Be weird, be obsessed, and be collaborative – these were just some of the tips for winning awards at Cannes offered by brand and agency leaders during a panel discussion at Contagious Live.
The event, which was sponsored by VMLY&R and took place at WPP’s 3WTC Campus in New York on 19 July.
Contagious’ principal strategist, Chris Barth, hosted the panel discussion, with VMLY&R Health group creative director Joao Jäckel, R/GA’s US chief creative officer, Shannon Washington, Dove’s global brand director, Kathryn Fernandez, WPP’s global chief creative officer, Rob Reilly, and AB Inbev’s global VP for marketing culture and capabilities, Ryan Verschoor.
After discussing what happens in a Cannes Lions jury and how the creative festival has evolved over the past few years, Barth asked the panellists for advice to marketers and creatives who would like to take home one of the prestigious awards for themselves in 2024.
Fernandez, whose brand, Dove, was the runner up Creative Brand of the Year at the Cannes Lions International Festival of creativity in 2023, was the first to respond. She said, ‘As you’re going through the creativity process, if you’re scared about how you’re going to make people feel or think you’re going too far – go far, because you can always pull it back.’
Fernandez also advised becoming ‘obsessed’ with the work. ‘You need to become obsessed with every frame,’ she said. ‘You need to have conversations about it, you need to have debates about the words and where the words go, and you have to live and breathe it.’
Verschoor, whose company, AB InBev, won Creative Marketer of the Year at Cannes in 2023 for the second year in a row, had some counterintuitive pearls of wisdom.
‘I genuinely don't think you should try to win a Lion,’ he said. ‘I think you should find a problem that your business or your brand can uniquely solve, and then challenge your agency partners to find a way that’s going to solve this thing in a way that’s going to drive results. You will know when you are onto something and when you’re not, and when you are, spend the time and the money on it, because then you’ll have an incredible story to tell.’
Jäckel said that the first thing he did whenever he received a brief was to try to find a human truth, but he also advised those creatives who are lucky enough to work with great clients to collaborate with them as much as possible.
‘Don't be afraid to reach out and ask questions,’ he said, and ask for their opinion on what they like and don’t like when it comes to creative executions. And on a related note, Jäckel also advised creatives not to get too attached to any single idea. ‘There's always other great ideas coming,’ he said.
Riffing off Jäckel’s advice, Washington, who was the president of the Mobile category jury at Cannes in 2023, emphasised the importance of actually having an idea. She said that it would surprise most people to learn how often juries are forced to ask, ‘what is the idea?’ when assessing a piece of work because often there isn’t one. And, she added, juries can usually tell when a campaign was created with the express purpose of winning an award.
‘There has to be a purpose to what you're doing,’ she said, ‘and it has to be very simple. There's a balance between your idea and your craft. Your craft will augment your idea, and your idea is going to substantiate your need for that craft.’
Meanwhile Reilly, whose company, WPP, has won Creative Company of the Year (previously Holding Company of the Year), advised hopeful Lion winners to get weird.
‘My advice is get a little crazy, get a little weird,’ he said. ‘We take ourselves way too seriously sometimes, and we need to have a little bit more fun.’ Reilly added that there wasn’t a lot of comedy on display among the winners at Cannes this year (excepting Apple’s Relax, It's iPhone – RIP, which took home the Grand Prix in the Film category). ‘So I would push yourselves to be a little bit stranger and weirder and crazier,’ he said. ‘We want people that are thinking about things differently. Not everybody has to be an amazing presenter. You just have to be amazing at thinking about problems and solving them with creativity in such a unique way that people cannot ignore it.’
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