Ogilvy’s top three lessons from the Cannes Lions


Each year when I return from Cannes, many of the conversations start with, “How was the rosé?”

While there is more than enough rosé to go around, I always try to turn the conversation to what matters the most: the work. After all, it’s a festival to celebrate that work and the creativity within.

I’ve found the most effective way to distill the conversations, the demonstrations, and the ideas into a few key highlights is to talk about positive envy, or the dozens of pieces of work of which I am most envious. This always serves as a great motivator to keep pushing the machine that is our industry to continue to create compelling work.

1. The message has new mediums

One of the most dominant topics of conversations at Cannes was the continual explosion of media choices to satisfy a client brief. Samsung showed off its virtual reality experiences inside and outside of the Palais, Facebook was showcasing its Live Video, Twitter was talking about Live TV, and many more technologies were touting the next great creative outlet.

While these companies showed us what could be possible, there was a sense that these technologies are still looking for meaningful creative executions. In other words, the medium is still seeking a powerful message.

That said, we did see exceptions as some of the big winners proved that new mediums could deliver on incredible storytelling. For example, The New York Times presented an immersive story called “The Displaced” featuring the struggle of refugees and Lockheed Martin inspired students with a virtual “Field Trip to Mars.”

These new technologies can often worry agencies as we think we need a “360 video idea” or a “VR strategy.” Instead, it’s important to remember that the story always leads. The opportunity now is that we have so many more ways to express great ideas but have to do so in a way that is technologically impactful, interesting to people, and additive to brands. This is something marketers are going to challenge agencies to think through as we continue through the calendar year.

2. Utilities make for stories, too

Across all categories, some of the most talked about ideas could be described as branded utilities. It’s not only a new product from a brand that stood out, but also the way the brand told the story behind those utilities.

Toyota LandCruiser’s Emergency Network that created a mobile emergency network across the Outback (and showcased how rugged and vehicle is in Australia). IF Insurance’s Slow Down GPS is a navigation app that switches to a child’s voice when the driver enters a school to zone to encourage safer driving (and fewer insurance claims). DB Export’s Brewtroleum told the story of how to create cleaner fuel by using the waste product from making beer (and was able to showcase the actual beer in new media channels like the gas pump).

These utilities are additive to consumers lives and ignite a conversation while naturally leading to powerful stories that feature the product and the brand. Ultimately, they deliver brand messages in a compelling but subtle way. The use of utilities in these cases shows that a great idea can be created via a new product.

3. Don’t (necessarily) stick to the brief

Perhaps it is the strategist in me, but I always try to imagine the original brief for each great idea. While I am sure that many clients are open to groundbreaking ideas, some of my favorites from the Croisette this year were those that solved a business problem in a way that most of us would never have thought of.

There was Glade’s Museum of Feelings (from our Ogilvy Chicago team) that created a physical and virtual location through which people could experience a variety of senses, from sight, sound, touch, taste, and most importantly for Glade, scent.

Norton created a series called The Most Dangerous Town on the Internet that highlighted the places in the world where cybercrime festers. The story uniquely focused on the problem: worms, viruses, identity theft, and social engineering. By presenting this Netflix-quality content, Norton becomes the default solution to cybercrime.

One of the most unexpected ideas was Nas Grunt in Prague who won gold PR Lion for “Bees Can Find Sugar Where You Least Expect It.” The idea illustrates the high levels of sugar in all of our food by having bees create honey from places you’d least expect. You’d never believe the volume of conversations about “hamburger honey” and “ketchup honey” following the recognition of the campaign.

While these ideas span categories and are different types of executions, they are inspiring because they answer the client’s business challenge (and not necessarily the client’s brief).

Once again, Cannes proved that amazing creativity can still cause people to pay attention and participate with a brand. Whether it be a partnership with a technology provider, a branded utility, or a brief-breaking idea, it is crucial to remember that compelling stories from meaningful brands still wins the hearts (and wallets) of consumers.

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