News & Views

Cannes Lions / Seminar Debrief: Cracking the Code of Creativity

by Contagious Contributor

Director of Contagious Insider, Will Sansom and Razorfish’s chief creative officer, Daniel Bonner, took to the main stage at Cannes Lions to present our joint seminar: Cracking the Code of Creativity.

More than a seminar, Cracking the Code of Creativity was a joint experiment to see if data science could be used to spot patterns in award-winning creativity – the idea being to help us better understand this most intangible of subjects (and how it’s achieved).

To do this, Razorfish’s data science team let loose an algorithmic army on the Cannes archive. The scope of analysis was… well… thorough. Try over 1 billion data points, made up of 100 million lines of meta-data  including 294 million words of submissions, from 260,000 individuals working at 40,000 agencies who have won over 15,000 lions!

The audience was warmed up with a few fun facts including the world’s most creative nations (New Zealand came top – congrats to you Kiwis) and the statistical chances of winning at Cannes (a staggering 0.07% for a Grand Prix). However, the fun facts were contrasted with some sobering data that showed women are still grossly under-represented on the work being entered at Cannes. Not only was the highest-ranking female name (in terms of total submissions) No. 54 (behind 53 male names) but the percentage of women holding senior creative roles at agencies has actually decreased over the last ten years.

With these shocking gender disparity stats proving that data can be used to surface hard truths worth acting on, the pair explained that the rest of the session would focus not just on the interesting insights surfaced by the data, but also the most important.



We strongly recommend you watch the talk for the full-fat experience, but here are some highlights:

The first section looked at costs, in which the pair explained how external data sets – such as GDP per-capita – were employed to help prove that there is no correlation between wealth on a national scale and creative output. They also put pay to the age-old gripe of not having enough budget to do good work, by showing that clients with big media spend didn’t necessarily perform any better at Cannes… The same applies to big agencies, with the main conclusion being that creativity is not the sole preserve of those with endless budget or resources.

The second section covered client/agency relationships, with the pair taking the audience on a journey through the ups and downs – including a pronounced peak of creative success at year two of their relationship, but also unveiling the shocking drop-off that follows. Perhaps the most striking insight, however, was that those agencies and clients who do stick together actually experience a resurgence in creative prowess. In fact, client/agencies that exceed 10 years, experience a win rate twice that of the average – proof perhaps that a truly productive creative relationship requires long term investment – maybe more so now than ever.

The final section considered creative teams at agencies, with the data showing that big, diverse teams do more highly-awarded creative work. Perhaps surprisingly, it also showed that submissions with a lower number of director-level credits also performed better; put simply, the fewer head chefs, the better the work. This actually chimed with Contagious’ own qualitative study at the beginning of the year in which we spoke to the leaders of the Contagious Pioneers – agencies from whom we’d featured the most work in 2015. One of the most powerful insights is that a rock-star culture – bent towards heroing senior team members – is not actually conducive to great work. Instead, big teams in which junior members of staff are empowered to contribute are often what leads to the most powerful creative output.

The pair concluded by returning to their original question: is there a code for creativity and if so, can we crack it? The answer was a resolute (and reassuring ‘no’); however, because the most meaningful insights from the data were around behaviours and ways of working, they introduced a Code of Conduct for Creativity… simple creative principles that organisations can follow to achieve greatness:

1. NO MORE EXCUSES / It doesn’t matter about budget, location, company or client – great creativity is within reach of us all

2. INVEST IN RELATIONSHIPS / Great creativity may not cost money, but it does require an investment of time, bravery and trust

3. KILL THE ROCKSTARS / Creativity is a reflection of company culture – make yours open, inclusive and free from ego

4. PLAY NICELY WITH OTHERS / Modern creativity demands collaboration – internally and externally – so make sure you know your strengths and play to them

5. FACE THE FACTS / Crunch your data to discover the important truths worth acting on

Cannes Deconstructed