5 buzzwords at Cannes Lions 2016

9 hours of lectures on 5–9 stages at the same time. Presentations, workshops, forum, discussions — that’s what comes to my mind when I think of Cannes. For me Cannes is what Milan is for an interior designer. Thanks to Cannes you know what trends are in and you have a map showing you where everything is going.

Every year I prepare for myself a list of words that are used the most often, or actually overused, in Cannes. This year I decided to share it with you. So, what you have below is the words that form the borders of our world of advertising and marketing.

1. Entertainment

I started with this word, because… it’s a new one. What’s surprising is that it’s the first year when entertainment is often called one of a brand’s objectives. Previously, entertainment was considered something optional. This year, however, it is an unquestionable MUST for a brand. This is confirmed by all the campaigns in Cannes having to provide entertainment, even the social-oriented ones. It doesn’t mean that this entertainment has to be nice and pleasant. However, it is defined as providing emotions and pulling people out of daily grind.

Facebook was talking a lot in Cannes about the principle of 3 seconds — if your communication doesn’t get someone’s attention in 3 seconds, you’re out. The studies of Izmałkowa confirm that sad truth.

The last campaign of YouTube is based on a simple and true observation which, as it turns out, is very insightful. They communicated it already, so let me repeat after them: people consider watching advertisements punishment. And that’s exactly how YouTube decided to punish the haters. Personally, I love this campaign for the wisdom of the psychological measure that it uses and for fighting ill-mannered moaners. Still, I’m rather surprised that YouTube was brave enough to say it out loud that ADVERTISEMENTS ARE PUNISHMENT FOR VIEWERS. Alright, but we weren’t supposed to talk about YouTube. Something that we like can be a punishment (like a standard TV advertisement) or it can be 100% entertainment (Jelly Lewis). In general, the leitmotif of this word’s overuse is: Make the advertisement a reward, not punishment, because otherwise it’s out.


2. Storytelling

Now, this buzzword has been present in Cannes for 3 years. Storytelling reached its peak last year, I think, and this year it was a bit less popular but… there was still only a handful of presentations that lacked phrases as original as:

People like storytelling.

Brands should do storytelling.

Next to the overwhelming uniqueness of this advice, what surprised me this year was also its extraordinarily poor efficiency. Unfortunately, this year’s Cannes didn’t show any outstanding works or examples of brands that do storytelling. Sure, there were some pretty ads, some smart ads and some ads with a message, but that’s not the only thing storytelling is about. It’s not supposed to be a single story but a whole saga about a brand, resulting from its DNA and its feeling of pride and confidence — from what it is and what it is not.

Obviously, Unilever and Procter&Gamble still do their best to squeeze some tears out of us, but… the truth is that this year we haven’t seen anything like #likeagirl or Volvo with Van Damme. Perhaps after a period of genius there must come a short period of rest? In the end, storytelling still remains in the sphere of telling and not acting.

3. Authenticity

The word that has been creating for years a certain trend of “genuine” advertisements. Obviously, every brand HAS TO be authentic. What is always interesting to me, however, is the definition of that authenticity. Although this word is used interchangeably with the word “genuine” and in opposition to the word “fake”, when we talk about being authentic it’s mentioned that it’s necessary to learn what the customer wants and provide it to them in as natural way as possible. Well, maybe I’m crazy or something, but being authentic, the way I, psychologists, dictionaries and… consumers understand it, means learning WHO you are and expressing this in a confident and genuine manner.

The idea that meeting the needs of others and behaving according to their expectations could mean being authentic could appear only in the minds of marketers, I guess. For now, the fake authenticity trend still reigns supreme. The only two examples of true authenticity that I met were during the presentation of WARC on the topic of #likeagirl and #girlscan. Both brands said that they started searching for platforms for their own communication from THEMSELVES and not from the consumer. They took a close look at who they are instead of thinking about who they could be. They saw the feature of theirs that was authentic, but also REAL and genuine within their DNA. The Always brand has always been confident and cared for the confidence of women. From its very inception it talked about the period and how it wants women to feel thanks to it.

A similar approach characterized the uncanny #girlscan campaign that started its search from a sad conclusion that women exercise less than they would like to. And when the people behind it learned that this stems from their feeling of shame about being judged, they noticed that this is what touched upon a sensitive spot at the heart of their brand.

Like the agency representative said, they prepared a couple of propositions and the client was constantly saying: “if we want to tell women to be confident, we should show them we’re confident too. Let’s go all in. Let’s be brave. It has to start with us — only then will the women follow.”

4. Purpose driving marketing

The new buzzword of this year’s Cannes. Not that it hadn’t existed before, but this time it was definitely in at least every other presentation and on some days in every single one. I wonder whether the success of the last year’s #likeagirl contributed to that. Anyway, now everyone just shouts: purpose and emotional engagement.

To translate it into everyday English, this means that there is now developing a trend consisting in the brand terrorizing the consumer emotionally. Or, in other words, campaigns that do their best to make you cry, but also engage people in building the brand or doing something good.

My attitude towards that is not clear-cut. At the level of concept it’s all great, but combined with rather perverse understanding of item 3, that is, authenticity, we again have no purpose, no great objective, but rather a pre-sales objective.

Last year there was a lot of cases in which I felt authenticity (even if this wasn’t 100% accurate). For example, in the WATER FOR AFRICA campaign https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VpjTsDmSwJQ I had a feeling that there was a purpose and truth in it. There was also a very moving campaign of Pedigree regarding helping people who completed a prison sentence — but the purpose of this one was definitely marketing. For me this is a made up and fake “purpose”. And although I was moved indeed… I didn’t buy it. There is more marketing in it than authenticity, purpose and the desire to change something for the better.

Perhaps the way it works is that once some word becomes popular among marketers, they have to spoil it.

Or maybe it’s a case of inept forgery of brilliant things — inept due to wrong and superficial understanding of where the campaign with genuine purpose came from.

It’s not that they shouldn’t sell — of course they should! But it’s all a matter of proportion. The sales target has to be a consequence of communicating who I am. The difference here is the same as between a marriage out of love and one out of fear of loneliness. In both cases the purpose is the same — being with somebody — but the reason makes a big difference.

5. AdBlocking

Now, that one is a novelty in Cannes Lions. From the very first day of the festival everyone was saying that it exists, that it changed everything (I’m not really sure why it changed things this year exactly), that we have to watch out and that it forces us to be more creative. It’s all true.

What is sad, however, is that there was no reflection regarding the consumers and why they are doing this to us.

For me this was particularly interesting in the context of Poland still being at top positions in world rankings when it comes to using AdBlockers. It’s quite a curious result, especially when paired with the fact that we have almost no nominations in Cannes and definitely no ads there.

Maybe it’s time to wake up? Maybe the agencies will finally believe the scientific studies showing that creativity is beneficial to sales efficiency. And the fact that with AdBlocking in Poland at the level of 30–60% (depending on the age group) creativity and bravery are not just an OPTION.

Still, I also heard an embarrassing statement of a person from the Times Magazine who called people in Cannes to oppose this phenomenon by signing petitions and carrying out other joint campaigns of our industry. The absurdity of this statement is softened only by compassion resulting from understanding that this man said all of this out of powerlessness and great longing for the times when everything was nice and easy. Well, knowing our line of business I’m pretty sure that there won’t be any demonstrations or any unification against AdBlock.

There’s a simple solution — just make brilliant ads!

Being a researcher, I’m pretty sure of it. People do not hate ads. They hate bad ads. Boring. Focused on sales. Meanwhile, there are ads that they love and that they even wait for.

There were also a few other keywords, such as:

· Legendary — everything has to be legendary or magic now.

· Excitement — if there are no tears or hysteria, we have to admit we’ve been defeated.

· Equality — I’m not even mentioning that because it’s definitely purely declarative. It’s great that there are campaigns on this subject and that Cannes is boasting how engaged it is in promoting equality, but at the same time its jury is dominated by men and lecturers are predominantly male as well. I don’t want to sound like a feminist, but… do what your preach! Otherwise it’s neither authentic nor emotionally engaging.

· Real time — this word has been appearing for a few years, but more as a threat, something like: hey, consider the fact that soon things will have to be that way. There have appeared some examples of brilliant “real time” campaigns, but I think no one has beaten AirBnB and #sochiproblems https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7N4UEBBg4eA yet. It was a masterpiece when it comes to real time marketing.

· What consumers want — this is so banal that there’s no point in discussing it. They theoretically know and study what a consumer wants, but then… the ads end up being as we know them. I’m not sure at which point the information train got derailed, but something is definitely wrong. It’s interesting that this year there was definitely less buzz about BIG DATA — they were still talking about it but there were extraordinarily few examples of its use in campaigns and what appeared more often as a means of learning what people want that is superior to Big Data was ethnography (a balm to my heart).

· Culture — FINALLY! Someone has finally been enlightened that globalisation is not as global as it seems. Our genes have the culture of our ancestors inside them. No McDonalds or Starbucks is going to change it. I’m not writing a lot about it, because… there wasn’t a lot of it. This subject was definitely dominated by beautiful examples coming from Africa. I definitely hope that culture will be one of the main keywords during the next Cannes Lions.

Cannes seems to be the same every year, but it actually always is a little bit different. And this difference is decisive for the direction in which advertising is going to develop further. I think that if this little bit will mean engaging A LITTLE BIT more psychologists and anthropologists, trusting A LITTLE BIT larger group of brilliant and creative ideas and A LITTLE BIT greater will to do something important instead of being afraid of making a mistake, we will have a chance to see much BETTER advertising and marketing at a higher level. Which is what I wish you, myself and all the people who the majority calls consumers!