6 Hottest Topics from Cannes Lions 2019

For one glorious, sunny and rosé-drenched week each year, marketers from across the globe congregate in the south of France to celebrate creativity and reward creative efforts from the preceding year. 

This June we joined the (literal) party. Right through from bleary early morning presentations to late night networking opportunities, we learned a lot from all of the creative minds that went. 

Here we’ll unpack six of the key themes from the Cannes Lions Festival 2019, the topics that are affecting marketers and creatives most right now.

1. The popularity of purpose

It’s the word on every brand’s lips at the moment: purpose. But it’s a dangerous game to play. Newly appointed Chief Executive of Unilever, Alan Jope, revealed his opinion at the festival, that “woke-washing” undermines the trust consumers have in brands; they can see right through the CMO’s attempts to apply purpose to their brand post hoc and that these brands crowd the marketplace with inauthentic messages. In a rallying cry to brands, Unilever opted for big spend on OOH advertising in Cannes, with the messaging relaying Jope’s call for brands to adopt meaningful purposes.

Taking his stance a step further, Jope also revealed that Unilever will strip brands lacking authentic purpose from their portfolio in the coming months and years. Over half of Unilever’s turnover comes from brands that Jope would describe as “purpose-led”, but the threat of axing is intended to encourage the remaining brands to step up to the plate, and to really understand what they offer consumers in their everyday lives. 

Unilever were in no way the only brand to be shouting about purpose. P&G, Netflix, Publicis, Tony’s Chocoloney and The Body Shop were just some of the other brands in on the discussion. 

There’s some doubt, though, that despite Unilever and their peers’ efforts to encourage brands to use adverts for good, not enough is being done. An activist group, Extinction Rebellion, crashed the festival, leading to 14 of its members being arrested. Some speculate that brands could be doing much more to care for our planet, and it’s a discussion that will continue on long after the festival has passed.

2. The need to prove effectiveness

There was palpable concern amongst marketers we spoke to one on one, and those giving the sold-out presentations and panel discussion. No, it wasn’t concern over what time Happy Hour started, it was concern that creativity needs to prove its worth. 

How, exactly, do marketers ensure that their outside-the-box creative campaigns also drive downloads, revenue or bolster brand health? While the awards are presented to the most creative ads out there, they don’t reference the ads that have been the most effective in creating sales. 

Many cited data as the answer. Yes, data is required to put a figure on the effectiveness of adverts, but it can also play a part earlier in the process – directing creatives towards the campaigns that are most likely to resonate, or spotting underserved creative opportunities. Some voiced concern that data might hinder the blue sky thinking of creative minds, but most agreed that data goes hand in hand with creativity. 

3. Building brand is crucial

Marketer’s one-track obsession with performance marketing, and every little percentage gain or loss in that field, is finally making way for the return of another vital marketing asset: brand. 

Once again, data will have a big role to play here. We’re used to the ease of tracking website clicks or email open rates, whereas brand health can be a little harder to pin down. It’s not impossible, though, by any means. And in increasingly competitive markets, offering a strong brand will be vital to the success of companies going forward.

Knowing where to turn for data on your brand health, and consistently tracking that over months, quarters and years, will put you at the front of the pack of marketers who are starting to clock on that brand is a vital metric for growth. 

4. A bit of friendly competition goes a long way in Experiential Marketing

One of the big award winners at this year’s festival was Burger King’s Whopper Detour campaign. The ad, which offers a 1¢ Whopper when consumers are within 600ft of a McDonald’s, deliberately pokes fun at the rival fast food chain whose employees are seen on camera praising Burger King and directing consumers to the nearest branch. 

The advert drove 1.5 million app downloads and earned a 37-to-1 return on investment. It’s of little surprise, then, that the campaign took a total of seven awards at the festival, including a Grand Prix in the Direct Lions category (for direct marketing). This was one example of a brand proving the effectiveness of creativity. Burger King could have easily cut out the middle man, offering a 1¢ Whopper to anyone who downloaded the app. Instead they stepped above the competition, made life a little more difficult for consumers who just want a Whopper, but still won out. 

In general, experiential marketing – ones that engage the consumers by encouraging them to act and feel a certain way – won big at this year’s festival. 

5. Building for Gen Z is a must

Gen Z are entering the consumer landscape and dominating the decisions brands make. Characterised as the generation that grew up with smartphones, they’re also the generation most savvy about well placed (and misplaced) influencer ads. 

They’re a generation that will see through a brand’s inauthentic messaging, more so than any preceding them, because they’ve been exposed to online influencers for as long as they can remember. 

Gen Z are just one of the segments driving the request for authentic brand purpose, and that extends to their partnerships. Samsung, for one, are sceptical about the future of influencer marketing, and have rolled back investment in this field. 

Another shift in the field comes as Gen Z shake up the traditional demographic divisions marketers have worked with for decades. Gender neutrality is just one example of Gen Z breaking a status quo that marketers have come to rely on for understanding their consumers. If marketers are to truly understand this new generation of consumers (and the impact they’re having on their older siblings, parents and grandparents) they need to forget the rigid demographics they’re used to, and allow consumers to define their own boundaries. 

The next steps…

There was a lot of food for thought coming out of Cannes Lions this year, and many marketers walked away feeling inspired (if a little hungover). 

Whether you want to begin tracking your brand health, testing for purposeful messaging that resonates, or redefining your target demographics to accommodate Gen Z, Attest’s Consumer Growth Platform can help you get closer to consumers than ever before. 

Get in touch with our team to start refining and tracking your marketing efforts, and who knows, maybe we can help you walk away with your own award next year?


Content Team 

Our in-house marketing team is always scouring the market for the next big thing. This piece has been lovingly crafted by one of our team members. Attest's platform makes gathering consumer data as simple and actionable as possible.

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