Cannes Lions #65: Cannalogue
A munge of creativity and innovation. A confluence of ideas, technology, culture, influential personalities and powerful industry debate. With no less than 10 activations for my own clients this year, it’s exhausting. It’s also inspirational (and more than a little pretentious). But Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity is without doubt my favourite event of the year.
If you were in Cannes last week, chances are you’re in the ideas business, propelled by the ambition to create moments and memories. In my mind, the best ideas are those that bring us closer together, and this year’s festival seemed to be a celebration of this simple proposition. Cannes Lions has championed creativity since 1954. Calling itself “the world’s most inspiring creative festival”, it celebrates the innovative work and forecasts the future across all forms of creative communication within the entertainment, design, tech and media industries.
On the whole, the various branded activations this year felt refreshingly analogue. Instead of bloated tech demos, there was an almost universal focus on all that makes us human – our thirst for fun, our curiosity, our sense of humour, and our desire for self-expression.
As traditional media consumption continues to be replaced by a hunger for compelling experiences, I’ve felt for some time now that there’s been an events industry (over)reliance on technological innovation as the vehicle to deliver these experiences. I’m routinely underwhelmed by what are often badly prescribed applications of technology. The growing ‘immersive economy’ is breeding mediocrity.
In my eyes, a true brand experience is all about humanising the brand, bringing it to life through multiple touchpoints, and injecting personality to enable people to connect, interact and enthuse. Technology certainly has its place in the mix, but it’s not the universal answer. Brands that excite us, make us care, make us proud, inspire us, and to which we ultimately go back to time and time and again, tend to be those with this kind of experience at their heart.
Many global brands with very high social value and cultural relevance activate at Cannes Lions. These are brands that typically prioritise the user experience. Facebook, Google, Snapchat, Spotify and Twitter all put on a big show to the super influential attendees at this year’s festival.
Over on Facebook Pier, poster screen printing was available to everyone, along with badge-making, postcard printing, Lego modelling, a community garden, sack toss games, and storyboard walls to encourage unique selfies. Not a phone, laptop or demo screen in sight. Product stories were woven into the mix in ‘soft’ and relaxed ways via simple face-to-face conversations at each of these activities.
Google Beach hosted a series of immersive experiences under the banner of ‘The Greatest Stories, retold’, where world-class creative agencies recreated classic tales with a new spin, such as BBH London who reimagined the Ugly Duckling turned into the Swan. Relatively ‘low tech’ but high interaction creative pursuits were also abundant: design and print your own baseball cap with ‘Doodle caps’, remix cocktails with the ‘margarita maker’, and a tiny beach hut allowed you to create a unique poster with nothing more than your voice. My personal favourite was a post box and rack of pre-paid postcards, encouraging attendees to send a note home to loved ones.
Everything at Google Beach was paired with a user-generated playlist – all attendees were encouraged to aggregate it, using super low-fi audio patch panels instead of the standard touchscreen/mobile inputs we’d expect.
The experiential highlight for me was Snapchat’s incredible ‘Sound Stories’ installation. In this unique collaboration between Snapchat’s engineers and digital artist Christian Marclay, art and technology fused to explore the sounds and images of the everyday. Unlike Google and Facebook, thiswasa technology driven experience – a very smart one with AI at its core. However, the exhibition’s interactions were beautifully simple and intuitive, like the dark room with the message ‘sing to me’, where our words and harmonies created instantly gratifying audio-visual responses. Another space was utterly empty but for a spot-lit piano whose keys sparked immediate and unexpected orchestral soundscapes, compiled entirely from Snapchat content. This was one of the most innovative and high-tech experiences I’ve ever witnessed, but the technology was almost invisible, and so the overall effect was entirely analogue, natural and human.
If there’s any one common thread at Cannes, it’s not just a convergence of creativity, it’s a celebration of risk. It’s great to see there are still plenty of agencies that are brave enough to bring bold ideas to the table – especially when those ideas are based around decisively human characteristics such as play, craft, art and sound. Brands understand risk far better than they understand creativity, so it’s even better to see that there are still clients around that nurture that bravery.
Inspirational and educational, or elitist and out of touch? Powerful and influential, or cocky and condescending? Brave and pioneering, or saturated and soulless? At times, Cannes Lions can be all of these, but there’s no other event from which I come back feeling more ambitious.