Cannes 2014: Campaigns, Creativity and Crashers?

Now may seem like a random time to hit the pause button and look back on the past year in advertising, but for creatives, marketers, technologists and media specialists alike, Christmas doesn’t come in July, or December. Instead, the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity, a global celebration of the advertising industry, with its parties that rival New Years Eve, is just a week away. So, although the timing might be a little strange, now, more than ever, is actually the perfect opportunity to examine what worked, what didn’t and most importantly, where the industry is going.

One of the biggest discussions leading up to this year’s festival is the anticipated invasion of the fastest growing population within the industry: ad-tech companies. While the event serves as a convenient hunting ground for ad-tech players to strengthen their presence within the advertising ecosystem, some question the disruptive nature of their attendance. More conventional members of the industry blame these tech-minded companies for disturbing the natural order of things with the integration of algorithms and automated programs for ad and media buying.

So, let’s consider the question that’s causing a Charlie Brown-like omnipresent rain cloud to hang over Cannes: Are these ad-tech companies responsible for a progression away from the very creativity that the festival celebrates?

June marks the beginning of summer in Cannes, France, and with that comes some serious sunshine. Not that I am a meteorologist, but I expect that the festival-goers will be able to go umbrella-free, embracing the heat radiating from the sun and their campaigns, with the help of those very tech-companies.

The truth of the matter is that no matter how creative the content may be, if it’s not reaching the right people then its effectiveness is lost. Although this problem is daunting for agencies, this is music to ad-tech companies’ ears. The software that these companies offer is becoming a necessity as it bridges the gap between the content and the consumer. As MediaMath CRO Erich Wasserman explains, “The interaction between the creative mind and the means of getting the right message in front of the user becomes a crucial question.”

Agencies are realizing that the answer to this question lies in the capable hands of ad-tech companies. And the proof is already out there; the proof is in this year’s most successful campaigns.

While audiences and advertisers surely have their favorites, Adweek, in partnership with Chicago-based agency, Leo Burnett, provides a voice of authority with its list of 25 Campaigns That Will Win Lions in Cannes.  One consistency among the list is the absence of the more traditional television commercials that we are all familiar with: those constant interruptions that saturate our guilty-pleasure shows, turning The Bachelorette into a two-hour affair. The most likely winners next week will be those campaigns that are truly revolutionary and signal toward an equation for the future: original content + unique form = viral success.

Both Volvo and Jean-Claude Van Damme made a comeback this year as Volvo Trucks split away from the pack with its ad featuring Van Damme splitting, literally, between two reversing trucks. While some may consider the spot to be a bit out of Volvo’s comfort zone, the campaign, however odd it may be, raked in a whopping 73 million YouTube views and proved to be, in a word: epic.

Volvo Trucks, “The Epic Split”

Forsman & Bodenfors, Gothenburg and Stockholm, Sweden

Unlike Volvo, who chose to initiate the reemergence of classic product demonstration ads in a bold way, Skype utilized its storytelling ability to prove that it’s a technology with a purpose. In this heartfelt spot, Skype creates visceral moments of connections with consumers by connecting friends from across the world.

Skype, “The Born Friends Family Portrait”

Pereira & O’Dell, San Francisco

Lovers of Pitch Perfect and beer will applaud Newcastle’s anti-commercial commercial that features Anna Kendrick, as her most candid and authentic self, divulging “what could have been” if the company had used her for a Super Bowl ad. Although the spot never made it onto primetime networks during the game, it didn’t need to.

Newcastle Brown Ale, “If We Made It”

Droga5, New York

To round out the bunch, Chipotle’s “The Scarecrow” is representative of an increasingly popular trend within the industry: long-form and documentary-style content. However, CAA didn’t simply produce a typical short-film. “The Scarecrow” integrates animation with a socially driven message to educate viewers about the harsh realities of industrial food companies. The combination of the haunting animation and dystopian setting has never been seen before, but surely will not be forgotten.

Chipotle, “The Scarecrow”

CAA Marketing, Los Angeles

What have these campaigns taught us? In order to redefine success, you often have to defy it first.  And in order to break into an industry, you might have to crash a party or two.

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