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22 Jul 2024 03:35

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Cannes Lions 2024: new heights of creativity and courage

This year’s Cannes Lions Festival of Creativity showed that in the age of AI, success for the advertising industry requires collaboration, connection, courage – and fun

With more than 12,000 delegates attending Cannes Lions this year – an increase of 20% on the year before – the business of creativity is in rude health. The number of brands submitting award entries rose by 6%. The Creative Effectiveness Lions, which measure the commercial impact of creative work, received more submissions than ever before since launching in 2011. And WPP won an impressive haul of 160 Lions – allowing it to reclaim the title of Creative Company of the Year.

It was also the first time that entrants had to state if they had used AI to develop their campaigns. So, of course, the topic of generative AI permeated the programme of talks. In an evolution from last year, the focus was less on the ‘what’ and more on the ‘how’. But with WPP’s session speaker Elon Musk predicting radical changes to AI in 2025, next year’s conversation is set to be very different again.

These are the big themes we took away:

AI is our friend in creative collaboration

Cannes Lions featured many examples of how gen AI is already supercharging human creativity, productivity and performance. Two of WPP’s award-winning campaigns, Pink Chip and Absurd Promises, showed what blending data-driven insights with human creativity can achieve.

On the stage, speakers enthused about AI’s power to ignite inspiration and provide an infinite universe of ideas to test and scale – expanding the reach and heft of brands through faster creative production, tailored media activation and real-time measurement.

Others were more circumspect, observing that some in the industry may have a natural reaction to the impact of AI on their jobs and how they work. For the majority, gen AI was hailed as a tool for collaboration and an enhancer of human creativity, using data to better target messages in more relevant ways and via the right channels. For the industry, this means experimenting with what it can offer, staying curious and using it responsibly to unleash its full potential.

The enduring power of human connection

Effective creativity comes from finding something that resonates with an audience on an emotional level, making them feel compelled to act.

Increasingly, this is about seeing consumers as individuals and using that knowledge to make them feel understood. Some brands are doing this through AI-driven insights and tapping into online communities, while others are spending time with shoppers in real life.

This kind of customised engagement will deepen connections and drive growth. But it must be authentic and true to the brand’s purpose. In the 20th anniversary year of Dove’s Real Beauty campaign, it was heartening to see that inclusive advertising delivers 103% better brand power. To produce more work like this, the industry needs to keep driving for more diversity, inclusion and representation within its own ranks.

Trust the creators

This year saw Cannes Lions provide a dedicated programme and space for social media creators and influencers – the inaugural LIONS Creators. The forum gave brands an opportunity to understand how best to work with creators to unlock growth, while amplifying the voice of creators and giving them the chance to set out what a good brand deal looks like for them.

Having a brand that trusts the creator emerged as the cornerstone of collaboration. Brands should respect and empower creators, not inhibit them. And the best brand deals are a natural progression of a creator’s interests and passions.

Welcome back wit

A plea to bring humour back to advertising at last year’s LIONS has paid off. Organisers introduced 13 humour sub-categories across 30 awards at the 2024 showcase.

Purpose fatigue, the current geopolitical situation and the tail end impact of the pandemic are possible explanations for this resurgence. But whatever the cause, humour is good for business – data has shown it delivers higher profit and ROI.

This shouldn’t surprise an industry audience. As comedian and SNL cast member Kenan Thompson observed in VML’s panel discussion, humour is about connecting over shared experiences. By maintaining quality and consistency, you keep the door open for spontaneous cultural moments.

Be bold, not beige

In all the excellence on display in Cannes, attendees could be forgiven for forgetting that not all creative work is made equal. Or that innovation can have its downsides. Algorithms were accused of killing originality and creating endless streams of sameness. Ogilvy’s session on storytelling emphasised the importance of standing out in a fast-paced advertising world to captivate audiences and grab their attention in order to leave a lasting impact.

Everyone at Cannes heard an overall call for marketing and advertising to adapt and change – whether in response to disruption, lost trust or changing consumer expectations. That means being bold and taking risks, or as one speaker said, “saying yes to work that makes you feel nervous”. Because it’s the bold creative ideas that stand out and create memorable brand experiences. And those are the experiences that work.

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