Asia Rising – Fresh from the APAC Cannes Lions Juries

Cassandra Kelsall, head of experience at Publicis Sapient, shares her views and insights from judging at Cannes Lions this year.
Cassandra Kelsall

In this guest post, Kelsall argues Cannes offers lots of reasons, but can still lack in the solutions department…

The agency cries of heresy get louder each year; consultancies are raining on the Cannes Lions parade. But looking at the Festival of Creativity through rosé tinted glasses, from Accenture’s Digital Doggie Bags to Deloitte’s sustainability sponsorship, and asking #better questions with EY – what is demonstrable, is the importance of creativity in the role of transforming brands and businesses.

Most companies are great at their core business, but not great at reimagining the future of their business. This year Cannes Lions added several new sub-categories including business transformation; that buzzword is rife as brands race to revolutionise their businesses inside and out. It may not be the reason they’re here at Cannes, but it is the reason consultancies are.

Brands want to become agile at the core, fast to market and able to respond to change – but ultimately, they need to compete for customer attention, adoration and allegiance. Flipping the operating model is a foundational enabler of change: processes and practices, people and culture, evolutionary engineering and harnessing big data. These are what it takes to enable exceptional customer experiences, and the work is bread and butter for consultancies. But the race is tightening and the enablers can, and are, being replicated.

The key to differentiation is unlocking palpable customer value. The point of difference IS creativity.

Creativity brings together insight and behaviour, it is spurred by inspiration and relies on test and learn cycles to push boundaries and refine ideas. Being creative means you have the ability to examine and perceive things differently, the courage and conviction to push through new concepts. Creativity is unleashed by diversity of thought, the collision of great ideas, and the ability to deliver on that vision.

In the Creative eCommerce jury this year, the creative idea and its impact were assessed equally. We rated each entry across four dimensions: the idea was 30 per cent, strategy 20 per cent, execution 20 per cent, impact and results 30 per cent. As we debated the merits, opportunities and gaps in each piece of shortlisted work, we kept coming back to customer and business impact. Storytelling and creativity was outstanding, but sustainable value creation and evidence of business results were lacking across so many entries.

The Whopper Detour’s cheeky swagger and staggering results on McDonald’s turf took home three Grand Prix for Burger King. But the biggest winner this year was the human race, with creativity-for-good work scooping up 75 per cent of all Grand Prix.

Brands with the real recipe for success addressed both functional and emotional human needs, tugging heart strings by tackling ethics, diversity, inclusion and environment, aiming to change the way we think, behave and interact. A few examples that left an impression: Changing the Game, the Xbox adaptive controller designed for those with limited mobility; removing barriers to language for deaf children with Huawei’s StorySign app; Ikea’s ThisAbles affordable 3D printable furniture adaptors for people with disabilities; our Grand Prix Do Black, the carbon limit credit card that offers a banking service where your spending and savings are tracked, but measured by your conscience. The way to a man’s heart may be through his stomach (and a 1 cent whopper?) but empowering society with hope and purpose was the shortcut to this year’s Grand Prix.

“The reality is that data doesn’t stick in the mind the way stories do. Stories are the glue that take that data, they have the emotion that data doesn’t.” – Dan Ariely, author and behavioural economist

The strengths of agencies and consultancies are weighted in one of the three areas of the DVF venn diagram; either customer desirability, business viability and impact, or technical and operational feasibility. With all three elements, the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. Most consultancies and holding companies have not yet managed to seamlessly integrate their capabilities in creative, strategy and consulting, engineering and delivery, but through collaboration the formula for success increases threefold. To have more impact, consultancies need to learn the art of storytelling, bravery, and the power of brand experience. To elevate their creative influence, agencies must equally learn to enable clients and rigorously measure tangible business benefits, rather than marketing metrics alone.

The languages we speak may sound different, but today’s new breed of creatives are multi-lingual; service designers, creative technologists, experience and business designers skillfully balance rigour in thinking as well as craft. They have the unique ability to work both above and below the line of visibility, treating change as a design problem whether the opportunity sits with a customer or within a business.

We talk about tech and customer expectations moving faster than brands can turn out products and services, but client expectations of partners are moving at the same rate. We must focus on achieving both consumer engagement and commercial success, because our clients aren’t incentivised to be bold – they’re incentivised on results. Those results need to be relevant and meaningful to retain a seat at the table, and secure funding next year.

So the race to revolutionise our own industry is on. But the agency vs. consultancy debate is far less relevant than being able to connect creative capabilities to business results, and enable clients to change sustainably and at scale.

The Grand Prix should be the reward, not the goal.

First published on BandT.