Rethinking creative teams; powerful design; the future of strategy and other insights from Cannes 2019

—Fuse CEO Stephen Brown made his first trip to the Cannes Lions this year. Here are his key takeaways from the world’s biggest advertising festival.—

My first time at Cannes Lions lived up to the hype. I was a keener who attended a lot of sessions, and wanted to share some notable moments of insight and clarity.

CMO’s want to have their cake and eat it too

All week The Economist hosted amazing morning sessions with three different CMO’s from mega companies including P&G, Adobe, Lego, etc. One recurring—and irritating—theme was the duplicity of their view of agencies: On one hand they demand we be their partners; that we challenge their thinking, and must really know their business (all good). But then they say they’re opening up the agency roster, making work project-based, and requiring you to compete with multiple agencies and in-house teams.

There were a few brave voices who disagreed with this. Despite some of its recent creative being done in- house, for example, Apple has worked with TBWA for decades. “To make great creative, the most important thing is trust,” said Tor Myhren, vice-president of marketing and communications for the tech giant, which was named Cannes’ Creative Marketer of the Year.

Having one agency not only allows Apple to build great creative, said Myhren, but provides the company with much-needed outside perspective. He described it as “Radical Candour” that fosters a culture of debate and drives better creative. Looking at the brand and its campaigns, it’s hard to argue.

The future of the strategy department

While some are concerned we’ll lose this practice to consulting firms, others see a clear need for strategy as long as they adjust for today’s advertising realities.

Harjit Singh, McCann’s chief strategy officer for Europe, said that the future of strategy is already here. What’s true about life is true about advertising: you need to create experiences that make people feel connected to your brand. Experience has to be at the centre of the strategic plan. The best line in his presentation, specifically around data: “Stop outsourcing common sense.” Data should be used to solve, not sell. It shouldn’t replace the intuition and inspiration required for great insights.

Strategy brief… really brief

Apple’s Myhren said it best: “Strategy is sacrifice—the brutal art of reduction.” Strategists have a tendency to value their currency on the volume of words and data, but the true art of great strategy is narrowing it down to fit on the end of a pin. Brevity equals clarity.

Creative teams need a rethink

The complexity of campaigns needs to go beyond the typical art director and copywriter. Teams should be broadened with specialists who understand user experience design, content, media, etc. to build creative that can be effective across all media.

Nick Law, chief creative officer for Publicis Groupe (though soon to be joining Apple), explained this while also calling on creative to drop the myth of “The Big Idea.” Instead, he said, the strategy has to sit above the big idea. It’s more important to have an idea that can work across all media. His example: Instagram Stories should result in a whole new creative grammar rather than attempting to slice a 30-second spot to fit in, yet often this doesn’t happen. It’s the creative leaders’ job to understand each medium and build new capabilities to deliver on that channel.

Bad design costs the same as great design

Burger King’s CMO Fernando Machado and head of global marketing Marcelo Pascoa delivered one of the week’s most entertaining sessions. Their reminder of the transformative power of great design was refreshing.

The Burger King brand was suffering, and one of the causes was terrible design. From restaurant decor to POS, Burger King’s design was a complete mishmash. Their new aesthetic—clean, uncluttered, smart—speaks for itself. The real value was the reminder that great design costs the same as bad design. You still need to produce the assets, good or bad.

Gen Z requires a shift from storytelling to story living

As expected, there was lots of chatter about Gen Z. It seems Millennials are (finally) becoming passé. There are 2.5 billion Gen Zs globally, and they consume the most media in history. Yet despite their screen addiction, relationships are actually most important to them (I’d say this is true about all generations). For brands this means moving beyond the current storytelling approach and making sure your story aligns your values with theirs. They don’t want to be told your brand story, they want to make sure you are living your brand values in your stories.

Final learning

Whoever described Cannes as “Rosé all day” never tried to attend sessions as well. The program is packed with content, and like any conference, you need to focus on finding hits and avoiding the duds. All worth it, as it’s incredibly rewarding when you commit. There you have it: A great week and a great reminder of how amazing it is to work in this industry.

Stephen Brown is the CEO of full-service Toronto-based agency Fuse.