We are back from the 2018 Cannes Lions festival! I had the pleasure of attending the festival with Gina Michnowicz, our CEO and co-founder; Dylan Moffett, our interactive lead; and Jack Edgar, our marketing and business development manager.
The trip was a bit easier for some of us than others, with Jack based in London, me in Berlin, Dylan working from France for the summer (poor thing), and Gina making the trek from San Francisco.
This was our first year there, and Gina selected this diverse team—individuals with very different areas of expertise—to ensure that we got as much out of the festival as possible. Not surprisingly, given our unique roles and goals for the event, the team had completely different experiences and key takeaways from the event. Here they are, in our own words.
Kim Park, Director of Brand and Strategy
Three distinct moments stand out to me, ultimately capturing the essence of my first experience at Cannes Lions festival. These moments reinforced the three messages that I heard across sessions and in conversations around the event:
Empowerment is critical. We can embolden everyone to speak their truths, in their own words, in their own time.
We need to remember in our marketing that we are always talking to a human.
Successful marketing always comes from a place of true passion.
As you’ll see, these are often interwoven.
First moment: Empowerment. My first moment was during a panel with Queen Latifah, Katie Couric, and Madonna Badger. The panel was great, reflecting on their lives and impact on change, not just across their industries but also society—but what really stuck with me was the surprise performance of ”Quiet” from singer-songwriter MILCK at the end. She played piano and sang this cathartic, incredible song about her experiences overcoming traumas such as abuse and anorexia, and it really, truly moved the audience to tears (including me).
“Quiet” became the unofficial anthem of the Women’s March. She didn’t set out to have her song become the anthem or make this huge impact, but I can see why it did. It came from a place of personal truth, a place of deep feeling, as well as a passionate need to tell her story, in her own words, in her own medium.
Second moment: Human connections. My second moment was actually not during the festival events but at a dinner with our team at Tredici Bistro, a bit off the festival’s beaten path.
We don’t usually see each other in person, and this festival was the first time we were all together. Four hours flew by as we sat connecting, learning about each other’s passions. Listening to my team and sharing my own stories, I realized how important human connections are in marketing. It can be easy to get lost in things like data, keywords, and new technology, but there are humans behind the ideas, the work. And our work connects to our intended audiences (humans!). It’s so obvious, but it’s often overlooked. Making these human connections is what sets apart great creative and strategy.
Third moment: Coming from a place of passion. My third moment was during a panel with the creators of the Nike Breaking2 campaign. The entire campaign was nothing short of impressive, from the seemingly impossible goal of breaking the two-hour marathon barrier, to the yearlong preparation with six scientists and hundreds supporting the athletes, to the live stream of the event from Italy.
But the most powerful moment for me was actually what came after the campaign. Watching runner Eliud Kipchoge’s Breaking2 attempt inspired something incredible: Justin Gallegos, a man with severe cerebral palsy, seeking his own Breaking2 moment of running a half-marathon in under two hours. The short video shows mirroring shots of the men preparing for their races, supporting each other, coming from a place of pure passion. This was a very successful campaign in terms of execution and business impact, but what it all stemmed from was uniting over an amazing goal: to achieve the unachievable with a passion for ultimate performance.
Of course, there were other great moments over the week—like hearing Keith Cartwright, the new executive creative director from 72andSunny, speak about his newest side hustle, Saturday Morning, and watching Kevin Costner promote his new TV series, Yellowstone—but these three moments and messages are the ones that shone the brightest for me.
Dylan Moffett, Interactive Manager
While at Cannes Lions, I attended a solid mix of inspiring sessions, hands-on workshops, and networking events. Here’s what I found most impactful.
Overall, the workshops were where it was at.
I hadn’t intended to go to many workshops, filling my initial schedule with more inspiration-focused sessions. But after my one and only planned workshop, I realized that if I chose wisely, workshops could be exactly what I wanted: real-world applications of things that I knew about theoretically. Something that would push me out of my comfort zone.
In the “Embracing Irrationality” workshop, I was able to explore and test perceived constants in any environment. At Mindscapes’ “The Art of Storyteching” workshop, I learned the pattern-based mechanics used in ideation for over 80% of the campaigns that have won a Cannes Gold or Grand Prix award, including:
Dynamic connections between two variables never before connected. For example, connecting an internal variable of price with an external variable of sunlight, as done in this campaign by BGH Air Conditioners.
“New tasking” an existing resource with a purpose for which it wasn’t intended, as illustrated perfectly by Momondo’s “new tasking” of a Facebook friends list in its ingenious flight pricing application.
Self-validating the message of a campaign simply through the way an ad is presented. It feels obvious, but it's difficult to pull off well. Mindscapes’ Allstate campaign example is a perfect showcase of this being executed flawlessly.
In the “Demystifying AR” workshop, I got hands on with Unity and created my own AR experience. I was pleasantly surprised to learn how attainable a good AR experience is. You used to need an army of animators and programmers to create something truly groundbreaking in AR, but tools like Unity and advancements in smartphone computing power make it easier than ever to put together an AR experience that would have been unimaginable just a few years ago. Leaving that workshop, I was inspired—so inspired that I’ve come up with a few great AR campaign ideas to pitch to some of our partners and clients.
I’m still processing all I learned at Cannes, but one thing is for sure: You’ll definitely be seeing me at more Cannes workshops.
Jack Edgar, Brand and Strategy Manager
Listening to some of the world’s leading advertisers as the sun shines over the Cote D’azur horizon, it was pretty hard to not feel inspired. Of course, while I was partially attending for inspiration, I was also there to build relationships and find future opportunities for The Craftsman Agency. When seeing the wealth of leading executives at Cannes Lions, one might assume that you could simply stroll around and collect a catalog’s worth of business cards. However, like our audiences, leading marketing executives have grown tired of being spoken at.
During the event, speakers attempting to leave the stage were often swept up in a tidal wave of business cards and portfolios. But that’s not the right start when you’re trying to develop business relationships. Most likely, your information is lost at sea.
So how does one make valuable connections at events like Cannes Lions? What I found worked best was to heed the advice of many experienced marketers, the same advice I often heard at the festival: The way to stand out is to engage people authentically. To pull them in with value, rather than push at them with a predetermined message.
While this is very much common sense, often this approach is forgotten in the heat of conference battle (and the mid-day sun of the Cote D'azur, perhaps).
Fundamental to doing this well is the environment. For Cannes, the marquee keynote sessions were places for me to listen. When I put my business development hat on, though, I would head for the break-out sessions, workshops, and intimate panel discussions. But I wasn’t there to talk at people. I was still listening. Looking for meaningful ways to engage.
As an example, during one panel discussion, an audience member asked the panel for good case studies for a particular type of campaign. By the panel’s own admission, their answers were somewhat broad. Aided by time to think about it, however, myself and a colleague recalled a perfect example—and so after the session ended, we sought out that person to share. What followed was a completely organic conversation about the merits of the campaign, how it was applicable to their context, and eventually one another’s specialties and capabilities. The above was also made possible by the acknowledgment that people want to connect and converse at such events. Similarly to marketers, however, business development executives would do well to remember a large part of effective communication is listening first and then responding. The most valuable conversations we had at Cannes therefore were those where we displayed a genuine desire to listen, engage, and advise when appropriate. It does take more time and effort, but I have found it quite effective. It also sets one up well for post-event follow-ups, for they’re born out of a mutual desire to continue the conversation. To come back to one of the points that Kim made earlier, making human connections is what sets apart not only great creative and strategy but also effective business development.
Cannes was amazing and we look forward to next year, but it's not the only event driving the industry forward. Check out our CEO’s key takeaways from the recent Incite Marketing Summit.