Marketing takeaways from Cannes Lions 2019


Last week the great, good, best and better of the creative industries descended on the South of France for the world’s premiere festival of creativity. From marketing to advertising to social, a wealth of innovative work was on display vying for success in the most competitive edition in the annual event’s history. 

We’re talking about Cannes Lions 2019, of course. This year saw a staggering number of award entries— more than 30,000 from across the world. But what can we really learn from the marketing campaigns and concepts that won out in the end? What do they tell us about the state of branding and humanity today?

We analysed the victors so you don’t have to, now here are the biggest marketing trends and takeaways from the largest meeting of industry minds on the planet. 

Don’t obsess over millennials and Gen Z

Maye Musk— mother of Elon— was on a panel pushing for employers to hire more people in the over-50s age group. At 71, she also challenged brands on their obsession with millennials and Generation Z given these demographics are likely to be poorer than those in older age ranges.

Oh, and Generation Alpha arrived thanks to a consultancy launched by comic publisher Beano, helping brands better understand the under-10s.

Subversive marketing is go

Whopper Detour saw people in McDonalds restaurants offered $1 Whoppers via a Burger King app. Travel specialist Black & Abroad used the racist slogan “go back to Africa” to promote vacations on the continent to its core clientele— black Americans.

Twój Weekend was a Polish porn mag bought out and then closed down for good with one final issue dedicated to powerful women in politics and culture— a societal suckerpunch in a country renowned for misogyny and dire sex education. All won major awards. 

Accessibility now

Google scored big with its open-source creative tools for people with disabilities. IKEA took the Grand Prix for Health thanks to its ThisAbles campaign— promoting accessibility add-ons that can be 3D printed. And Microsoft’s accessible XBox controller also took a top prize, in Brand Experience and Activation.

We recently blogged on the need for wider digital accessibility, and explained why making sure your website is accessible can be a huge benefit in terms of SEO.

Lip service is not an acceptable CSR policy 

Corporate Social Responsibility covers everything from racial equality to environmentalism. And, as we’ve been saying for years, it’s not acceptable to simply engage on a superficial level. Cannes 2019 reiterated this point, with Nike’s Colin Kaepernick campaign taking home the Grand Prix Lion in Entertainment for Sport. 

It’s also worth noting that Unilever’s CEO Alan Jope was in attendance, warning against ‘woke washing’— where companies want to be seen as conscious but are actually doing very little. Or worse still, contribute to the original problem. He even went as far as saying the company will ‘dispose of any brands that don’t stand for something’, although regular readers of our blog will know this already.

Climate change should be a business priority 

If Jope is worried about ‘woke washing’ then people have been trying to tackle greenwashing for much, much longer. Sadly, the world is still staring down the barrel of environmental collapse and an end of life as we know it. But the voices for change are growing louder and this year broke through the lines at Cannes. A city synonymous with superyachts, helicopters and outright decadence. 

Extinction Rebellion held protests during the event, and according to this AdAge report they may well have worked by turning a mirror on the industry. Per Pederson, global creative chairman of Grey, Joan Creative’s CCO Jaime Robinson and Colleen DeCourcy, co-president of Wieden + Kennedy, were just three big guns voicing support. 

Our duopoly is in crisis 

Facebook and Google both had a huge presence at Cannes, so no surprises there. A growing rejection of their dominance was potentially less expected predictable, though. Direct-to-consumer brands were some of the most outspoken, with CEO and co-founder of bra specialist ThirdLove, David Spector, putting it like this: 

“Everybody wants to pull dollars away from Google and Facebook… …[there is] potentially a limit on how much we should spend on some of those digital channels.”

This means, despite trends over recent years, we could see a shift back towards traditional media ad— or at least a diversification of where spend is allocated. 

Remember social media marketing is all about community

Smoking Gun’s MD Rick Guttridge just penned a piece on the need for social to become a force for good. Uniting people, supporting positive culture and fostering ideas beneficial to the global community. Evidently he’s not the only one thinking like this, either. 

This year Cannes sent home the message that brands should focus on nurturing and developing communities through social. Microsoft also took home a Lion for its Super Bowl ad, Changing The Game, inspired by the AbleGamers Foundation.

A multiplayer gaming community for those with disabilities which pressured the developers for better disabled gaming provision. A great example of a major company listening to a comparatively niche group and adapting to be more inclusive.


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