A lot has been written and said already about the Cannes Lions festival 2018, so I shall try not to repeat what's already been said and instead give you my perspective on the festival and also learnings from our (India) context.
Having spent 18 years of my career in advertising and marketing, I finally made it this year for the very first time. I was as excited as a teenager going on her first date, researching on everything under the sun, right from the kind of clothes people wear at the fest to tracking every session and creating my own little time table. This was an opportunity to have interesting conversations with the advertising fraternity, understanding new technology, see campaigns from across the world, sessions and talks by people whom you idolise from different backgrounds. Everything sounded exhilarating.
Armed with all my research and inspired to bring home some learnings, I landed a day prior to the fest all set! Here’s my take on making the most of it!
If you are attending for the first time, the number of sessions running parallely and choosing from amongst them can be a little overwhelming, with a feeling of having missed out on something else (if I sound like a first bencher and you aren't, well you better be, since it's an opportunity to get global learnings which you won't get anywhere else). Do carry a notebook or a camera to record learnings from the sessions since it gets difficult to remember everything unless you have super powers!
Leave behind your worries about glam dressing. Dress casually, it's on the beach after all, unless you are receiving an award and if you are, then you surely deserve to dress up and be overdressed.
The venue (Palais de festivals) is pretty huge and some of the sessions are in the open. The heat kills you as much as it does in India so please carry your sun glasses and be hydrated.
Sessions range from topics related to strategy (neuroscience and advertising, success stories of brands, how to drive ROI on your brand in this competitive world, voice identity, sound and music identity etc) to creativity (workshops on ideation and brainstorming, best ads from the world and learnings, creative writing, ad film direction) to technology (AI, volumetric technology, virtual reality, 4D, Ocupus). The best way to filter and decide on your session would be to attend the sessions that are beyond your domain. If you are creative, listen to speakers who are talking about tech, strategy or data. And of course, vice versa. Because well that's what this is all about, to bring the whole ecosystem closer. If there is something that sounds new and interesting, embrace it!
For example I ended up attending creative sessions. One of my favourites and worth a mention here (actually 2 of them): one was a workshop by a pop up agency which opened up my mind and enabled me to think creative and gave me tools to brainstorm and ideate in a short span of time.
The second session which I really loved was called 'Story teching' which replaced the current buzz word in India and advertising in general, ‘storytelling’ with ‘storyteching’. They picked six to seven best Cannes Lions winners from the last year and broke them down to find common patterns on thinking behind these campaigns. Not just this, they arrived at three different patterns to brainstorm and ideate the best and Most relevant stories for brands which finally leverages technology to deliver the message. A lot of young creative talent today focuses on technology and platforms and then ideate on how best to use it which isn't the right approach.
Another tip would be to go solo in the fest even if you are travelling with your colleagues since that makes you interact and share ideas on this global platform. Don't be an introvert or shy here. Not worth it. Wish someone had taught me this in my early days but it's actually quite easy to start a conversation here. Just look to your right/left, smile at the person, say hello and, they start a conversation themselves. They are very sweet and unlike us shy novices, are happy to jumpstart conversations. One thing leads to another and next you will be getting some of the best insights and cultural context from their country or their POV on a particular campaign which actually helps.
Last but not the least, don't miss out on the parties happening at the beach clubs set up by some sponsors. These are some of the best networking platforms and also an opportunity to let your hair down after a day full of sessions.
Food for thought for the Indian ad fraternity:
Most brands and agencies were talking about listening and using data for product development to marketing. We have been using listening tools in India ourself but how effectively? Let's use data more intelligently and not superficially. Using data isn’t just about putting fancy command centers with screens tracking conversation clouds but about deep diving and arriving at actionable insights and finally using them to either improvise the product or user journey or make communication that can resonate with your audiences
Creative campaigns have to serve a purpose and drive results either for the business or for the good in general. Yes, advertising can change the world for good and we need to leverage it the most considering that India needs a change in all the possible issues that the country faces. Do agencies here have the courage and bandwidth to think of the real issues? Or is it currently scratching the surface primarily to attract awards
One of the key parameters that the jury in Cannes used to judge was - does the campaign move me or make advertising fraternity jealous that they were not the ones to come up with it. Yes, lets work towards making campaigns that can have this effect. Let's not just focus on messaging but start with understanding what emotions did it invoke in consumers
Awards can't be the starting point to any campaign. They have to be the by-product! This is crucial for most ad agencies in India. Don't chase awards. Focus on the brand and the problem at hand. Results will follow.
(The author is chief strategy officer and director, India and MENA at Tonic Worldwide)