Cannes 2017: What is too creepy in Direct and Creative Data?

'We've never seen anything as invasive as that,' jury president says of Direct Grand Prix.

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Should a campaign that places products in schools and collects student data while performing a public good be celebrated or approached with caution? What about an ad that triggers voice assistants to talk about hamburgers?

Cannes juries were faced with this question while evaluating work in the Direct and Creative Data categories, and mostly came out on the side of the brands.

The Creative Data Grand Prix went to Digitas LBi Chicago’s “Care Counts” campaign for Whirlpool. The brand placed washing machines and dryers in U.S. schools, providing access to students who otherwise wouldn’t have it, which improved attendance and performance. The machines tracked the students using them through their ID cards.

When asked at a press conference Tuesday about whether there was any unease among the jurors about a brand placing products in schools and collecting data about students, jury president and Kantar Group CEO Eric Salama said it wasn’t an issue.

“I personally think that we should applaud brands that have a social purpose and want to put something back in the community,” he said. “And if it means that they get some publicity out of it as well, good for them.”

Another entry where a company intercepted Bluetooth signals between consumers’ phones and cars did make the jury uncomfortable, he said. The industry shouldn’t be rewarding work that “crosses a boundary in terms of the way we would like to be treated as individual people and consumers.”

Defining that boundary could become a key challenge for brands with the pace of technological change in the industry. Speaking generally about the overall work in the category, Salama, who was on the same jury two years ago, said campaigns are already being evaluated very differently. “We’re taking for granted things that would have been novel two years ago, and in certain areas you can really see the bar being raised,” he said.

Within the Direct category, meanwhile, the Grand Prix went to a campaign one juror described as “the best abuse of technology”: agency David Miami’s “Google Home of the Whopper” for Burger King. The campaign essentially hacked Google Home with a TV ad that asked, “OK Google, what is the Whopper burger?” prompting the voice assistant to read from the Whopper’s Wikipedia page.

“We’ve never seen anything as invasive as that. It gets to you in your living room, and it messes with you,” said jury president Ted Lim, CCO at Dentsu Brand Agencies.

While Google responded to the stunt, preventing other brands from using the same trick, Lim said being unable to scale the idea didn’t hurt it.

“We were looking for something that set the tone for the future. We wanted something that’s not easily replicated. Cannes is a festival of ideas. We’re not looking for something that can be manufactured again and again and again,” he said.

But he did say he expects ad plays involving voice assistants like Google Home and Alexa to be the future of direct advertising – at least for those willing to leave those systems on all the time, not worried about the FBI and the CIA hearing “all the noises you make at  home.”