Cannes 2021: Wrapping up the big themes

From crises to commitments to change, The Township's Karen Howe pulls together insights from a week's worth of content.

Cannes Base Camp

By Karen Howe

Creative is the canary in the cultural coal mine. That’s why Cannes is not just an awards show. It is a collective peel-back of our souls. It’s the world’s most extraordinary creative, as well as a cultural dissection.

The lifeline of the biggest crisis in our lifetime

The elephant in the room this year was COVID. The pandemic’s tentacles were everywhere. Every speaker, session, and jury acknowledged it. But there’s COVID then and COVID now. Today we have hope and vaccines, but 15 months ago we had neither. And you could track COVID’s lifeline through the work.

Early ideas centred around helping each other. Dove’s “Courage is Beautiful” saluted healthcare workers, Nike’s “You Can’t Stop Us” rallied spirits while encouraging people to do the right thing. Mastercard’s “Fly with a Book” shored up struggling indie bookstores and airlines. Heineken’s “Shutters” helped small pubs and bars by paying to advertise on their shutters. Thai Airways turned isolation into rewards by rewarding people for staying home. Practical problems were tackled by Burger King’s “Home of the Billboards,” which cleverly used OOH emptied by the epidemic.

More fortunate parts of the world are seeing the pandemic subside, so there is permission to laugh again. The Jury President for Creative Strategy cited this as the reason the Cheetosspot with MC Hammer won over the deeply insightful Childline’s “Nobody is Normal.” People ache to be silly again.

Commitment, change and a chain of trends

Brands continue to trudge along the path-to-purpose, but this year juries mandated action over words. It’s an evolution whose time has come, evolving us beyond Lion bait. That is the magic of ideas like Michelob Ultra’s “Contract for Change.” It was a long-term commitment to farmers to convert to organic farming.

This year was a sector awakening. Telcos came into their own. “The Man Who Couldn’t Handle his Handle” from Saudi Telco, “Connected Island” by Three Ireland and AT+T’s local love letter “Codes of Culture” indicated a sea change. AT+T also tapped into another big theme: supporting local.

Gaming is on a roll. Big brands flocked to it, as did causes. Fortnite became a platform to help children recognize and report abuse. I wonder if the gaming craze is a COVID-induced blip, or will it maintain momentum?

Years ago, I flagged deep fake. This year “#stillspeakingup” featured a murdered journalist digitally resurrected to continue to fight government corruption. Fiction and reality blurs.

Creativity will (continue to) save the world

Inclusivity and diversity evolved. The juries and work no longer come in one colour, creed, gender or sexual orientation. The murder of George Floyd ignited the resurgence of the BLM movement, which led to the most stunning piece I’ve seen this year: Beats by Dre’s “You Love Me.” It posed the gut-wrenching question – you love my culture, but do you love me? Incredible.

It’s clear based on this year, a remaining “ism” is ageism. I’m perplexed, given the aging population and power of the Boomer wallet that we still have not seen age reflected in a more meaningful way. However, an idea I loved was “Retired Radio.” It’s a pirate radio station, DJed by seniors that includes a 1-800 number for dedications and song requests. The goal? To cure isolation – something we all understand now.

This year the most dominant themes linked arms: climate change, sustainability and a planet choking in plastic. “The Credit Card Diet” laid it bare in a way that you cannot forget. The biggest issues we face were woven through every single category.

Yes, we help people wash their clothes, clean their hair and choose the right bank. But creativity is a powerhouse that goes much, much further. And it just might help save our sorry asses.

When people mutter, “it’s just advertising, it’s not like we’re saving lives”.

I look back and think, what if we could? What if we are?

We are.

KAREN HOWE PIC- higher rezKaren Howe is a Canadian Cannes Advisory Board Member and Founder of The Township Group