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It's the other festival in Cannes – a chance for members of the advertising industry and their clients to drink, pat themselves on the back, and bring home hardware that helps to prove the value of the work they do. But the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity is also a holding pen for judges who spend hours in darkened rooms numbing their minds with video case studies claiming to have designed the "world's first" something or other, with magical/stunning/astounding results.

And at its best, one of the industry's biggest award shows gives us a lens into the best in advertising from around the world; and a hint at the kind of advertising we're likely to see more often in the future.

We spoke with five Cannes judges from Canadian agencies, to ask about the trends they spotted at the festival this year.

The trend: Bravery

Judge: Lance Martin, executive creative director and partner at ad agency Union

Jury: Film

Grand Prix winners: Harvey Nichols’ “Sorry, I spent it on myself,” a (real) gift collection of “cheap crap,” such as rubber bands and paper clips, designed to be given to loved ones so that people can buy better things for themselves; and “The Epic Split,” which showcased Volvo trucks’ steering by showing Jean-Claude Van Damme doing the splits between two moving trucks, one foot on each.

“Clients were willing to throw caution to the wind and do something really interesting,” Mr. Martin observed. And for a marketer, these things do take bravery. Marmite, for example, released a hilarious ad showing “rescue” teams going to homes to respond to reports of neglect. Abused jars of the divisive yeast spread were then relocated to good homes. The brand built an entire advertising campaign around the insight that some people really hate the product.

But this type of bravery can pay off. Harvey Nichols, for example, sold out of its entire line of roughly 20,000 selfish gifts. And for a new generation of consumer, this kind of off-beat humour, and willingness to veer off message, resonates. “Most people understand what advertising is, and we’re not trying to fool them any more,” Mr. Martin said. “If you sit in focus groups and talk to millennials, they use terms like demographic and target market. So treating them as a smart consumer … having advertising that’s frank and honest, it’s obviously the way to go.”

The trend: Simplicity

Judge: Lisa Greenberg, senior vice-president, creative director and head of art for Leo Burnett Toronto

Jury: Promo & Activation

Promo & Activation Grand Prix winner: Harvey Nichols, “Sorry, I spent it on myself

Canadian agencies had a weak year at Cannes, bringing home just 15 Lion awards in total, none of them gold. In some categories – such as this one – there were no Canadian winners. “I was so upset,” Ms. Greenberg said. “… We have to be more insightful, more simple.” The ideas that were the easiest to understand, with the best execution, were the big winners, with both consumers and juries, she said. And the fact that Canada is a small market with tight budgets is no excuse. “Harvey Nichols is not a giant account,” she said. “… Good work is good work.”

The trend: Technology making advertising less intrusive, more relevant

Judge: Frazer Jelleyman, chief creative officer, Taxi

Jury: Cyber

Cyber Grand Prix winners: Pharrell Williams’ “24 hours of happy,” a 24-hour music video that allowed users to jump around to see the video throughout the day it was filmed; Volvo Trucks’ live test series, including “The Epic Split” and others; “The Scarecrow” by Chipotle, an animated video showing a journey to fight factory farming with more natural food (accompanied by a game people could download).

The trend: Technology making advertising less intrusive, more relevant

Judge: Karine Courtemanche, president, media agency Touché PHD

Jury: Media

Media Grand Prix winner:Happy I.D.,” part of Coca-Cola’s global “Open Happiness” campaign. It set up photo booths in Peru for people to take pictures for government identification cards. There is no law preventing people from smiling for those pictures in Peru, but most people don’t. So the machines used facial recognition technology, and only took a photo when it saw a smile.

“It used to be the case that technology made advertising more intrusive. But I think marketers are starting to use technology in ways that they make it useful for consumers,” Ms. Courtemanche said. Coke used its technology, for example, to intrude on people’s lives but in a way that gave them something back. For Mr. Jelleyman, the work that stood out most showed a laser focus on its target audience, and an effortless ability to tell a story. “We’re seeing the same rigour applied to non-traditional media as is applied to traditional media,” he said. “I always quote Laurie Anderson on this: ‘Technology is the campfire around which we tell our stories.’”

The trend: Ads that look like entertainment – good entertainment

Judge: Randy Stein, founding partner, Grip Limited

Jury: Branded Content & Entertainment

Branded Content Grand Prix winner: There was no Grand Prix in the category this year. Mr. Stein named some standouts, however: “East Los High,” a Degrassi-esque high-school telenovela, which was a hit on online TV platform Hulu, with a hidden agenda. In partnership with organizations such as Planned Parenthood, the Bronze Lion-winning series was designed to draw in young Latina viewers and to address issues of safe sex. And Silver winner Cornetto (a line of frozen desserts) got noticed for a sweet series of short online videos that told love stories, called Cupidity.

“It’s the nature of the PVR, and people fast-forwarding through commercials. Advertisers have to find another way,” Mr. Stein said. While this is not the first year that advertisers have begun investing in long-form, entertaining content, he said the standards are higher now: More of the submissions were genuinely entertaining on their own. And unlike traditional product placement, where an advertiser force-fits a product into a scene in an existing show or movie, the product message is more restrained. Cornetto, for example, did not try to pass off couples falling in love over ice cream. “They were willing to put the story first and the entertainment first, and were making a bet that the consumer would then give them credit for that,” he said. “And I think they’re right.”

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