The world's biggest names in advertising are back in their respective homes, following the wrap-up of the Cannes advertising festival last week. Along with the requisite rosé hangovers, they have also brought back with them reams of notes on the innovations they saw in their industry this year.
Cannes is the marquee event each year in a crowded award season, and thus attracts some of the most forward-thinking work. We spoke to all of this year's Canadian judges to find out which trends emerged from the winners. They paint a picture of where advertising is at now – and where it is heading.
The trend: Entertain us
Judge: Judy John, chief executive officer and chief creative officer at Leo Burnett Canada
Audiences have more distractions at their fingertips than ever. It's not enough just to make good advertising; it has to make people want to watch.
"All the screens are competing now," Ms. John said. "When I'm watching TV, I have my tablet and I'm on Twitter … advertising is entertainment; it's competing against entertainment. You're competing against so many other things people could be looking at, on YouTube, wherever."
One of the Grand Prix winners in film was The Beauty Inside, a Web film for Toshiba Corp. about a man who wakes up each day in a different body. The character falls in love, and that love is tested by his changing appearance. Since the character could have any face, the audience was invited to act in the film, submitting webcam diaries. At the heart of the campaign was a great story.
"The product was inherently baked in. The video diary became part of the story. With all the work we looked at, some of it wasn't branded, and some of it wasn't entertaining. You really need both."
The trend: Be real
Judge: Jean-François Bernier, president and creative director at Alfred in Montreal
Radio Grand Prix winner: Dumb Ways to Die, the radio version Clients are often cautious, and for good reason: a misstep can cost a brand. But when Metro Trains in Australia wanted to make a public service announcement about rail safety, they took a risk and made jokes about death.
Agency McCann Melbourne commissioned a catchy song called Dumb Ways to Die, with hilariously gruesome lyrics. It was so enjoyable, radio stations played it for free. It won armfuls of awards across categories at Cannes, and Mr. Bernier believes part of its appeal lay in how it spoke to consumers in a different way.
"It was a really interesting way to engage the consumer," he said. "We're in an industry of lies – maybe not lies, but we create illusions. So there's this trend toward lifting the veil, for those who can. To be more transparent and more real. I noticed that in a lot of the campaigns that won."
The trend: Use digital, but link it to the real world
Judge: Lara Palmer, art director and creative director at Lara Palmer Advertising
Design Grand Prix winner: The Selfscan Report, for Auchan by Serviceplan Munich, which reported on the grocery store chain's sustainability efforts through scannable codes on customer receipts.
Judge: Nellie Kim, creative director at john st.
Three years ago, the titanium Grand Prix at Cannes went to Twelpforce, which allowed Best Buy customers to tweet questions to the company and actually receive a response. At the time, that digital engagement was transformational. Now it's standard. Ms. Palmer noted that some of the best work this year moved even further toward having digital techniques meet the real world.
The top winner in her category was a sustainability report for grocery store chain Auchan that was itself sustainable: It could be downloaded by scanning a code on the back of store receipts.
"All of the best in all the categories have to have another touch point outside of the digital realm," Ms. Palmer said. "There has to be another way that something in the real world anchors it."
For Ms. Kim, a highlight was a campaign for the Dutch Film Festival, which won silver in the Cyber category. To connect the audience with the festival, agency Woedend! created a live Twitter film that aired on television and online and allowed people to direct the actors on screen with commands sent via Twitter. It created more than $700,000 in free publicity, and embodied the message that the festival was for everyone.
"There was this real trend toward the immersion of the digital and social-media world with the analog world," Ms. Kim said. "Where this is laddering up to is innovation that puts the user more solidly in the driver's seat."
The trend: Make people participate
Judge: Trish Wheaton, global chief marketing officer at Wunderman and managing partner of global new business at Y&R Advertising
Direct Grand Prix winner: Dumb Ways to Die
Judge: Karen Howe, senior vice-president and creative director of One Advertising
Jury: Promo & Activation
Promo & Activation Grand Prix winner: Immortal Fans, a fan-targeted organ donation campaign by Ogilvy Brazil for Sport Club Recife soccer team
Talk about direct marketing and people think of leaflets in the mail. But what really makes a good direct campaign is something that makes people respond actively to the brand or cause. That's a strategy that, in a clamorous digital environment, more marketers are pursuing.
"We're going to see a lot more engagement … that is a big trend," Ms. Wheaton said. "All marketing is now direct."
The Dumb Ways to Die campaign won top prize in this category, as well. People went to the website to pledge to be safer around trains. In the campaign's key markets, accidents fell by 20 per cent. "The people who are hardest to convince to engage, or to consider it worthy – teenagers – they actually got young people to pledge," she said. "… It was about getting people to take some action."
This applied in Ms. Howe's category as well, where the jury was blown away by a Brazilian campaign that convinced a soccer club's fans to become organ donors by making the commitment part of their promise to be " immortal fans." It took the passion for their team and converted it into action for a cause. This tapped into another important trend, she said: the idea of purpose-driven marketing. Brands that take a stance around a social cause create something people are motivated to buy in to; whether it's Coca-Cola creating vending machines to help people in India and Pakistan interact or a telecom company recruiting volunteers to act as "eyes" for visually impaired people who take pictures with their phones and send them out to a network to have them described.
"Consumers really want to bring a brand home," Ms. Howe said. "They don't just want to observe it, they want to be participants. That's what marketers want as well. Advertising isn't advertising any more … it really is a relationship, defined by any means possible."