Every summer, the advertising industry descends on the south of France to award the best work of the year (and to attend yacht parties). Beyond the plaudits, it is a chance to catch a glimpse of trends in how advertising is changing. The Globe spoke with Canadians who sat on the juries at the Cannes Lions Festival of Creativity, to ask what changes stood out to them.
The trend: Data used meaningfully
"We've been talking data for so long," said Ann Stewart, president of the media buying and planning firm Maxus Canada, who was part of the media jury. "Now it is really coming to life."
Some of the most exciting work Ms. Stewart saw used data analytics in a creative, affecting way. A campaign from Costa Rica's Ministry of Women's Affairs is one example: The ministry found that domestic violence complaints rose up to 690 per cent during soccer matches– fuelled partly by alcohol consumption, among other factors. The ministry and its ad agency, J. Walter Thompson Costa Rica, teamed up with sports broadcaster Teletica and the Costa Rican Football Federation to combat this trend. Teletica added a box to the on-screen scoreboard during game broadcasts, showing a real-time count of domestic violence reports called in through 911. Athletes, celebrities and in-game announcers all drew attention to the scoreboard and the campaign to reduce that score. Calls reportedly fell by 40 per cent.
The trend: Investing in a different kind of marketing
Speaking of data used creatively: Analysis of 346 paintings by the Dutch master Rembrandt allowed software programmers to create a new work that mimicked the artist's use of colours, style of painting facial features, and lighting. The programmers even mapped the topography of his paintings, and then used a 3D printer to emulate his brushstrokes. The entire project was a kind of advertising – sponsored by the Dutch bank ING, to promote itself as innovative. Because digital media have caused an explosion in the number of ads we all see every day, many more brands are trying to create interesting "content" or spark conversations, rather than just making ads.
"Great digital is great social media, which is great PR – they all intertwine," said Brent Choi, chief creative officer for J. Walter Thompson New York and Canada. Creating campaigns like this requires different thinking about marketing investments, he added. "PR often doesn't report to marketing. How are we thinking about the structure of marketing departments?"
He was disappointed to see that the Canadian work submitted for awards tended not to be as innovative. "It takes investment," he said. "The Rembrandt work – would a big bank in Canada put money toward that? Our banks put a lot of money toward sponsorships, like sports or the opera. Would they put money toward creating a PR conversation?"
This was also evident in the "OptOutside" campaign from outdoor retailer REI, which announced last year that it would close all its stores on Black Friday and encouraged shoppers to bypass the sales frenzy and spend time outdoors instead. It became a news story. "A lot of the work we awarded was about bringing people together," said Steph Mackie, owner of the agency Mackie Biernackie. "That was fun and refreshing."
The trend: Making ideas concrete
"Everything is digital. ...We see things on the web. Everything is on the screen," said Claude Auchu, partner, vice-president and creative director for design at lg2. "Something you can see, touch and feel, is a way to connect to people."
Mr. Auchu cited a campaign from Panasonic Japan that tried to make the idea of electricity more tangible. Its agency, Dentsu Inc., designed batteries with unique packaging telling the story of how they were charged – by being connected to a hamster wheel, for instance, or the arms of a peppy cheerleader. The campaign included a pop-up with different tables, each including work that told the story of the battery. With so much digital noise, physical experiences are still important, he said: "It maximizes the story."
The same principle applied to radio work that Tom Eymundson, CEO of Pirate Toronto, found especially effective: One campaign, from Ogilvy & Mather in London for Dove, asked the listener to think about physical functions that are usually on autopilot: blinking, for example, or breathing. Once you start noticing how you blink, it's hard to stop thinking about it. It was a metaphor for the way messages about the body can trigger girls to feel self-conscious. "It leveraged a universal truth," Mr. Eymundson said. "It was very powerful."
The trend: Cause fatigue
Everyone wants to be the next Always. Brands that tie themselves to a bigger social cause (the empowerment of girls, in the case of Always' "Like a Girl" campaign) can win goodwill and attention from consumers. But the success of some campaigns has led to a lot of brands trying to do "cause marketing" without always considering whether it is relevant to their businesses.
"Is it a great thing? Yes. Does it belong on every product? No," said John Clinton, chair of Edelman Canada.
One campaign that he felt avoided that trap came from Coop, a Swedish grocery chain, and its agency, Forsman & Bodenfors. Coop found that people resist paying more for organic food, even though they know it is often more sustainable. The campaign focused on the effect it has on humans: It showed one family eating only organic for one week, and tested their urine before and after. Tests showed a significant decrease in traces of pesticides. The result was good for Coop's business, which spiked, as well as promoting support for organic farmers.
The trend: Women making decisions
The kind of work that gets rewarded in Cannes sets a tone for what others do. That is why awarding diverse work can send an important message. One ad by AMVBBDO for menstrual product brand Bodyform, showed women becoming bloodied while excelling at pursuits such as dance, mountain biking and skateboarding. It is so unusual to see blood in feminine hygiene commercials that the images, and the slogan "No blood should hold us back" was refreshing – but it might not have been awarded if the makeup of the film jury had been less balanced.
"I'm not sure the men would have recognized it for what it was if the women hadn't been in the room," said Nancy Crimi-Lamanna, vice-president and creative director of FCB in Toronto. "At some point, I hope that the Glass Lion [an award introduced last year celebrating ads that defy gender bias] goes away, because we'll have succeeded."