Lasting impressions from Cannes 2019

The 2019 Cannes Lions are now behind us, and the road ahead is that odd mix of summer hours, out-of-office email alerts and Christmas planning.

But before the International Festival of Creativity disappears in the rearview mirror, The Message wanted to document some of the key moments for those who were there on the Croisette and in the Palais des Festivals this year.

For The Message, Cannes felt decidedly more subdued than it was not long ago, yet still overflowing with insights and inspirations about where the industry is today and where it is going in the future.

Without question “purpose” was a dominant theme—to the extent that juries showed a distinct bias toward any work presented as solving a social problem or just generally making the world a better place.

That said, work from big brands and their agencies that takes a strong, sometimes controversial position on important causes is a good thing—with “The Last Issue Ever” in the Glass Lions  (see below) a personal favourite. And there was still really great creative that was just about building a brand and not about saving the world—like “Keeping Fortnite Fresh” for Wendy’s.

The Message reached out to a handful of industry leaders who were in Cannes to ask them about their biggest takeaways—the speakers, the ideas or the work—that will stay with them long after the expense reports have been filed and approved (yes!!).

Here’s what they told us.

Andrew Simon, chief creative officer, Edelman

I’ve been going to Cannes for *covers his mouth and mumbles incoherently* years now and the Festival never fails to inspire me. Not only is it the work, but also the amazing Canadian talent, both working in the country and elsewhere, that puts a huge smile on my face (the rosé doesn’t hurt either.) My favourite piece of work was the EVA (Equal Vehicles for All) Initiative from Volvo. With the word “purpose” being thrown around as often as my son says “dude,” it was refreshing to see a campaign that simply did the most counter-intuitive, positive gesture possible—sharing its proprietary data on female safety with its competitors to make the world a better place.


Steve Miller, executive creative director, Fuse

“Short-termism” surfaced a number of times in reference to short-term goals and timelines, and its detriment to creativity. The focus on short-term (e.g. click-thru, conversion, programmatic) has trumped long-term brand building goals like, well, any brand health measure. The pendulum may not swing all the way back to “long-termism,” and whether it’s a sign of budget-conscious times or our need for immediate gratification (thanks a lot Instagram), I would agree with many of the speakers that the long-term health of a brand, and the opportunity for loyalty, brand affinity, and a long-tail sales pipeline, is at risk when “short-termism” is the dominant way of thinking/advertising.


Lyranda Martin-Evans, executive creative director, DentsuBos and Radio judge

As a writer by craft, I was particularly taken with a piece from South Africa that made it to gold in our (radio) jury room, and was even debated for the Grand Prix: Town Lodge, a beautifully crafted series for City Lodge Hotel Group. This work reminds us of the power of the written word and the ability to weave charming brand stories with only voice and music. It didn’t have the big budget of HBO (Grand Prix winner) or Skittles (also a gold winner), but it’s culturally relevant, whip-smart funny, and the ear-worm jingle will stick with you. “… and it’s free!” Delightful.


Mike Dubrick, creative director, Rethink

Nick Law gave an inspired talk on why creative leadership is important in an agency. He was fired up. Burger King also did a great talk called “Survivor’s Guide to the Adpocalypse.” I loved how digital-minded and brave the work was. I don’t know if I’d call it my favourite piece of work, but I love Apple’s “Behind the Mac” film. Brutally simple, beautifully crafted, and in 10 or 15 black and white stills, they’re able to evoke a level of emotion that a million dollar anthem spot could only dream of.

My biggest takeaway was the attention-grabbing, purpose-driven ideas that provide actual solutions. That can be anything from Nike sponsoring Colin Kaepernick in the “Dream Crazy” campaign, to Philly Cream Cheese advocating for the bagel emoji to have a smear of cream cheese on it in “Bagelgate,” (below) or the wonderful “ThisAbles” from IKEA.


Brian Murray, chief creative officer, Ogilvy

I loved the thinking behind the Glass Lion winner “The Last Ever Issue” by VMLY&R Poland. They wanted to counter the sexualized portrayal of women by a prominent Polish girlie mag… so they actually bought the mag and ran one final edition featuring inspirational women. I love the thought of someone saying, “Why don’t we just buy the entire magazine?”

The single biggest takeaway for me is that “selling” has become a bit of a dirty word. I think where the industry wishes it were going is at odds with reality. It’s also great that a lot of the winning work was speaking on behalf of underrepresented voices around the world. However, the people who got up on stage to accept the awards for making the work seldom embodied the diversity of the message. This was disappointingly consistent night after night.


Peter Ignazi, global chief creative officer, Cossette

At the end, looking at the big winners that dominated the show, I was reminded why I go and why Cannes is so necessary. These were endeavours for brands such as we all have—Burger King, Carrefour, J&J, Volvo, Microsoft. The big winners face challenges we all face but somehow reach further, move the industry, build brands and sell shit. We must believe we can do this for our own clients. Or what’s a heaven for?


Anthony Chelvanathan, creative director, Leo Burnett

I love the stand that Nike took with its “Dream Crazy” billboard, but another standout piece of work was The New York Times campaign and its execution. We always complain about budgets, but they used existing footage, brilliant editing, subdued music and ultimately great storytelling in a very simple way. It gave me goosebumps when I saw it.

When The IKEA “ThisAbles” work (below) won, we saw the creative, a copywriter who had cerebral palsy himself, walk up to the stage. There was a roar of applause and in that moment, this wasn’t about the advertising or the award—it was a human moment that brought everyone together. It was my most memorable experience, and it will stay with me for a while. There was a lot of good work but I felt like everything was connected to a cause, which of course is amazing, but I’d also love to see how agencies help their clients solve everyday brand problems in equally smart ways.

David Brown