How marketers are rewriting the creative process at Cannes Lions

We speak to top marketers to find out what key trends will be taking centre stage this year.

Cannes Lions festival entrance

As marketers become more reliant on digital channels, creativity, while still a necessity, is no longer enough to cut through the clutter and connect with increasingly distracted consumers.

As a result, marketers’ approach to creativity is changing, with data and technology taking a more central role in the marketing process. But as the nature of creativity evolves so too does the role of the marketer.

“At the core, the role of marketing remains the same – to connect with our customers and educate them about what we offer,” says Allison Dew, Dell’s vice-president of client solutions marketing. “We still need great ideas to do that – that hasn’t changed – but how we bring those ideas to life is rapidly changing. And that is a really exciting challenge as a marketer.”

Creativity is still unashamedly the focus at advertising festival Cannes Lions, which takes place from 21-27 June and is now in its 62nd year, but this year marketers will also have the opportunity to explore new ways of thinking that could alter their approach.

Cannes technology divider

To reflect the changing nature of creativity and all it encompasses, Cannes Lions this year launches Lions Innovation, a two-day event within the festival that looks to bridge the gap between marketers, the creative community and the makers of new technology.

As part of its mission to champion emerging businesses, Unilever Foundry has partnered with Lions Innovation to find 50 marketing technology start-ups that will be on show during the festival, giving other brands the opportunity to ‘speed-date’ the winning firms.

“Start-ups are pioneering the future of marketing and our categories and they are doing so far more efficiently and sustainably than anyone else,” says Jeremy Basset, director of Unilever Foundry, the FMCG giant’s platform for innovation through collaboration with technology partners.

“Start-ups have taught us that we need to move from a model that is grounded in planning and perfecting to one that is based on launching and learning, experimentation, taking risks and iterating in-market. It’s the only way to work successfully in an agile, fast-moving world.”

Marc Mathieu, outgoing senior vice-president of global marketing at Unilever, said at the time of the ‘Foundry 50 at Cannes’ launch that working collectively with start-ups will “supercharge the transformation of our industry” which he believes will benefit brands, entrepreneurs and consumers alike.

Luis Di Como, senior vice-president of global media,  will highlight what Unilever has learnt from the ‘pitch-pilot-partner’ process at Cannes, as well as sharing what brands need to take into account when partnering with start-ups and how to embrace disruption in order to drive innovation.

Challenge the notion of traditional creativity Cannes

Owen Sagness, general manager of Microsoft Advertising and Online, believes marketers should use their time at Cannes to “challenge their conceptions of what is creatively possible today”.

He refers to technology as “a canvas for creativity” and to illustrate the possibilities Microsoft will be showcasing some of the more future-gazing opportunities available to marketers today.

Marketers should “challenge their conceptions of what is creatively possible today”

Owen Sagness, Microsoft

During the week Kudo Tsunoda, Microsoft’s corporate vice-president of next-generation experiences in the interactive entertainment business, will explore the possibility of holograms as a new way of visualising creative work, while senior researcher Kati London will share insight around sensors and the use of real-world data, such as self-aware street signs and rooms that compete for consumers’ attention.

“Marketers who experiment with new technologies such as sensor-enabled devices and use relevant insights from data analytics will succeed in delivering meaningful and more impactful advertising campaigns,” claims Sagness.

“These technologies are providing marketers with opportunities to extend and enrich real-life experiences. Marketers can also use emerging technologies to dictate when to deliver content to consumers based on triggers such as location and preferences.”

As well as exploring innovative technologies Cannes is also a platform for sharing best practice on techniques such as neuroscience, which brands are increasingly using to help fine-tune campaigns and gain a deeper understanding of what resonates with consumers.

Cognitive neuroscientist doctor Itiel Dror, who works at University College London, will be outlining how brands can translate theoretical understanding to affect human behaviour in reality in a session called ‘Nailing jelly to a tree and other wild goose chases’, being hosted by agency Brandopus.

He says there are three key rules marketers must adhere to if they are going to have a lasting impact on consumers because the brain has limited resources and ignores most of what it sees and hears.

“Marketers first need to make sure that the human brain pays attention to what they are showing it,” he advises. “They then need to make sure they are getting to the right part of the brain because it has many different processing modules, so if they don’t get to the part that governs behaviour they’ll be wasting their time. Lastly, once you get into the relevant area of the brain you need to perform marketing in a way that is brain-friendly.”

This means brands need to move away from rational messaging, he suggests, as it will not affect actual behaviour.


Diversity is another key theme for 2015, and is marked by the introduction of the Glass Lion award, which is designed to recognise work that challenges gender inequality or prejudice and encourages a shift towards more positive, progressive and gender-aware communication.

The award has been created in partnership with, Facebook chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg’s initiative to support women in business. All proceeds from Glass Lion entries will be invested in projects that promote and enable gender equality in the industry.

In a further push to level the playing field for women, will be hosting a session outlining the business case for gender diversity during which Dana Anderson, senior vice-president and CMO of Mondelez International, will discuss the importance of diversifying the talent pool.

“Diversity is one of the most beautiful routes to creativity which we all have at our disposal,” she says, adding that inclusion can be a “powerful problem solver”.

“Diversity is one of the most beautiful routes to creativity”

Dana Anderson, Mondelez International

Anna Watkins, managing director of Guardian Labs, agrees that the additional focus on diversity and the role of women in the industry is a huge step in the right direction.

“There is a much more positive focus on women in the industry and what we can do to drive creativity and innovation,” she says. “It’s a real shift compared to five years ago [and it’s encouraging to see people] recognising the importance of having a diverse work force across every level of the industry.”

In another move championing the role of women in media and marketing, Guardian News & Media will be introducing new editor-in-chief Katharine Viner to the industry for the first time on a global stage. She is the first woman to edit The Guardian in its 194-year history after rising up through the ranks, most recently from her role as editor-in-chief of Guardian US.

In an internal poll ahead of being offered the job, 53% of staff at The Guardian and The Observer voted in favour of Viner taking on the role ahead of several rivals.

Sustainability as a driver for growth Cannes

Brand purpose is moving up the agenda for many businesses as they look to ‘do well by doing good’ through initiatives that go beyond traditional corporate social responsibility.

And while Marketing Week columnist Mark Ritson argues that some brands are losing touch with what consumers really use them for, others, such as Birds Eye and Unilever, believe investing in initiatives that benefit society can make a real difference – both socially and financially.

As part of its 2020 Legacy of Good plan computer manufacturer Dell has outlined 21 goals it hopes to achieve by using its technology to drive change for people, communities and the environment.

The business has started using more wheat straw in packaging, which uses 90% less water and 40% less energy than traditional cardboard, while providing farmers with additional income. It is also turning plastics from old products into parts for new ones, as well as running what it claims is the world’s largest technology recycling initiative resulting in 1.4bn lbs of used electronics being recycled in 78 countries since 2007.

“These actions can benefit the entire industry, and they really appeal to customers and team members who want to do business with companies doing good,” says vice-president of client solutions marketing Allison Dew.

In a move that she reckons is a first for a brand, Dell has enlisted actor Adrian Grenier, star of HBO series Entourage, as its ‘social good advocate’ to “raise awareness of how technology can help address some of the world’s biggest challenges”.

At Cannes, Dew and Grenier will be sharing Dell’s progress and discussing how brands and public figures can deliver mutually beneficial partnerships to encourage social and environmental change during a session hosted by agency ITB.

Unilever boss Paul Polman and CMO Keith Weed have both been vocal about the company’s sustainability initiatives and have criticised other businesses for putting profits ahead of doing good.

The firm’s ‘sustainable living brands’, including Dove, Domestos and Ben & Jerry’s, delivered half Unilever’s growth last year and grew at twice the rate of its other brands, according to Weed, talking at the Financial Times Marketing Innovators Summit earlier this month.

“For the naysayers out there that believe doing sustainability costs money – it costs money if you do it badly but if you can design sustainability in from the beginning there’s no reason it can’t save you money,” he said.

To that end Unilever has eliminated non-hazardous waste going to landfill, which in addition to being far better for the environment has saved the business more than €200m (£146m).

Brand purpose is also central to The Guardian as Watkins believes one of the key drivers for its readers is “authenticity and having a genuine, purposeful story to tell”.

“It’s particularly pertinent for Guardian Labs and it’s going far beyond CSR now,” she adds. “A higher social purpose needs to be at the heart of all corporations and therefore brands.”

Drive business growth Cannes

While innovation, diversity and sustainability are all critical, the significance of creativity is not forgotten and continues to play a central role for marketers at Cannes Lions and beyond.

Indeed a global study of people who work in marketing, advertising or media by GlobalWebIndex reveals that 80% suggest creativity is important to them.

Cannes Lions CEO Philip Thomas says he’s seen “real growth” in the number of marketers attending the festival over the past decade as “marketers now value the power of creativity to drive their business”. This year more than 3,000 marketers from 1,500 different companies are expected to attend.

Although the festival is attracting more marketers, Thomas says creativity will remain at its heart and it will not be altering its position.

“We don’t want to become a marketing conference as there are plenty of those already”

Philip Thomas, Cannes Lions

“We haven’t changed what we offer; we’re about how creativity can drive business and that is what is attracting marketers. There is so much disruption in the modern world so marketers can no longer choose between being effective and being creative. They need effective work that will sell their products but they understand that creative work will amplify their messages.”

To explore how marketers can make the most of creativity across different markets and measure the business value it creates, The Economist will be holding a series of breakfast events with CMOs from Nestle, Mars, P&G and Mondelez International throughout the week.

Elsewhere, YouTube will be launching the inaugural YouTube Festival of Creativity on the beach to celebrate its 10th anniversary and highlight some of the creators that have become stars through the platform, such as dance duo Les Twins, which partnered with Coca-Cola for the launch of the Just Dance Now mobile game last year.

As part of its presence at Cannes, Google will also be explaining how marketers can use data to inform better creative and sharing some of the experiments that brands have carried out on YouTube by trialling two ads on the platform, for example, before choosing the better performing version for above the line.

Whether searching for creative inspiration or looking for innovative new ways of using data and technology to influence creativity, Cannes Lions promises to offer marketers the chance to create new partnerships, share best practice and explore new opportunities.

Unilever breaks new ground with start-up partnerships

Unilever Foundry, the platform that enables the FMCG giant to pilot new technologies by collaborating with technology start-ups, has now been operational for 12 months, during which time the business has connected with 60 businesses.

Unilever Foundry event

As part of its activity at Lions Innovation, Unilever will be showcasing some of the businesses it has collaborated with to date, including mobile data company Glimr, which partnered with Unilever’s Knorr brand to create what it claims was the first physical retargeting campaign.

Knorr set up a number of food trucks handing out soup to commuters in Stockholm, during which visitors’ data was recorded using beacon technology.

Swedish newspaper Aftonbladet was also involved in the initiative, enabling Unilever to send consumers who had the publisher’s app installed on their mobile a targeted offer to purchase the Knorr product at a later date.

“It’s not just about pushing content out, it’s about engaging with people who have previously shown interest in the brand and have opted into content. It enables a fusion of the offline and online world,” says head of Unilever Foundry Jeremy Basset.

Unilever is now exploring similar opportunities across other brands and markets.

Alison Dew, Dell

How can brands help to inspire social change?

Brands can inspire social change in two big ways: leading by example and partnering to extend their reach and impact.

Our use of closed-loop recycled plastics and making it easy for people to recycle electronics [are good examples, as are the companies we work with] in each of our priority areas: UL Environment, to establish industry-wide certification criteria; Wistron GreenTech, to source and integrate post-consumer plastics; and TGen, to apply high-performance computing power to improving children’s cancer care.

We amplify that work through our 100,000 employees worldwide, and through partnerships with advocates such as [Entourage actor] Adrian Grenier, which helps us reach new audiences in new ways with good social messages.

What drives your social change programme?

It’s important to note that, just like our marketing strategy, our corporate responsibility strategy is driven by data. We use traditional research and social channels to listen to customers and determine how to make the greatest difference.

For example, we launched our Women Powering Business initiative not just because it seemed like the right thing to do, but because research told us that the community needed access to capital, technology, networks and knowledge to make their businesses a success. We also created the Dell Women’s Entrepreneurship Network (DWEN) to help foster this access.

As a marketer, what will you be looking to gain from attending Cannes Lions?

I’m excited to swap marketing ideas with the many creative minds attending. I’ll be sharing the latest on Dell’s digital marketing strategies, including the power of technology to create new types of customer-brand relationships and the ability to further personalise the customer experience. We’ve seen some success, including a 69% year-on-year increase in sales via social media.

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Five things marketers must attend at Cannes Lions 2015

Meet the Marketing Week team (and friends) in Cannes

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