Karine Courtemanche, CEO of PHD Canada and a finalist juror for the Media Lions at the 2019 Cannes Lions, draws on her observations from the world’s top festivals to give a view of what we can (and should) expect over the coming 12 months.

Another exciting year of media awards has come to an end. 2019 not only celebrated innovation and creativity, but also confirmed long-term trends, such as brand purpose and the lost art of media craft.

As media specialists, being aware of these trends is critical: it helps us better understand consumers, better serve our clients, and keep our edge over our competitors. It also provides clues regarding what elements our videos submissions should highlight and helps us adjust our narrative to avoid highlighting elements that have become passé.

1. All against intrusiveness

Long gone are the days where brands tried to disrupt and intrude. Cases that performed well in 2019 showed respect for consumers’ lifestyles and tapped into the cultural fabric of a market.

The search for the optimal insight should lead media planners to a deep understanding of consumers’ behaviors and culture. Planners’ media recommendations should enhance the consumer journey, as opposed to disturb it.

This past year’s Cannes Media Grand Prize-winner ‘Air Max Graffiti Store’ is a brilliant demonstration of a brand tapping into something that was already part of São Paulo’s culture. It also scored extra points with judges around the world because it was sustainable: the Nike graffities are now part of a permanent legacy to the city.

2. The revenge of the small guys

It often seems too easy to spend a lot of money on big sports personalities or influencers in order to ensure a message is heard. However, a jury wants to be convinced that the cleverness of the media recommendation made the difference, not the amount of money that was invested. Judges love Cinderella tales; the underdog brand that outsmarts its much bigger competitors. If you’re up against large competitors, do make sure your narrative brings forth your size relative to theirs, and how much more creative you were in your media approach.

3. Empathy wins over purpose

This one is certainly not a new trend. However, in 2019, winning cases were less about supporting a cause (the way Dove did it a few years ago), and more about how technology was leveraged to demonstrate empathy towards the target audience. How can a media campaign (and especially the technology and data that support it) connect with an audience by conveying genuine empathy and, ultimately, change consumer perceptions?

4. Blurring the line between the offline and online worlds

Cases that integrated digital and physical activation performed extremely well in 2019. If these cases also included an e-commerce component, even better. The ‘Missguided Styles Love Island’ campaign, which won in the Best Multi-Screen Campaign and Collaboration categories at Festival of Media Global, is a good example of it. If your media plan seamlessly crosses the offline-online divide, having one build upon the other, you will stand out and be noticed.

5. The tech stigma

Highly technical cases struggled to break out of their categories. Pressed for time throughout the judging process, judges are looking for simplicity. Data and tech cases are often brilliant, yet too complicated.

Lack of technical knowledge on the jury’s behalf could certainly be blamed. However, the reality is that a judge is generally exposed to hundreds of cases in a very short timeframe. After hours of video views, entertaining cases cut through the clutter more than the deeply technical ones. If what made your media campaign a success is a highly technical element, keep it simple and spare no effort in making your case entertaining: music, voiceover, and narrative make a huge difference.

6. A strong sense of community

In a world where social media can isolate consumers more than bring them together, a strong sense of belonging featured in a number of 2019 media award winners. Winning cases often created a strong community or appealed to an existing one, uniting consumers around a brand or a purpose. For example, take a look at Rainbowblood (McCann Lima) – the winner of the Inclusion Award at Festival of Media Global.

7. It’s a global village… or not

Few global campaigns made it far throughout media competitions last year. Juries were often looking for campaign performance that was bolstered by strong insights stemming from local markets. Winning entries often highlighted cultural insights that judges weren’t aware of or fully familiar with. The ability to build on these insights with a highly relevant media strategy was a defining attribute in winning campaigns, such as An-Nahar’s ‘The Blank Edition’ campaign, which built upon the reality of the political crisis in Lebanon.

8. Sharing economy

In 2019, many big brands helped smaller and independent complementary brands by offering them their media space. Collaboration, rather than competition. These B2B brands did not just talk about themselves; they helped others. As a result, not only did the smaller brands enjoy media reach otherwise impossible to achieve, the larger brands earned consumer appreciation and affection in the process.

9. Gender equality

Gender equality is more than a trend. It’s a fundamental shift in how our society – and the most progressive brands – behave. Many successful entries connected with the 50% of humankind of whom they had not been focusing on: women. The ability to genuinely connect and acknowledge issues affecting women (and the rest of the world) through insightful media strategies was a significant success factor in the world’s most successful campaigns. If you need some inspiration, take a look at The Tampon Book.

10. Trust, ethics and transparency

While our goal is to push the boundaries of what is feasible, there are growing concerns among award juries to recognise campaigns that threaten to break consumer trust. The bond that unites brands and consumers is fragile. As marketers, we should protect and nurture that bond at all costs. A good example is the Hellman’s ‘Feed a stadium with food waste’ initiative, a bold effort that treads the thin line of trust with consumers.

There were animated discussions around this case between members of a media awards jury: did the initiative deceive consumers and compromise their trust by serving them wasted food without them knowing?

Of course, trends are, by nature, ephemeral. If trends above were noticed by juries around the world in 2019, some of the popular topics of 2017-2018 seem to have already ceased to impress them. For example, if you want to put forth great weather-triggered campaigns or campaigns that play to the notion of “spoilers” in awards competitions, you might already be a year or two behind the parade.

But what is not an ephemeral success factor is our ability, as insightful media strategists, to find innovative ways to connect and engage with consumers, by understanding the world they live in and what makes them tick – good or bad. This is what brings true value to our clients. And, ultimately, this is what brings us on stage when our campaigns get the industry recognition they fully deserve.