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You Cannes do it too
Five learnings from some of Cannes greatest campaigns
This week I posted a somewhat tongue-in-cheek meme on Linkeidn (see above). Whilst many applauded it I wanted to clarify that not everything at Cannes is a scam. Sure there are horrific examples of campaigns that are not only completely fabricated but fake doing social good (ick). Looking beyond this, however, there many brilliant campaigns we can all learn from. That’s why this week I thought I’d walk through some of my favourite Cannes award winners of all time and derive some key learnings from them. I always love to see more great creative work, so let me know in the comments which ones you would add. Will this be the week when one of our 2,500+ readers finally leaves a comment…fingers crossed 🤣.
PS I am away this weekend so the newsletter is coming to you a day early. Enjoy!
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#1 POWERFUL PROBLEMS
Want to know one of the single most important aspects of writing a great strategy? Defining your problem properly. Think about it for a second. How can you possibly get to the right creative solution if you don’t properly understand and define the problem you are trying to solve? As Albert Einstein once stated if he had one hour to solve a problem, he’d spend the majority of that time trying to define what the actual problem actually is.
Ref #1: Spend more time properly defining problems if you want better solutions
What exactly do I mean by properly defining problems? Let me explain. Often a brand will jump to a fairly generic marketing challenge such as “grow sales” or “grow market share”. Whilst these are useful applying a little creative thinking can help you get to a much more interesting place. A place that can ultimately unlock far more effective creative work. One of the best Cannes award winners of all time (IMO) that perfectly represents this principle is the Gatorade Replay campaign. I will break the campaign down in more detail but if you haven’t seen it before I highly recommend spending two minutes watching the case study below.
Ref #2: Gatorade Replay is a great example of a brand that defined a more powerful problem
The secret to Gatorade Replay’s success? The powerful problem it defined. You see Gatorade could have gone down the well-trodden path of targeting a younger and more athletic audience (like every other sports drink)…but they didn’t. Instead, they realised there was a far greater and untapped over-thirties audience they could try to reach. An over-thirties audience which had been athletic in the past but had somewhat fallen out of love with playing sports. Reframing the problem in this way, and getting an older audience to rediscover their athletic side, naturally led the creative team to a more unique and effective solution
What can brands learn from this? Some agencies claim to rush to solutions (heck some claim to get there in ten days) but don’t be seduced by this. Afford the time to really define what your problem is, in more interesting and creative ways.
#2 PRODUCT TRUTHS
Clients and agencies too often make the mistake of overcooking the strategy. They look far and wide for a 'revelatory’ new insight. Or they attempt to force fit their product or brand into a big (but totally irrelevant) cultural trend. Don’t get me wrong understanding your consumer and culture are super important to creating the best possible work. However, you should never let this distract you from the unique and often powerful truths about your product or brand, that are often staring you in the face. As advertising legend Bill Benbarch once said, the most powerful thing in advertising is the truth. And often the truth is right in front of you all along, simply hidden within your product or brand.
Ref #3: Whilst cynics may believe advertising is full of mistruths the truth (ironically) couldn’t be further from the truth
One of my favourite examples of this put into practice is the iconic Volvo Trucks campaign. Whilst the creative is beautifully crafted and the content is the very definition of ‘fame making’ it is all born from simple and powerful truths about the product. Looking at the campaign you can clearly see the strategy team dug deep into what makes Volvo trucks so amazing. They then likely framed these product truths in interesting ways to the creative team (eg steering so accurate you could do the splits). It is safe to say this creative campaign could have only happened thanks to the deep and brilliant understanding of Volvo Trucks’ product truths.
Ref #4: Volvo Trucks is the perfect example of the power of product truths
What can brands learn from this? When it comes to strategy always begin with product or brand. Always try to uncover the most compelling and interesting truths about them. And yes even if you think you work in a ‘boring’ category (like Trucks) there is still often magic to be found when you dig a little deeper.
#3 BREAK THE RULES
Want to know one of the cliches I hate the most in marketing? That brands needs to be brave! Seriously get a grip. Firemen are brave. We are not. Putting bravery to one side I would like to instead talk about insanity. Want to know the definition of insanity? Trying the same thing over and over again and expecting a different outcome. This definition of insanity can also be applied to communications in the context of the wider category. What do I mean? Let me explain below.
Ref #5: I promise not every quote this week will be from Albert Einstein
If you keep following the category and expect a different outcome, this is the definition of creative insanity. To put it simply if you follow the category and do what is conventional you get (unsurprisingly) conventional results. However, if you side the step the category and do something extraordinary you increase your chances of getting extraordinary results. One of my all-time favourite examples of doing the extraordinary is the REI OPT OUTSIDE campaign. If you haven’t seen it i highly recommend the case study video below.
Ref #6: REI is a brilliant example of how to sidestep the category
When you think of Black Friday some pretty familiar tropes come to mind. Deals & discounts that pressure people into making (often unnecessary) purchases. REI however sidestepped the category and created something truly extraordinary. Instead of going for the hard sell they in fact did the total opposite by closing their doors on Black Friday. Now I know what some of you may be thinking…”Will are you crazy?! They closed their stores, that’s a terrible idea!”. Well, want to know the real genius of this campaign? Whilst closing stores was a noble act to get people outdoors…it in fact drove tons of fame for the brand and online sales (because they never shut their website down).
What can brands learn from this? Don’t be brave or insane. Don’t do the conventional. Do the exceptional and break the rules of your category.
#4 KEEP IT SIMPLE
Want to know one of the most common mistakes in marketing? Being overly complicated. To be clear here marketing can still be complex, with many different factors to account for. However, the job of great strategy and creativity is to take all this complexity and translate it into something powerfully simple. Over time this has become a more important skill than ever before. Why? Well, the world has never been more distracted than ever before. Because in a world where the average human attention span is less than three seconds & where people are exposed to around 10,000 messages a day…simplicity has never been more of a necessity. You literally have seconds to hook someone in and be remembered.
Perhaps my favourite example of this, from this year’s Cannes Awards, is the recent British Airways campaign. It doesn’t try to land five different brand benefits. It doesn’t try to convey an elaborate and overly convoluted story about British Airways. It instead reflects a truth about the need for a good holiday in a simple and powerful way. A way that also helps to build an association with the British Airways brand. And this is how the best top-of-funnel awareness campaigns work. They stop you in your tracks, they raise a knowing smile and ultimately get the brand remembered.
Ref #7: The wonderful new British Airways campaign shows how powerful simplicity can be
What can brands learn from this? When it comes to the top of the funnel keep it simple at all costs. Aim for fame and association with your brand.
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#5 A FORCE FOR GOOD
The last learning for today will create some unease in many of the strategists reading this newsletter. I know many of you are devout Byron Sharp & Mark Ritson followers and have been told that brand purpose is a load of nonsense. Whilst I agree that 99% of the time it is, let’s not totally discount the idea of brand purpose because there are small pockets of hope when it comes to creative campaigns.
Perhaps one of the greatest campaigns of all time, that does brand purpose well is the New York Times’ “The Truth is Worth It”. Why is it so good? Well, a couple of reasons. First, it is born out of a clear truth about the brand; the fact they deliver high-quality journalism that always seeks the truth. Second, they took this product truth and then went out to shape culture. Simply they took the truth about their product and leveraged it to take on one of the biggest enemies in culture today, fake news. As mentioned in last week’s newsletter the best brands go from product out into culture. This is exactly what the New York Times does so well in this campaigns.
What can brands learn from this? Well first if you work for Shell or a Tobacco company don’t bother with brand purpose. Or if you are doing purpose for the sake of it with no real right as a brand to do it, once again avoid. However, if your product has a real benefit the world needs, leverage this to be more purposeful and make the world a better place.
Whilst there is a lot of ‘scam’ work entered into Cannes I hope you agree that are many brilliant campaigns we can learn from. Specifically, the five lessons we covered today are as follows:
Don’t rush to creative solutions, spend the time properly defining your problem.
Always seek to uncover powerful product or brand truths.
If you want unconventional results you need to do the unconventional in your category.
Keep it simple at all costs when it comes to the top of the funnel/awareness.
If you have the right to be a force for good, do so.
Expect big thinking & small typ0s #madebydyslexia
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