Key advertising trends from Cannes Lions 2017

Ann Nurock

Artificial intelligence is currently the dominant industry trend and research presented at the 64th International Festival of Creativity (17 to 24 June 2017), has revealed that companies which are consistently creative have better business performance.

Industry veteran, Ann Nurock, a former CEO of Grey South Africa and president/CEO of Grey Canada, now the Africa Partner of Relationship Audits and Management, a global consultancy specialising in the measurement, risk mitigation and optimisation of B2B relationships, attended Cannes and reported back on the key trends in a presentation sponsored by and Ster Kinekor/Cinemark.

At the presentation, Nurock was joined by creative directors who attended Cannes or were also judges, in curating the key advertising communications trends apparent at Cannes from the award winning work; as well as the high profile talks by business leaders and celebrities like David Droga, chairman of Droga5; David Remnick, editor of the New Yorker; actress Helen Mirren; Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg; and punk rock activists, Pussy Riot.

Joining Nurock in Cape Town in analysing the trends from Cannes, were: design juror Jenny Ehlers, ECD, King James Group; mobile juror Camilla Clerke, creative director, Hellocomputer; promo & activation juror Michael Lees-Rolfe, creative director, FoxP2; and Ryan McManus, ECD, Native VML, who attended Cannes.

Top trends

  1. Artificial intelligence (AI) dominated the conversation: Nurock said AI came up in all the specialist and celebrity talks at Cannes this year. The suite of technologies such as Siri, Alexa, Google Home, bots… these invisible deep learning machines powered by AI, have the ability to take over the cognitive tasks which used to require human intelligence and will change the world like the internet did, reported Nurock. “It will radically change the nature of marketing and communications,” she predicted. The implications for creatives is that they have to partner with technology.


  1. Brand purpose is more important than ever: Advertising can change societal norms, people and often save lives, Nurock said, quoting Unilever, which says “Purpose leads to purchase”. Nurock added: “Millennials in particular need to see brands as having a purpose, and going beyond functional purpose. For brands to break through the clutter is to get people to care about them.” She referenced an example of Unilever’s Savlon campaign in India which won gold at Cannes this year, where special chalk sticks infused with soap were created and distributed to schools in India, where children still use chalk boards and chalk to write with in the classroom. There is a lack of soap and mainly water is used to rinse hands before eating. In this case, the chalk turned to soap when children put their hands in water. The campaign was so successful it has been rolled out to more than a million children in India. Ehlers said much of the winning work at Cannes this year addressed a social issue and that it was wonderful to see brands making a meaningful contribution to something other than themselves.


  1. Clients want more craft: Nurock quoted P&G CMO, Marc Pritchard, who said the industry needs to produce “Less crap, more craft”. Clients want better content, more measurement of digital and for ad agencies to eliminate waste and focus on growth and innovation. Insights are key and both clients and agencies need to focus on the users, the consumer, at all times. And clients need to talk to agencies and treat them like partners.


  1. Embrace diversity, kill gender stereotypes: Gender stereotyping adverts have effectively been banned from Cannes from this year, after a powerful movement, the #unstereotypealliance, was introduced at Cannes last year. Unstereotypical ads have also been shown to be 25 per cent more effective, reported Nurock. The Nike campaign You’re Made of What You Do, won gold this year in showing how not to stereotype young girls.


  1. Be a more effective client: Agencies are also looking to clients to have a deep understanding of their own brands: understand their differences in the market and know their own value, in order to create tight briefs. Nurock said it emerged that the biggest issue that agencies have is the quality of the briefs they get from clients. Another is that clients are risk-adverse. “The biggest risk of all is not taking risks… Don’t be a client, be a partner.”


  1. It’s still all about the big idea: Rapidly evolving technology is putting pressure on agencies, but they still need the big idea, Nurock said. The Fearless Girl statue which has faced down the Wall Street Bull, as part of a campaign by State Street Global Investors to encourage investors to invest in companies which empowered women, has since become a global symbol of women empowerment.


  1. Stop making ads: McManus said brands need to start existing in the content people want to watch. And creatives need to create cultural capital on behalf of brands. He quoted David Droga telling the audience to care about what they were doing and ask themselves the question: ‘if they would do it if it was their money?’ Advertising is not the goal, advertising needs to open people up to new ideas and connect brands to people, McManus said.


  1. Storytellers will unlock the value of technology: McManus urged the industry to overcome the disconnect between platforms and people, saying that the success of technology and the platforms is in the hands of the storytellers. All the platforms we now consume are just vehicles for the stories that we have been telling all along. “Stop interrupting and start adding value as much as we can as marketers… and start thinking about what we are adding to the world.”


  1. Mobile is misunderstood: Clerke added that we are living in a mobilecentric world, but the story still sits in the centre. “It is how you build on that story… Make sure mobile is at the heart of the idea. Mobile needs to be the vehicle to share the story. Mobile has the potential to connect people in an intimate way.”


Nurock also reported on industry laments about how expensive Cannes has become – from ticket prices for the priceless talks (R45 000 for a delegate pass) to entries (R10 000 each entry), which is what prompted one of the world’s largest agency networks, Publicis, to pull out of all global and local awards for a year. Locally, this affects Saatchi and Leo Burnett.

But, as she emphasised, it is the only festival that brings together the communications agencies from around the world, with the companies that are shaping our future: Google, Facebook, Alibaba, and so on.

“The work that wins the Grand Prix is as much about culture, as advertising,” Nurock emphasised.

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Louise Marsland
Louise Marsland is an editor, journalist and columnist in the media and marketing communications industry in South Africa, who has been writing about the industry for over two decades as a former editor of publications: AdVantage, Marketing Mix and She currently writes extensively about industry trends and consumer insight.


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