Creativity is still king, but content wasn’t far behind at Cannes Lions

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Content pulled a lot of focus at Cannes Lions 19 / Chris Sutcliffe

Branded content: these days it’s about much, much more than a 30-second TV spot or print advertorial.

In an increasingly distracted world, marketers are realizing that, when conceived and executed effectively, branded content is a new, versatile kind of weapon on the battlefield of consumer attention. A force to be reckoned with.

The sessions, activations and conversations circulating at this year’s Cannes Lions brought the trending medium to the fore. Here’s how it manifested on the ground.

Data-fueled creative ideas are where it’s at

Given Cannes’ focus on celebrating creativity and the creative discipline, it makes sense that creativity formed the basis of countless conversations. Topics such as what constitutes good creative, what it means to be a creative today, and how we can reinvent the wheel in an era of fragmentation and distraction were tackled from all different angles.

The key takeaway? When we combine the right questions – which only come from truly getting under the skin of a brand and understanding it from the inside out – with tech that allows us to pull the data (think tools like predictive analytics), we can produce on-point creative work. These insights allow us to tell the right stories, to the right audiences, in the right way, ensuring we’re able to both capture the attention of our audiences and leave them wanting more.

Who’s telling the story: the agency or the brand?

There was a lot of talk about the growing tension between agencies crafting stories for their clients, and brands wanting to control how their stories are created and told. We’re already seeing this, with the likes of Condé Nast and Sky, among others, choosing to build out in-house creative teams.

What’s interesting here is that in many cases these in-house teams do still look to external sources for specialized support, which has given rise to the smaller, more streamlined creative agencies that own their niche, whether that be AI, VR, branded content, experiential, or something else. There is, it seems, a new kind of David vs. Goliath dynamic emerging.

The content mavens out in full force

Both ad industry and mainstream media brands had a larger presence than ever this year, which highlights that content – and in many cases branded content – is still king. AdWeek Abroad in Cannes hosted editorial style panels, as did The Drum Arms with their jam packed 25+ sessions, some of which were sponsored by the likes of Reuters, Adobe and Havas.

Verizon Media, the umbrella company for media brands including Yahoo, HuffPost and TechCrunch partnered with the Ad Council on their Verizon Media Beach, which hosted a series of social responsibility focused sessions, and with its content and entertainment creator focus, Cannes’ new CLX offering acted as a timely reminder that well thought out, narrative-led content campaigns are essential to a brand’s success.

Brands embrace storytelling in unexpected ways

Overall brands were activating in cleaner, more streamlined ways than previous years. For the most part, they let the stories they had woven throughout their spaces do the talking. The Google Beach utilized the tech company’s brand colors and incorporated fun experiences which showcased the functionalities of their products at the same time – for example, attendees could capture their own Cannes-themed GIF portrait taken on the Pixel Swing.

Facebook Beach was almost free from branding altogether, and over at the La Malmaison art gallery Snapchat partnered with artist Alexis Israel to create five AR experiences or ‘snap-portraits’ that brought his famous self-portraits to life. Experiential was another prominent topic discussed throughout the festival, and panelists reminded us that brands don’t grow in the digital space, they grow in the real world, which is why it’s such an important piece of the modern-day marketing mix.

At this year’s Cannes it was clear that good creative remains the key to success in the world of marketing and advertising, but we must also remember we’re living in an era where integrated brand experiences are a must. We need to work in a more holistic way and produce creative across multiple platforms and touchpoints – whether that be a piece of branded social content, long form or a live brand experience, all in ways that are customized to consumers’ individual wants, needs, likes, dislikes and preferences. This is how we’ll capture their hearts and minds in the long-term.

So, what was the best quote from Cannes Lions 2019? “Chairs are still currency.”

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