Cannes Lions Jury Spotlight: Ian Davidson

At Cannes Lions, the world’s premier festival recognizing creative excellence, thousands of entries pour in from countries worldwide. Behind the scenes, a carefully selected panel of judges reviews the work that will ultimately take home a coveted Cannes Lion.

Joining the ranks of the industry’s most recognized and respected creative professionals, Ian Davidson, executive director, strategy & insights, VMLY&R Kansas City, is serving as a juror in the creative strategy category this year.

Ian leads a team of fearless planners that infuse industry trends, consumer voice and brand authenticity into every brief, strategy and presentation.

Finish this sentence: Creativity is...

Simply not giving up.

How do you spot Cannes-winning work?

I had a friend who used to be a scout for the Atlanta Braves organization. One time I asked him how he knew he was watching a major leaguer, and he said, “It’s actually not that hard. You just find the man who’s playing against boys.” In the same way, it’s actually pretty easy to spot award-winning work. It’s the work that feels like it’s playing a different game than everyone else. Instead of schlepping products, it makes culture. Instead of focusing on brand awareness, it focuses on the human experience. Instead of focusing on demanding loyalty from consumers, it shows loyalty to its customers. A lot of times, it’s simple stuff. But it’s all too rare, even at an awards show.

What’s your favorite ad of all time? 

Today, I think ads are just one part of the equation. It’s more important to be true to the brand and compelling to a group of people, which happens in many ways beyond an ad. Some ads do this, but not all. I think of W+K’s TurboTax work from seven or eight years ago, “The Year of You,” which reframed doing taxes as a great way to remember your year. But in many ways, the best ad isn’t an ad at all: it’s an experience that’s well-placed and has meaning. I find Carvana really interesting in this way. It’s not only a different business model than the rest of the car category, but it’s also designed specifically to reduce stress in the car-buying experience. As crazy as their car vending machines may seem, they let me avoid dealerships, which literally everyone wants to do.

What do you think will be the big talking points at this year’s festival?

I think we’re still trying to reckon with a message versus a product versus a service versus an experience. All of these will be entered in many of the same categories, which makes it hard to always compare like objects. But they all have their own distinct value as well as impact when they work together. I’m mostly interested in seeing how the work blends all of these elements and how the juries react to a nonbinary view of creativity.

Name three things in your Cannes survival kit.

My iPhone tripod. My universal power adapter. And — though it will come as a shock to anyone who knows me — I’ll be bringing shorts and flip-flops. I’m not saying I’ll wear them. But I’ll bring them.

The Creative Strategy Lion is a new addition for 2019. What type of work do you want to see to set a benchmark for years to come?

It’s about time! A good strategy is often more than half the idea and every bit as creative as the work that falls out of it. Since it’s the category’s inaugural year, I don’t think anyone knows exactly how to do it yet. There is no benchmark. One of the things I find tremendously humbling is to be on the jury that gets to define what “Creative Strategy” is for Cannes moving forward. It’s always an honor to be selected as a judge, but it’s a special honor to judge an inaugural category. With that said, I’d like to see a variety of types of strategy win. I think it’s equally possible to craft a creative brand positioning as a creative interpretation of data as a creative connections strategy as finding a human insight that leads to a new product design. All are on the table. I hope we can find the space to recognize the best strategy, regardless of what strategic base it comes from.