What Cannes 2021 Says About the State of the World and Advertising

Ann Nurock has years of experience reporting on the Cannes Lions Festival of Creativity and distilling the marketing and advertising trends to be gleaned from the work on show. But when we invited Ann to present her insights from the 2021 virtual event, what emerged was a glimpse into a global Zeitgeist of striving to be better – and a moment of reckoning for the advertising industry.

  • Cannes

If you work in advertising or marketing or any related industry, you likely follow the annual Cannes Lions Festival of Creativity with interest. It’s where those of us in the persuasion biz get to see what’s new and inspiring (read: borrowable) in the world of influencing our fellow humans to buy stuff and do things. But this year’s event was a different kind of inspiring – the kind that gives you the warm-and-fuzzies and makes you want to be a better human being. Overwhelmingly, the theme that dominated this year’s entries was humanity. 

WATCH: How Mastercard Helped Trans People Transact with Dignity

New-Age Consumers
Ann referred to research from Accenture that found consumers have shifted their expectations more rapidly and completely than at any other time in history – and we’re not talking a starry-eyed Gen-Z here and there, but rather a Serengeti-style mass migration of consciousness. 
Turns out, being stuck at home with your thoughts and confronted with your own mortality causes a person to take stock of their values, what they stand for – and, significantly, what they stand against. The research found that consumers are ready to say “Bye, Felicia” to brands that don’t align with their newfound urge to do good by humanity and the planet. And they will pay more for brands that do. 

WATCH: How H&M’s Looop Campaign Made Fast Fashion Sustainable

Brands with Purpose
Meanwhile, consumers weren’t the only ones facing a crisis of utilitarianism. As traditional wisdom dissolved faster than the Twitterverse’s belief in science, brands and marketers had to shift their focus from making sales to doing their part. And judging by the work coming out of Cannes, they stepped up. As Ann noted, the rules of creativity have changed forever – intelligent creativity is here to stay. It’s no longer enough to come up with great ideas that generate brand awareness; brands have to start with the question: How do we add value? 
And when they tore their eyes away from graphs and spreadsheets, they realised opportunities were all around them – from a reimagined deodorant bottle that gives every body the right to sweat profusely to tech that brings joy to kids with cystic fibrosis, 2020 was the year brands grew a soul.

WATCH: How a Campaign to Bake Bread Broke the Stigma of Self-Check Breast Exams

Death of a Sales Industry?
Cannes 2021 was a reminder of what our industry is capable of when we think with our hearts, not with our timesheets. Does it mean KPIs will henceforth be measured in goosebumps and tissues? No. As Ann pointed out, the stalwarts of purpose-driven marketing still spend 80% of their budget selling product. But when the world is tired and people need a reason to hope or smile or connect, we would do well to remember that it’s not our business to batten down the hatches and wait for the storm to pass. Our business is out there, with our customers.  

...Read More