Deidre Smalls-Landau, CMO and EVP, Global Culture, at UM Worldwide shares insights from the virtual judging room at Cannes Lions.

Let’s start with the Grand Prix. You awarded two Media Lions Grand Prix to Telenor Pakistan for 2020 and City of Chicago for 2021 – why did those entries stand out?

They are, in my mind, symbolic of a time period, where we saw such stark differences in terms of socio-economics and nationality and race, either via COVID or the social pandemic. Those two entries were symbolic for us with respect to how we as an industry ensure that we create a future that is more than just transactional, and that the benefit is actually social impact.

The digital birth registration by Telenor Pakistan is brilliant, in that it's a simple use of technology that can have a lasting, positive impact on two million kids. It truly resonated with the jury room, the measurable benefit that this company provided to these kids, and of course the media used – the influencers and the technology.

We also wanted to recognise the year that we had had in 2020, and which is still dripping into 2021 and having lasting impact. The social unrest in this country was significant; it had the biggest impact since the Civil Rights era. We felt what was done [by the City of Chicago] to take the pain of injustice and turn that into progress and impact was pretty remarkable. By taking the boards that were used to avoid the destruction of property and turning it into joy, in neighbourhoods that had low voter registration and turnout, was another indication that if you can empathise with the community and build that relationship, it'll have lasting impact.

Which other entries caught your eye, and why?

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 a core part of where companies and agencies need to be. One of the entries I really sparked to was ‘Your Data is Your Data’ from S Group, a supermarket chain in Finland, where they took the data that they capture from your loyalty card, and then just gave it back to you.

I was a huge advocate for Nike’s Night Training Club app, which really highlights the history of black culture and women, because they're the most marginalised group in Brazil. Another campaign that was shortlisted but didn't get to be awarded was ‘Action Audio’ by Tennis Australia, which created an audio strategy for the visually impaired. All those entries were really symbolic of social impact and the ability to make a difference at scale.

The one other I advocated for was Barilla’s ‘Pasta Playlist’ timer. As a partnership it was just really fun, it made me smile. When we think about the utility of Spotify, and working around real-life situations with people being stuck at home during COVID, cooking more than they’ve ever had to, I thought it was ingenious.

What trends did you notice cropping up across the entries and winners?

Balancing commercial and purpose goals was important. Also, thinking about technology, I call it ‘COVID economics and ingenuity’. Everyone was in a state of COVID panic – all of our clients – about how to sell their services. So the Michelob UltraLob and NBA solution with Microsoft Teams was brilliant. Also Heineken ‘Shutter Ads’. We saw a lot of COVID entrants and the differentiator was the ability to have lasting impact.

The other trend I saw was the gamification of life. There’s a real blending of virtual and physical worlds, and there's a lot of time-lapsing going on. There was a great campaign from Netflix (‘#Stranger80s’), trying to introduce Stranger Things to older individuals, which was really smart. There was also a campaign from Lotto New Zealand where the ad was an actual lotto ticket, you could watch the ad and find the numbers. I thought that was brilliant.

Were there any things that particularly surprised or even disappointed you when you were going through the entries?

There were some campaigns that I felt went too far – too far in terms of crossing the moral line, when it came to capturing people's data and surveillance. There were some that prior to getting into the jury room I felt has a really strong execution, but then when we started talking about surveillance and using data responsibly – I’m thankful for the jurors with different perspectives. What we do in media and in advertising, we have to raise the bar. We can’t fake things, or use subliminal messages to trick people into liking something. We just have to do better.

What lessons have you learned for your own role from the judging process?

That doing it in person is so much better! Virtual judging was particularly hard, there were some campaigns I would’ve loved to have gone back and discussed in greater detail. With respect to the entries, it’s how I'll think about advising and talking to my agency about balancing data and ethical codes, and how we can help our clients to strike a better balance between commercial and the greater good as responsible citizens to the world.

Also this idea of gaming and enjoyment. Life is about enjoyment. With the rise of gaming platforms, we did see a lot of gaming entrants. How do you bring that level of enjoyment, not to the point of annoyance, but to the point of interest and excitement and something you can look forward to. For example, Match had a campaign called ‘Swipe Night’, which actually helped you to rethink how you evaluate people based on real-life situations.

Is there a way that brands should adapt their entries to help in a virtual judging scenario?

That was a huge discussion. We have some entrants where English is not the primary language, so it’s incumbent upon the submitter to make sure that they are completely and thoroughly answering the question. Sometimes you have to spend more time intuiting what is in the case video versus what's written, and sometimes things get lost in the written entry that you might have seen in the video submission. Getting jurors to work that hard is probably not to the benefit of the submission. My advice is to spend the time investing in a writer, especially if English is not your primary language, to make sure that you are thoroughly stating the issue, how you solve it from an executional standpoint, and making sure it fits the category.