire to flashlights that inspire consumers and help them reach their goals. Nike has perfected this concept and empowers athletes across the globe to dream big and reach their goals.

Award highlights

These trends have not only been discussed in the keynotes, but have been clearly visible in the winning work of this year's awards. The prize-winning work has been driven from a place of purpose and awarded brands solved problems that humanity has created. They all followed the principles of equality and inclusion, addressed climate change or political injustice, and gave back during the pandemic. Compared to the past where innovation was often used to futurise things for a few people, this year showed the power of innovation to solve the smallest problems within our society that can drive meaningful change for as many lives as possible. Here are my three highlights:

1. Carrefour - Act for Food (Grand Prix - Creative Business Transformation)

Carrefour's Act For Food, via Marcel Paris, tackles the twin challenges of obesity and sustainable farming. It did not only touch on a purpose, the purpose is inherent. Carrefour took it across the entire business with a portfolio of initiatives delivering enterprise transformation. The scale of impact went all the way through to the stock price. A great example for creative transformation and purpose translating to profit. 

2. Nike - Crazy Dreams (Gold - Creative Effectiveness)

Another great example of purpose translating into business success is Nike. Their campaign Crazy Dreams, via Wieden+Kennedy Portland, was deeply rooted in their purpose and connected it with today’s societal issues. After an initial outrage of choosing Colin Kaepernick as testimonial, the majority of consumers around the world supported this choice and celebrated Nike for taking a stand. The fact that they believed so deeply in their brand purpose that they were willing to risk business for it, resonated with lots of consumers and leveraged the power of technology as a multiplier for emotions at scale.

3. AB InBev - Tienda Cerca (Grand Prix - Creative eCommerce)

AB InBev's Tienda Cerca, via Draftline Bogota, helped small shops to trade through lockdowns as it digitised commerce for shuttered shops. This example of equitable ecommerce shows brilliantly how big brands can support small businesses and communities to create and scale a platform they themselves would not be able to set up and how solving a local issue with the emphasis on the individual can scale up to solve big world problems.

I hope you found these learnings interesting. I for my part am excited for the next years to come and to help our clients tackle these future challenges. And if you’d like to join me and my colleagues, we are already looking for you!