Freedom, Hypocrisy and Dissonance: Observations from a Cannes primo
The curious Media Lions category, dominated by creative agencies, judges seduced by interruption over efficiency, and mixed messages about authenticity and the metaverse – Cannes is a celebration of creativity but also full of contradictions , writes Grant LeQuesne of Wavemaker.
As a debutant at the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity last week, I was over-stimulated and over-lubricated. Contradictions abound, but I found the time to review the amazing shortlisted work and learn from some of the wisest people in the industry, that’s what it’s all about.
I live and breathe media and spend my days in the weeds of strategy. I was struck, however, by the fact that Media Lions are a curious category. Much of the award-winning work has been submitted by creative or PR agencies. And much of the work was submitted across multiple categories, with the biggest crossover being public relations.
So what qualifies for a Media Lion? IPG Mediabrands’ Daryl Lee, who led the category’s judging panel, said the judges were looking for the “media hack” that unlocked new ways to connect with audiences.
However, the judges still seemed to be seduced by the interruptionism, and the work that some might consider publicity stunts was reaping trophies. I much preferred examples of media used cleverly to embed ideas into the flow of consumer behavior, such as Ogilvy and OMD’s AAMI Rest Towns, or Rethink/Wavemaker’s work for Molson Multilingual Hockey Night in Canada.
As Wavemaker’s Global Head of Strategy, Stuart Sullivan-Martin, has said, the best media-led work isn’t just about brand ego, it’s also about brand EQ.
Looking at the winning work in the Media, PR and Social & Influencer categories poses an obvious question for our industry: do business results matter at Cannes?
I’ve seen plenty of entries claim sensational numbers in terms of impressions, engagement, media value earned, even the retro new subscriber metric. But too few cited business results.
It is true that many of the winning entries were for social causes that do not define business KPIs. And Cannes Lions is a festival of creativity. But I wonder what the CMOs in the room thought of the case studies in which the only evidence of effectiveness was vanity media metrics.
By contrast, in the Media Federation of Australia awards (get your entries by July 13, people), 50% of the score is given to demonstrating business results clearly attributable to the work.
What about the media’s contribution to creativity?
As a veteran with fond memories of the days of full-service agencies, it was heartwarming to see the creative and media teams share the stage and accolades last week, clear proof that the two are not mutually exclusive. .
WPP won Most Creative Company of the Year and Ogilvy won Most Creative Network of the Year. A significant contributor to this was the winner of multiple “Shah Rukh Khan My Ad” awards for Cadbury India. The creative idea belongs to Ogilvy, but the beauty of this campaign is also in the media – the execution, delivery and technology partnerships that Wavemaker has brought to the table.
Break through echo chambers with subterfuge
As advertisers, we seek to understand what motivates people to change their behaviors and influence decisions. It’s interesting to look at the different approaches to gun control communication – catnip for Cannes audiences.
For example, there were those who took a path of least resistance, preaching to converts, like The Lost Class by Change The Ref Inc. Everyone loves when the bad guy gets his pants down, so it’s no wonder it worked well. The outlets that picked up the story were the likes of CNN, The Washington Post, and The Guardian, all of which built on their audience’s existing confirmation bias.
Juxtapose that with the degree of difficulty in penetrating the echo chambers on the right. The Gun Survivor Reviews, an example of subterfuge-based content, did just that. Viewers thought they were watching genuine gun reviews, but were quickly exposed to the horrific realities of gun violence.
Can authenticity and the metaverse coexist?
One of the key words of the week was authenticity. I have heard several times that Generation Z wants honesty, sincerity, transparency. French social media app BeReal has been hailed as the antidote to the filtered and curated personalities we create on social media.
With such a burning desire for authenticity, why then is it said that the same generation is embracing avatars, creating digital alter-egos through which they present and behave completely differently?
Metaverse evangelists sprang from how people are freed to become someone completely different through their avatars. I’ve heard a statistic that 50% of male gamers enjoy playing as female characters. Maybe it’s fine with escapist activities like Fortnite, but as the metaverse becomes a place where we socialize, collaborate, transact, seek advice, and even love, how compatible is it with the authenticity?
So while Cannes can be a hotbed of contradictions, that’s not a bad thing. It is in this tension that our industry thrives. We fearlessly lean into tension to find provocative solutions, breakthrough ideas and concepts that drive progress and growth.
Grant LeQuesne is Director of Strategy and Insight at Wavemaker Australia.
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