Judging the PR Cannes Lions 2016 could easily be one of the most memorable experiences of my life. I call the festival a United Nations of Marketing, where senior professionals who head agencies from across 22 different countries come together to deliberate over 7 days to award some of the most inspiring PR campaigns for 2016. When you think deeply about this, it’s really hard to arrive at a common consensus and yet deliver great results.
Winning at Cannes Lions is a no mean feat. It requires telling your story in a crisp, simple, refreshing and contextual manner with effectiveness at its core. Most of the winning campaigns for 2016 focused on how Brands leveraged PR to deliver a larger social impact or bring about a change for good. The blurring of lines between advertising, digital and PR was staring us in the face as we went through 60 hours of deliberation to award 84 lions.
Scandinavia came up as clear winners taking creativity in PR to another level. We saw some great insight driven and clever campaigns from Australia and New Zealand. South America threw up some social and behavioral change campaigns that won several awards. Three Indian campaigns were well received - Daughters of Mother India (fight for violence against women), Beauty Tips by Reshmi (the acid attack victim), and The Light Bag (solar school bags) by Salam Bombay Trust.
The key trends in PR at Cannes Lions 2016 would be:
1. The use of big data and analytics to arrive at creative campaigns that deliver strong impactful results (ref House of Clicks – This case is about a housing portal that used the data insights based on what the young Swedish people were looking for in a house, and created a house of the future. This house generated so much interest and orders started to flow in. It not only created a house based on insights and data but it sparked a whole new business model for Hemnet Swedish property portal).
2. Engaging consumers in the story was clearly the flavor of the season, and celebrity endorsements or celebrity generated content was a thing of the past. (ref. #optoutside – a Retailer in the US decided to make a bold move and shut down their stores on black Friday and give their employees a paid vacation. They urged their employees to go outside and engage in physical activity with their families and friends. This generated so much conversation and awareness and provided for opportunities to generate content worth sharing. It also sparked discussion around labour laws, and the need for healthier living and outdoor activity which is the primary ethos of the brand.)
3. Using employees, and consumers to create content for the Brand in an authentic manner with reason and emotion won favour with the jury and was rated highly (ref. Almiral, - a pharmaceutical company who wanted to enter into cosmetic dermatology. They wanted their people to feel deeply about the expansion and work towards making the business successful through emotional connect and strong understanding of consumer behaviour. They got their senior talent to do up their faces as though they suffered from a dermatological problem and spent the day walking on the streets. The results were amazing and by the end of the exercise they had a far more convinced team that understood the problem better and could sell the product and service with conviction and passion. Being in the shoes of their potential customers gave them an experience that enabled them to talk to customers with care and higher sensitivity).
4. Clever use of virtual reality to innovate on storytelling opened our minds to new mediums and made us view the future of PR in a different light (ref. Field Trip to Mars – Lockheed Martin wanted to show kids what it feels like to be on Mars. These kids will eventually be the first to visit Mars at some point. They used the first ever virtual reality concept with no headsets where they mapped the roads on earth to make it feel like the bus was travelling on Mars. A must watch experience to understand the concept. This gives rise to the future of leveraging virtual reality to tell stories through PR).
5. Small Brands with big ideas that have the potential to scale won praise amongst the jury. We were surprised to see small Brands doing some great work (ref. edible six pack rings – A small brewery in America decided to get rid of the plastic that holds the beer cans together as they often are hazardous to marine life. Marine life get stuck in the plastic and lose their lives. To make a difference to the environment at large, the brewery came up with the innovation to create the six pack rings from the waste of hops. A Six pack holder that is edible. Marine life can eat the six pack holders and get nourishment from it. Thereby creating a prototype that sets an example for the world to follow and protects the environment at large. Apart from selling more beer, the little brewery was able to come up with a solution to help marine life and save the environment. What a cool idea.)
The use of big data and analytics, the need to engage with different departments within the company in a communication program like research and development, and the use of new technology for story telling is the future of PR. Most Brands seem to be engaged in what I call “Responsible Selling”. It’s no longer about just selling a product for its features, but it’s about connecting with audiences for a larger purpose, or a larger good. Brands with a purpose driven by insight and backed by strong creative communication will be winners in the future.
(The author is CEO, Weber Shandwick)