10 must-attend sessions at Cannes Lions Festival

From art-house films to why boring advertising must die

The Cannes Lions Creativity Festival is just around the corner. To both enhance the excitement of Cannes and shed some light for those who might get lost in the busy schedule, I have compiled a list of standout sessions from this year’s program for MediaCat readers.

1. ‘Don’t work from the goal: expanding the creative potential’

Could an advertorial brief turn into an Oscar-nominated art-house film idea? You probably didn’t think so, did you? But if we look at the story of Perfect Days, it’s quite possible. The launch of The Tokyo Toilet project, where 16 prominent architects designed unique toilets at 17 locations in central Tokyo for the 2020 Tokyo Summer Olympics, was disrupted by the pandemic. The event, initially planned for 2020, took place without spectators in 2021.

Koji Yanai, the project’s lead and Chairman of Fast Retailing, one of the world’s largest textile producers, gave the Dentsu team a brief to create short films (advertorials) to promote The Tokyo Toilet. However, the Dentsu team saw the creative potential in the brief and brought the project to renowned director Wim Wenders. This led to the creation of Perfect Days, a film that captivates the cinephiles and honours its lead actor, Kōji Yakusho, with the ‘Best Actor’ award at the Cannes Film Festival.

To hear the story’s details directly from the project’s creators, Koji Yanai and Takuma Takasaki, I recommend being at the Debussy Theatre on Monday, 17 June, at 12.45pm.

2. ‘Entertain or die: day trading attention for the 21st century’

How do you create a $1.4-billion-brand in just 5 years by selling water in a can? According to the brand’s founder, Mike Cessario, the answer is simple: by acting like an entertainment brand rather than a bottled water brand. And by poking fun at traditional brands a bit…

Liquid Death, with its unconventional and provocative campaigns, has become one of the most admired brands in the advertising world in recent years. This is no surprise, as Cessario is one of us — an ex-advertising professional. In 2017, a test video he posted on Facebook quickly garnered over 3 million views.

The page amassed more followers in a few weeks than many established brands achieve in years. Following a strategy far removed from traditional marketing learnings, Liquid Death hit the market shelves in 2019 and soon became the fastest-growing non-alcoholic beverage brand in the US.

If you aim to grow your brand by leveraging the power of humour or use your advertising experience to create your own brand, this session will provide many valuable insights. To strengthen your ‘exit strategy’ in advertising, you might also want to attend Tim Leake’s workshop, ‘Why Create Campaigns When You Could Create a Company?’.

3. ‘A time to end our fear’

Nayla Tueni, a fourth-generation member of a journalist family, is the editor-in-chief of AnNahar, one of Lebanon’s most renowned newspapers. The Tueni Family and AnNahar hold a significant role in Lebanon’s political history. What makes AnNahar particularly noteworthy for us in the ad industry are the newspaper’s bold and groundbreaking works that won the Grand Prix in the Print & Publishing category in 2019, 2022, and 2023.

At Cannes, sometimes the session content doesn’t quite live up to the promise of its title. However, given Nayla Tueni’s story and AnNahar‘s track record, I can confidently say that this session will fully live up to its title.

4. ‘The scoop on Snoop: unpacking a viral hit’

AdAge listed Solo Stove‘s ‘Go Smokeless’ campaign featuring Snoop Dogg as one of ‘The 20 Best Ads of 2023’. Achieving virality with millions of views and engagements worldwide, it undoubtedly stands out as one of the year’s most controversial campaigns.

Despite everything appearing to be going well, what made this campaign so ‘controversial’ was the sudden decision to dismiss the CEO.

The reason given was that ‘while significant momentum was gained in brand awareness, sales did not increase as expected’, which divided the marketing and advertising community.

We’ve heard plenty of success stories at Cannes stage, which are undoubtedly acknowledged. This year is no exception, with many such cases. However, it’s rare to see discussions about failures on stage as much as successes. That’s why I highly recommend taking a look at this session — it’s important to discuss both success and failure.

5. ‘Don’t start an agency, start a brand.’

Six years ago, one of Cannes’ regulars, Anselmo Ramos, heralded a new era for advertising when he announced his agency GUT on Instagram. Ramos, undoubtedly one of today’s brightest creative figures, quickly propelled GUT to the top of the global rankings.

Described as an independent network agency (although Ramos says they aim to soon drop the ‘independent’ label), GUT added the title of ‘The World’s Most Effective Independent Agency,’ according to the Global Effie Index announced just a couple of days ago. I strongly recommend listening to GUT’s journey of success for those who (still) hold hope in advertising.

6. ‘The extraordinary cost of dull: why boring advertising must die’

In 2012, Adam Morgan, the founder of strategic consulting firm eatbigfish and author of the book of the same name, introduced 10 new ‘challenger brand’ narratives to the creative industry in a joint presentation with WPP’s PHD on the Cannes Lions stage.

This time, he is joined by Jon Evans from System1. The duo will interpret the importance of developing ‘fun’ or, in other words, ‘non-boring’ advertising campaigns using the most up-to-date statistics obtained from reputable data sources such as System1, IPA, and WARC, which have become the hottest topic of the year.

7. ‘Let’s talk about weight: conversations about creativity, community and obesity’

In the past two years, Novo Nordisk has made a significant contribution to Denmark’s GDP solely through its efforts in the fields of obesity and diabetes. The company has doubled the country’s growth expectations and has become the most valuable brand in Europe. Novo Nordisk’s success is not only inspiring for scientists and healthcare professionals, but also for advertising professionals and marketers. It’s worth taking a look at.

8. ‘What a feeling — the unreasonable impact of emotion’

While AI remains a dominant topic this year as well, the main agenda of discussions seems to revolve around the often overlooked ‘the humane, emotional aspect of advertising’ that was prevalent last year.

Chaka Sobhani, who made her mark on recent popular campaigns like McDonald’s ‘Raise Your Arches’ during her tenure at Leo Burnett London before joining the DDB network as Global CCO, will be discussing the unpredictable power of emotions with Richard Brim from Adam&EveDDB London, particularly known for his Christmas campaigns for John Lewis.

9. ‘Pricing creativity: curse, karma and cure to a strangely priced industry’

In gatherings that have brought together the creative industry in recent years, the topic often revolves around the discussion of ‘Creativity not being attributed with its former value. Therefore, advertising professionals are not able to earn the compensation they deserve’. It seems that the fair valuation of creativity is an important topic of discussion in different markets as well.

The session by Gautam Reghunath and PG Aditiya from Talented.Agency focuses entirely on this debate. Just to realise that advertising people have not been alone in grappling with the loss of value in creativity can make attending this session worthwhile.

If you’re interested in hearing about ‘How creativity should be evaluated’ from the perspective of marketers, you can also add McDonald’s ‘Convince Your C-Suite: The Real Impact of Creativity’ to your list.

10. ‘Mastering the art of data-driven immersive experiences’

This session brings together visual media artist Refik Anadol, who successfully represents Türkiye on the international stage, İlkay Gürpınar, one of Türkiye’s most successful creative figures and Rafet Fatih Özgür from Türkiye’s most valuable brand, Turkish Airlines.

The opportunities that artificial intelligence-based tools and methodologies specially designed for creators will offer to the industry will be discussed.

Featured image: Helena Jankovičová Kováčová / Pexels

Berkant Avcı

As a brand strategist Avci has developed both local and regional brand strategies for various brands from FMCG to retail. He is Yildiz Technical University Economics graduate and holds a master’s degree in Marketing Communication from Galatasaray University. He is currently working as the Executive Strategy Director in DDB Turkey whilst writing about generations and communication trends in MediaCat as a columnist.Avci was awarded with two Lions from Cannes Creativity Festival in 2015 for his work at the age of 26 and named as “The Strategist of the Year” in Turkey in 2017 and 2021. In 2018, he was on MediaCat’s “30 Under 30” list. Under his strategic leadership, his previous agency has also been named as one of the most creative agencies in Turkey in 2018. His recent works for brands like Samsung, Sunsilk, Rexona, Axe (Lynx), Cornetto, Lipton, Axa, TEB (BNP Paribas) and Shell has won over 10 Effies in Effie Turkey.

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