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By Imogen Watson | Senior reporter

June 24, 2021 | 15 min read

After the 2020 edition was canceled due to the pandemic, Cannes Lions is back - virtually. With the festival and awards well underway, The Drum picks the best Cannes Lions Grand Prix winners so far, including The Big Issue, Unilever, Fortnite, Burger King, Bodyform, and Reddit.

With fewer luxury yachts, carafes of rosé, and consequential hangovers, Cannes Lions 2021 allows for a more sober focus on the creative award winners, born out of a year like no other.

When the pandemic took hold in 2020, it felt like creativity as we knew it was under attack. How could you create Grand Prix-worthy work when you’re locked down or with limited production?

Okay, perhaps there were one-too-many video call ads, but out of adversity came some of the most impactful work created in advertising. And so, while the festival will take place far away from La Croisette, perhaps the biggest difference to Cannes of latter years is the campaigns themselves.

With Cannes Lions 2021 underway, The Drum picks the best Cannes Lions Grand Prix winners so far.

Creative eCommerce Lions

As a community largely composed of people who are homeless or vulnerably housed, The Big Issue’s nationwide network of vendors was already an at-risk group prior to the pandemic.

However, the severe drop in footfall on British high streets since the start of lockdown resulted in further precarity. Before Christmas, vendors were worried about the loss of income due to lockdown after many had lost contact with regular customers.

In February, The Big Issue joined forces with professional networking site LinkedIn to pilot a scheme that aimed to support the magazine’s network of street vendors – many of whom have struggled since losing their income and contact with their community since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Big Issue: Raising Profiles by FCB Inferno

Brand Experience and Activation Lions

To use the famous Mastercard saying, being your true self is ‘Priceless’. For many in the LGBT+ community, the name on their credit, debit or prepaid card can cause painful daily reminders of a conflict between true name and the name on their card as it does not reflect their true identity.

And so Mastercard introduced a new product - the True Name card, which allows LGBT+ individuals, particularly those who are transgender or non-binary, to obtain a debit, credit, or prepaid card with their preferred name on it.

Mastercard: True Name

Audio and Radio Lions

30,000 people in the US live with cystic fibrosis. One treatment to help them deal with the buildup of heavy mucus within their lungs is a bulky vest that pounds the chest to loosen the buildup. As you can imagine, it’s not the most pleasant method, with kids admitting it’s the worst part of their day.

Partnering with Claire's Place Partners, Woojer created the world’s first music-powered airway clearance vest, that harnesses deep bass frequencies (40 Hz) proven to loosen mucus as effectively as traditional therapy.

Woojer: Sick Beats by Area 23 (FCB Health Network)

Innovation Lions

People with disabilities are the largest minority group in the world (15% of the total population). To make its products more accessible, earlier this year Unilever brought out a deodorant that is designed for people with disabilities. To do so it worked with a diverse team of experts who considered the specific needs of consumers with disabilities, building solutions into the ‘Degree’ product design.

Designed for one-handed usage, the bottle contains a hooked container, enhanced grip placements and magnetic ‘click’ closures, to make it easier for users with limited grip or sight to remove and replace the cap. It also has a larger roll-on applicator which means the product reaches a greater surface area per swipe. The label also includes instructions in braille.

On the win, Natalia Benincasa chief creative officer at Wunderman Thompson Argentina said: "I couldn't be prouder. We are working hard to contribute to a more inclusive, humane, and diverse industry. From my place, as a minority, I feel hope that things are changing for the better and creativity has the power to push those boundaries.''

Unilever: Degree Inclusive by Wunderman Thompson Argentina

Digital Craft Lions

Described as a 'genre-defining' event, last April Fortnite worked with popular rapper Travis Scott on an immersive, musical experience called 'Astronomical'. Setting up multiple tour dates with showtimes for players around the globe, the virtual performance set a new standard for digital production.

Overall, 12.3 million Fortnite players watched Scott live, with 27.7 million unique players participating across five events 45.8 million times. Not only that, but the event merch sold out in mere seconds.

As part of The Drum's gaming deep dive, it asked creative directors for their favorite video game ever. Cementing the strength of in-game advertising, Astronomical was a firm favorite. “Travis dropping into Fortnite to reach millions globally in one moment also showed the world what gaming can really be about,” remarked Nils Leonard, Uncommon co-founder.

Epic Games and Travis Scott: Astronomical

Entertainment Lions

Tinder notoriously mainstreamed the ‘swipe’. So, when Gen Z felt swiping had become a bore, it needed to adapt, devising a dynamic choose-your-own-adventure style experience called ‘Swipe Night’.

Full of twists, turns and a range of real-life moral dilemmas that matched users based on the way they played, the campaign proved to be a match made in heaven for daters and Tinder. It was so well received it was ranked 6th in this year’s World Creative Rankings.

Tinder: Swipe Night by 72andSunny

Entertainment Lions for Sport

When Asics felt the performance running shoe category was getting harder to keep up with, it needed to do something to stop its sales from declining.

As part of its launch of its ‘Glideride’ shoe into the crowded market it wanted to offer a different take that challenged brands that focus on the finish line in their advertising.

Upturning the concept of a traditional race, Eternal Run removed the finish line altogether, challenging participants to run against nobody but themselves. To do so it invited 23 athletes, influencers and journalists with varied running abilities to Bonneville Salt Flats in Utah. Each runner was assigned a pace, but no route and no pacemaker.

On the award win, Richard Edelman chief exec at Edelman said: “Winning an Edelman Grand Prix feels tremendously special. This is an endorsement of our approach, to harnessing trust and by inspiring brand action. We believe that trust drives growth for our clients. Trust can’t be paid for; it needs to be earned.”

Asics: Eternal Run by Edelman

Social and Influencer Lions

Reddit's first Super Bowl ad (and TV commercial) back in February hit headlines with a 'blink-and-you'll miss it' strategy. Clocking in at just five seconds long, 'Superb Owl' came in stark contrast to the big-budget, flashy commercials that typically define the big game's ad breaks.

"Big game spots are expensive, so we couldn't buy a full one," read the ad. "But we were inspired and decided to spend our entire marketing budget on 5 seconds of airtime." Riding on the attention driven by the GameStop debacle, Reddit wanted to highlight what can happen when passionate communities come together. It was created by its agency of record, R/GA, that produced it in only a matter of days.

And it proved a firm favorite among marketing experts who contributed to The Drum's post-match analysis.

Reddit: Superb Owl by R/GA

Direct Lions

“A classic type of advertising that our main competitors do is playing with sports celebrities,” Burger King's former CMO Fernando Machado told The Drum, naming Brazilian football superstar Neymar as a key example. “Neymar’s a big endorser for a lot of brands. Unfortunately, I can’t rely on opening my wallet and coming up with a truckload of money to hire Neymar, just to pretend that he likes my brand.”

So rather than hiring one of the world's most famous footballers, Burger King set about creating a campaign that would send its fans 'football crazy.' Cue, the 'Stevenage Challenge' - a stunt that saw Burger King sponsor a little-known football team in the lowest division of the English Football League. Moving things online, the brand encouraged people to turn the unassuming football team into the biggest club on Fifa 2020, by playing for Stevenage FC in the game or bringing their favorite players into it, and incentivizing people with free food for completing various challenges.

As part of The Drum's World Creative Rankings, executive creative directors at BK's agency David Miami reflected on why they’ve never seen awards as the goal but a consequence of doing great work.

Burger King: Stevenage Challenge by David Miami

PR Lions

In countries with large Muslim communities, cultural taboos about intimate parts of the body prevent women from going to the doctor or conducting self-examinations when it comes to checking their breasts for cancer.

To get around this problem, the Lebanese Breast Cancer Foundation (LBCF) created 'The Bread Exam' with McCann Paris. The idea began with a video of Chef Um Ali baking two mounds of dough, then kneading them to show how women should examine their breasts.

Then, coinciding with World Cancer Day, famous influencers from the UK, Turkey, and Germany created their own version of 'The Bread Exam' that saw them join forces with NGO's, the British Islamic Medical Association, the LBCF, and the American University of Beirut Medical Center, Deutche Krebshilfe in Germany.

Lebanese Breast Cancer Foundation: The Bread Exam by McCann Paris

Lions Health Grand Prix for Good

Using data from Imperial College London to give every address in the UK an accurate, annualized reading of the air pollution on their street, the Central Office of Public Interest created an initiative alongside AMV BBDO London to highlight the specific health costs for residents.

The website - addresspollution.org - asks visitors to enter their postcode, from which it presents them with an easy-to-read report. The page makes it then easier for them to demand estate agents and property websites to disclose air quality ratings to renters and buyers at the earliest opportunity.

Central Office for Public Interest: addresspollution.org by AMV BBDO London

Creative Strategy Lions

For the first time in more than a decade, last January Cheetos returned to the Super Bowl, bringing MC Hammer in tow.

A play on the rapper's iconic song 'Can't Touch This', the ad promoted Cheetos Popcorn by showing a man getting out of things he doesn't want to do because he's dirtied his hands eating the cheesy orange snack.

Cheetos: Can't Touch This by Goodby, Silverstein & Partners

Creative Data Lions

One in 12 children in the UK experiences some form of speech sound disorder. In the field of speech-language therapy, one of the most successful therapeutic strategies is the repetition of difficult syllables, words, and phrases.

With this in mind, Warner Music and Rothco created 'Saylists' – a collection of playlists aimed at augmenting the speech therapy experience for young people through the power of music and technology.

Centered around commonly challenging speech sounds, ‘CH’, ‘D’, ‘F’, ‘G’, ‘K, ‘L’, ‘R’, ‘S’, ‘Z’, ‘T’, Apple Music conducted data analysis of song lyrics across the 70 million tracks in its catalog to isolate songs with significant patterns of repetition. Finally, 173 songs were chosen by Warner Music and speech and language therapist Anna Biavati-Smith to create the initial 10 ‘Saylists’.

Warner Media: Saylists by Rothco

Health & Wellness Lions

Bodyform isn’t afraid to go where other brands won’t. With ‘Blood Normal’, it abandoned blue liquid in favor of the first real (and very overdue) depiction of menstrual blood in an ad campaign. In ‘Viva La Vulva’, it gave us a kaleidoscopic, unapologetic ode to the female anatomy and a takedown to the toxic myth of ’perfect’, with a colorful chorus of all-singing, all-dancing vulvas.

Last year, along with sister brand Libresse, it unveiled its most ambitious advertising push to date: ‘Womb Stories’, created by AMV BBDO.

Covering IVF treatment, endometriosis cramps, menopausal hot flushes, nipple hairs, and first periods, the campaign gives a voice to the unseen, unspoken, and unknown truths about the physical experiences of women everywhere. It confronts the damaging etiquette that women live with everyday and dictates what they should and shouldn’t feel about their bodies.

Bodyform/Libresse: Womb Stories by AMV BBDO

Outdoor Lions

As part of Heineken's global #SocialiseResponsibily campaign, the beer brand reimagined out-of-home advertising to help more than 5,000 bars around the world survive and re-open following the pandemic.

Devised as a natural progression to its' Back the Bars' campaign, 'Shutters' saw Heineken redirect some of its investment in OOH advertising (10% global media budget) to support on-trade partners affected by Covid closures.

Shutters raised awareness of the challenges faced by on-trade outlets, redistributing €7.5m to the bars involved. The initiative also demonstrated the impact that innovative ways of working with sales can have. Shutters gained 40% more media value than traditional OOH routes. Plus, it prompted other Heineken brands and even competitors to join in the effort to support on-trade outlets. And it certainly worked as 100% of the bars involved in the initiative have now re-opened.

Heineken: Shutter ads by Publicis Milan

Print & Publishing Lions

Celebrates the strength and determination of front-line workers, visibly marked by the protective gear they wore while committed to carrying out their essential work during the coronavirus pandemic, Dove's 'Courage is Beautiful' launched in April 2020.

Devised and delivered within six days by Ogilvy in the UK and Canada, Daniel Fisher, global executive creative director at Ogilvy, says of the win: “It’s an amazing honor to get a Cannes Grand Prix, but this one is, even more, special because it’s a testament to the wonderful teamwork that took place between two Ogilvy offices and our Dove clients during those dark and scary first few days of lockdown.

“We never set out to win awards with this work – in fact, we didn’t even set out to make an ad campaign. We just asked the question, ‘what can we do to help?’ and it grew from there.”

Dove: Courage is Beautiful by Ogilvy London and Ogilvy Toronto

Design Lions

Billed as the world's first in-store recycling system, last year, H&M introduced 'Looop'. The machine works by dissembling and unraveling garments, with Looop knitting new clothes from old ones.

Opened in its flagship store in Stockholm, shoppers can select one of eight ready-to-wear designs, configured through the app. Once picked, they can then sit back and watch as Looop recycles their old garment into a new one.

H&M Looop by AKQA Stockholm

The Cannes Lions Grand Prix round-up will be updated as the festival continues.

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