Could These Be the Themes That Emerge at Next Year’s Cannes Lions?

It’s never too early to look into the crystal ball

What will emerge as 2019's Cannes Lions themes? Cannes Lions
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The themes that emerged from this year’s Cannes Lions festival were wide-ranging. Publicis’ (sort of) departure from the 2018 event made the rounds, in addition to Martin Sorrell’s reemergence. Consultancies versus holding companies was another hot topic that shows the tension that continues to build.

As for the work, there was a swing back to the craft conversation, though the role of technology and creativity was not too far afield—with some very pronounced discussion around the role that brands play in society, with winning work smashing stigmas and reflecting that theme. Additionally, there was also a welcome chorus around racism and sexism with movements like #TimesUp, #RePicture, See It Be It, #WomenCannes and others making waves in and outside the Palais.

All said, though, the vibe this year felt a little more subdued than in years past.

“This year, Cannes felt more intimate,” said Alex Sturtevant, global director of brand at Stink Studios. “With more catch-ups and lunches off the Croisette, there were smaller groups with less pressure to be everywhere and see everything.”

Though it’s about a year away, it’s interesting to hear what those in the industry believe will emerge next year in the South of France, based on what happened this year. Below are some of the themes that leaders think will be the talk of the Croisette.

Geoff Edwards, VP, Executive Creative Director, R/GA Los Angeles
“Cannes Lions have historically followed a trend that is often set by winners and events from the previous year. If this theory holds, the 66th Cannes Lions will see brands continue to play a prominent role. I’ll go on a limb and say that one year very soon brands will sweep all categories in Cannes. After all, Spotify was honored at the annual Festival as the Media Brand of the Year, and Google scored Cannes Lions Creative Marketer of the Year. So, it’s not far-fetched to believe that other brands like Facebook, Twitter, Netflix or Amazon could complete the royal flush.”

Claudia Sestini, Global Marketing and Communications Officer, Gain Theory
“Marc Mathieu, CMO of Samsung, said: ‘I really believe that our job is not just to market to sell, but also market to serve.’ With that, a prevalent theme in CMO circles at Cannes was customer experience concerning business growth. In 2019, I predict Cannes will hear an evolved conversation around how data, machine learning and AI can be leveraged to make smarter marketing decisions that have a positive impact on business growth.”

Shannon Jones, Co-Founder, Verb
“I believe next year the conversation will largely be focused on ‘What progress has been made?’ It will examine how far we may (or may not) have come since the previous year.”

Ty Shay, CMO, Symantec, Consumer Business
Next year will be about accountability for the advertising industry. We will see leaders and organizations judged on how they’ve responded to the call for diversity and inclusion. Brands will continue rethinking their use of data and its importance to their relationship with customers. In turn, data’s role in marketing and storytelling will ignite new structures and the ways marketers unite analytics and creative. CMO’s and agencies will be judged on how they’re blending storytelling with data to prove they’re driving both top line and bottom line results.

Daniel Bonner, Global Chief Creative Officer, Wunderman
“I would confess that it’s becoming increasingly difficult to predict. For instance, there were some surprisingly ordinary Grand Prix winners and Golds in 2018—a signal that various juries’ versions of class-leading excellence still differs dramatically. It’s also difficult to draw meaningful trends from one year to the next, but one small sense I had was that perhaps juries are becoming a little more skeptical or less empathetic to the charitable and NGO projects over those more prominent industry-leading clients who moved the needle and challenged convention.”

Ben Gaddis, President, T3
“If the consultancy story has died down (which isn’t a given), we’re likely to see an even more significant emphasis on artificial intelligence and its various applications. AI and VR are becoming more mainstream, and as a result, the festival will move from just Alibaba’s kiosk to AI applications as multiple showcases. VR will likely do the same. There were a handful of VR tracks and case studies, and there should be and will be more as the medium becomes more accessible and less risky for brands.”

Michele Sileo, Partner, Chief Growth Officer, Eleven Inc.
“There were a number of conversations talking about the role brands must play in our world today. The brands that win will be those that don’t force this from happening but that lead relatable conversations for their audience and have meaning to its ethos and roots. I hope we don’t see too many forced conversations of brands looking to cash in on this opportunity, as that will dilute the work of the brands doing this right. In the end, it is all about brands working with their customer base to make the world a better place.”

Alina Diaz, Global Head, Cassandra
“Next year we should see more brands and campaigns standing for something bigger than selling a product or service by creating communities and starting social movements as their number one mission, following consumers’ expectations. Organizations will become more transparent in their operations and will have a more open-source mindset in their marketing and communications.”

Stuart Bowden, Global Chief Strategy Officer, Wavemaker
“In the Palais, two significant events went under-remarked. With over 500 entries in the Creative Data category, the debate over the ability of those two skills to co-exist is officially over—and with Accenture carrying off the category Grand Prix, the debate over who will lead in this area in the future can formally begin.”

Martha Hiefield, CEO, Americas, Possible
“Diversity has to expand to full inclusivity – not just gender. And not just talk about it…there needs to be real action and change. What can the festival do today to make the entire event and experience more accessible for those with disabilities? What steps can be taken to create a more inclusive environment within brands and agencies? And how can we celebrate those that have accomplished this?”

Alex Sturtevant, Global Director of Brand, Stink Studios
“There were a lot of necessary discussions about our industry happening at Cannes this year, especially regarding respect and diversity in the workplace. I would love to see this continue next year—change is only going to take root if we hold ourselves accountable for taking steps to make it happen.”

David Matathia, Chief Strategy & Marketing Officer, Fitzco
“It’s all about which is going to win the battle between analytics and gut. Computing power and speed are only going to increase, making machine-driven decisions, optimizations and data even more readily available. Accordingly, efficiencies will likely improve, too. But none of that can replace the necessity for risk-taking and understanding when something feels right, though the numbers may not be there to justify it. Some of the best work showcased this year highlighted the need for feel over data. I believe the ongoing struggle for balancing the two will be a dominant theme next year.”

Sarah Stringer, EVP, Head of Innovation, Carat USA
“I think we’ll see the application of data being used to create immersive campaigns and a step change in what personalization at scale looks like, especially in a post-GDPR world. I suspect we’re going to see a resurgence of incredibly smart contextual campaigns, and for those with approved data sets, I hope we’ll see some really creative ways to create meaning to audiences. I think this will be the year we don’t talk about accessing data, but how we talk about using it in really interesting and responsible ways.”

Dave Snyder, SVP, Executive Creative Director, Firstborn
“I hope that Google rents out an island again and puts me on a high-speed skiff and takes me there again. Seriously, though, the beef with consultancies will continue. How do we as creatives win against the suits when the final product—the thing that the user ultimately engages with—is commoditized? We are locked in an endless race to the bottom about the price of production. It’s sad, really. How did generic business strategies and PowerPoints on back-office efficiency win over what the consumer ultimately touches? No wonder everything looks the same.”

Anne Bologna, Chief Engagement Officer, iCrossing
“The big stories that will be at the Cannes Lions next year will most likely be the continued shift towards advanced tech, such as AI. There may be a shift towards smaller, more intimate events as they have proved to be more successful this year than the bigger events. While everyone knows these innovations will be transforming marketing, more can be done to connect these innovations to marketing programs and campaigns, which should be a part of the discussion.”

From winners to hot topics, see all of Adweek’s Cannes Lions coverage.

@zanger Doug Zanger is a senior editor, agencies at Adweek, focusing on creativity and agencies.