Gaming, data ethics and ‘augmented connectedness’ were among the themes being discussed by Media Lions judges.

Cannes Lions, like all other advertising awards shows, offers not so much a snapshot of the industry today as a summary of its activities over the past 12 months.

This is important to remember when trendspotting among winning entries. Themes that dominated the discussions in this year’s (virtual) jury rooms are by no means ‘new’. Rather, they are marketing strategies and exploitations of emerging technologies whose origins go back to the pre-pandemic era. Next year’s glut of NFT-centric case studies is (mercifully) yet to be written.

Nevertheless, there remains a clear value in understanding what is working – especially in the context of a fast-changing media landscape.

WARC spoke to a selection of Media Lions jurors about the opportunities and challenges they feel emerged from this year’s winning case studies.

  1. Gaming is everywhere

Everywhere, that is, apart from having its own Cannes Lions awards category – an omission highlighted by several jurors.

Brands have embraced all elements of gaming (in-game advertising, gaming content, esports sponsorship) and gamification techniques. Key to this success is a more empathetic approach to gaming integrations, and a focus on being less interruptive.

The most persuasive entries were those that found a way to meet an unmet need for gamers. Take Samsung, whose ‘Anti Bullying Skin’ concept prevented less affluent Fortnite gamers from being picked on for using the free ‘default’ skin.

For a long time, advertising in gaming has been things like interstitials and pre-rolls to win extras on Candy Crush. It’s been clunky. What a lot of these brands did is achieve the most incredibly sensitive adaptation to the environment.” – Gerry D'Angelo, VP Global Media, Procter & Gamble

Read the full interview with Gerry here.

  1. Data and technology for good

Both Grand Prix winners in the Media Lions category – from Telenor Pakistan and City of Chicago – harnessed innovation to solve societal problems. Moreover, there was a sense that it is equally important to ask ‘why’ a brand should use a technology as it is to understand ‘how’ it might work.

The jury made a conscious decision not to reward entries it deemed to be exploiting technology for shock and awe purposes – for instance, those “hijacking” devices or misleading through “fake” influencers.

Instead, it rewarded those brands finding ways to improve lives through technology. See ‘Your Data is Your Data’ from S Group, a supermarket chain in Finland, which returned personal data to users, or ‘Action Audio’ by Tennis Australia, which created an audio strategy for the visually impaired.

 “I feel really strongly that we are in an interesting moment. This is the fourth stage of the Internet revolution, with data privacy and data ethics [being] a core part of where companies and agencies need to be.” – Deidre Smalls-Landau, CMO and EVP, Global Culture, UM Worldwide

Read the full interview with Deidre here.

  1. Augmented connectedness

One of the lasting consequences of COVID-19 was a blending of our physical and virtual worlds. People are spending more time at home, and significantly more time on mobile devices, providing brands with new opportunities to find moments of relevancy. 

However, while the ability to socialise via platforms like Twitch has benefitted communities during lockdown, there is a darker side to such interactions. Cyber-bullying is becoming a huge problem, especially for younger internet users, and the jury rewarded those brands willing to intervene.

Take Association L'Enfant Bleu. Through its ‘Undercover Avatar’, the French not-for-profit organisation devised an in-game character to help children at risk of violence and abuse to speak up.  

Augmented connectedness was portrayed not just by gaming companies, but also other brands. Tourism, for example, moved into the gaming world to actually have people experience things, and used digital platform to communicate that.” – Kyoko Matsushita, Global CEO, Essence

Read the full interview with Kyoko here.

  1. The medium is the message

A trait that several Media Lions winners shared was the use of media channel context as a creative device, particularly in ambient and OOH media.

Michelob Ultra demonstrated the importance of live connectivity and the cultural importance of the NBA with its ‘Courtside’ initiative to bring communities together on digital screens, while French child protection campaign ‘Just a Wall’ created emotional impact through a use of bus shelters to emphasise the role that neighbours can play in saving lives.

The lines between creativity and media are blurring – which I don't think is a bad thing at all. There are a lot of instances where you can create a message through a demonstration of the power of the medium, and it can be so much more impactful and so much more relatable.” – Lizzie Nolan, Executive Vice President, Managing Director, Strategy & Insights, Havas

Read the full interview with Lizzie here.

  1. Don’t forget older audiences

Behind the pivot new media, jurors detected another more concerning trend – that brands risk losing touch with older, more affluent audiences.

While plenty of entries showcased the industry’s ability to engage hard-to-reach younger consumers, particularly through gaming, brands should acknowledge that older demographics remain valuable prospective customers. Furthermore, many of these users have changed the way they engage with media during the pandemic, meaning marketers may have to re-think existing plans.

IBM’s ‘Second Life’ tackled ageism and inclusion in Japan, a country in which one in four citizens are over 65. The company developed an algorithm to examine individuals’ physical and personality traits, and cross-reference that against a database of professionals. In doing so, it provided a route back into the workplace for 43,000 senior citizens.

If you look at the body of work from a 30,000-feet view, you could quite easily imagine that our society and our industry is comprised wholly of people under 40. There is a frightening love affair with youth.” – Chrissie Hanson, Global Chief Strategy Officer, OMD Worldwide

Read the full interview with Chrissie here.