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Volvo Lifepaint Cannes Lions Agency

Agencies as product creators: It's time to make things people want, not make people want things

By Matt Williams, Head of content

June 23, 2015 | 4 min read

Cannes is full of surprises. The fact that an actual press ad won the Press Grand Prix – and didn’t require a three-minute case study telling you why – being perhaps the biggest shock so far.

Matt Williams

But one thing that’s not been as surprising is the fact that actual products are catching the jurors' eyes, across almost every category.

Yesterday Google’s amazing Cardboard virtual reality headset walked off with the Mobile Grand Prix, whilst a Volvo ‘spray paint for cyclists’ product won the top prize in Promo & Activation.

It’s not been a surprise because this seems to be one of the key directions that the marketing communications industry is heading.

Agencies and brands recognise that our job is becoming more and more to make things people want, not make people want things (a concept first championed by Smithery and one I've long admired), and the creation of products goes a long way to embracing that.

Products and utilities are becoming just as key as communication campaigns to engage customers, and with the creative thinking that’s found at the heartbeat of every good agency, it’s natural that some of the best and most innovative product ideas are emerging from them.

The key for agencies, though, is to foster a culture and creative environment that welcomes product development. That allows people to test and learn, that is committed to execution and not speculation. Sounds easy, but we’ve all seen agencies – and clients – to whom a ‘product sprint’ is a year of pondering and struggling to commit to anything tangible.

I know when we at Partners Andrews Aldridge recently launched our own Product Business Unit, a big part of the battle was to ensure we had an environment that was able to embrace it.

That’s meant hiring a dedicated product manager, educating people internally as well as externally of the benefits, and not being fearful of failure. That last part is another of the clichéd themes being thrown around Cannes this week, but it doesn’t make it any less important. Witness, for example, Snapchat’s founder Evan Spiegel admitting yesterday that at most “1 or 2 per cent” of the products and ideas they work on ever see the light of day.

But when you do have the right setting, the right mindset and the right creative forces behind it, you can create something truly impressive. Something truly important. Something truly award-winning.

It’s not hard to see why the Cannes judges get excited over truly great products. They can be used for public good (see the Volvo Grand Prix winning campaign from last night, or the Nivea sun protection initiative from 2014), they can be used to further innovation (thank you Google Cardboard for that one), or they can be used to make a customer’s life easier, whether that’s helping them to pay their energy bills on time or switch banks more easily.

As more and more agencies bring product development into their thinking and structure, I can’t wait to see what happens next.

Matt Williams is head of content at Partners Andrews Aldridge

Volvo Lifepaint Cannes Lions Agency

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