The Rise of Creativity at Cannes Lions

— WE Communications 

Cannes. It’s the place envy-inspiring “wish you were here” postcards were made for. It’s where the heat adds a dose of luxury, the rosé is forever chilled and creativity comes to flaunt itself. Not in 2020, though. Instead, Cannes stalwarts were left with do-it-yourself beverages at home and an unfamiliar delay as the usual festival of creativity was put on hold.

After the event was switched to virtual reality in 2021, it was no surprise that by June, Cannes Lions jurors were ready to dive into the creative pool the festival had to offer. These jurors were tasked with judging two years’ worth of work in an industry that had been stretched, reshaped and evolved. With four members of WE’s leadership joining Cannes Lions juries this year, we spoke to Catherine Devaney, who judged the Health and Wellness category; Daniel Blank, who judged the Young Lions category; and Neha Mehrotra, who focused on the Shortlisting PR Lions category. All shared what stood out at the long-awaited Cannes Lions and what we can expect from creativity and communications.

Being back in the virtual jurors’ room

Can you tell us about your categories and what gets included?  

Daniel (Deputy General Manager and Head of Digital, Germany): Personally, it was great to see so many young talents from around the globe tackling the same brief. This is different from other awards and categories, where you have to compare completely different projects, often from different markets. At the Young Lions, every team had the same brief, the same time and the same team size to tackle that brief.

Catherine (Deputy Managing Director and Head of Health, UK): As you would expect, there were plenty of COVID-19 pivots in the health and wellness category, with brands coming up with ways to use their existing services to support people through the crisis.  

There were also a number of entries that tackled the dark reality of domestic violence during the pandemic. While there were initiatives that drove a more tangible result, as a piece of content, this by Publicis Conseil was my personal favorite. I think it speaks to a wider audience than just those perpetrating violence. I definitely reflected on the times I should have handled a mind-blowingly frustrating situation in a more constructive and compassionate way.

Neha (EVP and National Head, India): I judged not-for-profit, single market campaigns, PR craft: sponsorship and brand partnership and some consumer durables entries.

Nothing beats the physical interaction at Cannes

With everyone having to adapt unexpectedly over the past year, were there any entries facing challenges this year?

Daniel: I felt sorry for the teams that made the shortlist but didn’t get a chance to present in person to a jury in a room. Even though we did hold debrief sessions with all teams after the winners were communicated, the teams would have got more out of an in-person discussion right after their presentation that was more than a five-minute Q&A via Zoom.

Regardless, the energy they put in was amazing. These teams only had 24 hours from receiving the brief to uploading their final deck, and it was brilliant to see what a team of just two individuals can produce on a creative, strategic and design level in such a short time.

Creating societal change is what creativity is all about

The beauty of judging Cannes Lions is that you get to review some of the most amazing campaigns in the industry, but it’s also the hardest part of the job. What aspects of the work cut through for you?

Neha: I judged about 400 campaigns and every single one of them had brands, government organizations or individuals working on relevant issues. Each campaign covered a range of powerful subjects that gave me fresh perspective and inspiration to push the boundaries of my own creativity. I was thoroughly impressed by the boldness and creativity of the ideas.

Catherine: In addition to the creative at its heart, work that cut through felt original, was insightful, captured our emotions and resulted in tangible change. I’d also say work that challenged perceptions and progressed a diverse and inclusive point of view was also rewarded. As jurors we always asked ourselves, does this work drive the health sector forward?

Daniel: In the Young Lions category, a lot of the work that stood out had a climate-change focus, which shows us the direction of the future of PR and where their values are. I particularly loved the entry from the Taiwanese team that won bronze. They invented a climate-dedicated crypto token as their central element that people could acquire and by that actively invest into battling climate change in an easy and very modern way, resonating with pretty much all relevant audiences — what a brilliant idea!

The future of communications will still be about purpose

What do you think these entries/shortlist/winners say about the future of communications?

Catherine: For me, the Grand Prix winners reflect what Cannes should be about — work that has flawless creative at its heart (a phrase used by a fellow juror, which really resonated with me) and purpose-led creativity, which makes a difference in the world. This example from Beco drives forward inclusivity in the workplace and it should be championed. If brands want to focus on purpose-led creativity, it is vital that they identify a problem their audience is facing and ensure that they have the “right” to tackle it. It is about showing you’ve listened to your audience and that you’re doing something meaningful about it.

Daniel: The agency world definitely doesn’t need to be afraid of a lack of talent in the future! But the aspirations of future communications experts with regards to the purpose of their work will be very high.

Neha: Creativity and purpose will be the top driver of our work in 2021. Not big, but bold ideas will make the cut, and bold ideas will emerge only when there is clarity of goals.

We also need to stay ahead of the technology curve and find creative ways to help our clients find the intersection points between their stories and what the world needs. We must creatively reshape our clients’ campaigns according to the changing needs of the new era ushered in by the pandemic, and tell our clients’ stories in new places, in new ways, using new tactics. This is what will help craft winning communications strategies that lead with purpose and humanity.

To learn more on how you can use reshape your teams to maximize your creative potential, discover our Creativity vs. Everything white paper.