We recently took it upon ourselves to watch the Top 100 ads that featured in this year’s Cannes ‘Festival of Creativity’.
The very need for this particular ‘festival’ is questionable, but for as long as it exists it acts as a useful barometer (of sorts) for all of us who care about creativity in business.
As ever, the Top 100 contains some gems, a lot of mediocrity and some outright rubbish. It never ceases to amaze us, for example, how many self-appointed ‘creatives’ will allow the latest ephemeral bit of tech to be the tail that wags the dog. Or just how nonsensical, overcomplicated and, frankly, self-indulgent some of this stuff can be – often without any real relevance to the product, or assonance with the brand.
Whilst there is some brilliant use of technology in some of these pieces, there is also some scandalously patronising usage of it too – for example the 3D printing of limbs for Sudanese amputees, toys for blind kids in Japan etc. It all sounds worthy, but it comes across as ‘maybe-we’ll-get-an-award-for-this’ type stuff. And it doesn’t stop there – cancer sufferers and ghetto-dwellers also get more than their fair share of agency ‘magic’.
But on to the better stuff. Below we’ve set out what we consider to be the more noteworthy ads, and if you scroll right down at the bottom we’ve set out some general themes that we might extract.
Love this latter-day Victor Kiam-style, money-where-your-mouth is affair – using employees to tell us about the amazing features of the product. Great sense of fun.
These guys have mastered the art of inverting the notion of what it means to be ‘cool’ and it really works. They now ‘own’ that idea, in our opinion.
We genuinely don’t know whether the strategy is right here, because we just don’t know the company and what it is trying to achieve. But wow, both the idea and the execution are beautiful.
This is hugely powerful, interruptive and slightly uncomfortable. It stays with you, which is surely the intention.
One of the real stars of this Top 100 for us. Chipotle is a brand that really knows who it is, what it stands for, and why it is in business. Their ad ‘Scarecrow’ focuses on both product and the business’ authentic values. They have tapped into both an underdeveloped market and also the zeitgeist of the American psyche. This work is an essay in the now-cliched idea of ‘purposeful marketing’ and it integrates seamlessly across multiple channels. The app/game is particularly impressive.
This is terrifying but one can’t help but admire the incredibly effective use to which the police put technology in developing ‘Sweetie’ – a fictional, 10 year old Filipina.
This is a very clever piece of guerrilla advertising, that took a limited budget; and really, really sweated it.
We all know that Bob long since sold out, but at least this time its for himself and not a car. And this ad is a really interesting response to the question of how to cut through in an increasingly noisy world.
This ad is intensely political and so inevitably divisive, but politics aside there is no denying that it works. (And, dare we say it, it rather reminds us of a Huffington Post on a similar topic).
Compared to Honda’s bizarre Senna schmalz-fest that also features in the Top 100, this is a cracker. And that’s because it fits with both Honda’s products (cars, obviously) and their values (where family genuinely matters – just ask any Honda employee about ‘Mr. Honda’).
We didn’t particularly like the execution here, but others no doubt will (including, perhaps, the intended audience – which manifestly ain’t us, or probably anyone reading this). But there is no doubting that the idea works – taking a brand to young men by having their mothers lament the loss of boyhood that occurs when they use this product.
A much parodied ad, and of course we all now know that these folk were actors etc. But it is an extraordinarily impressive piece of artistry, reducing sophisticated adults to nervous, arm-swinging five year olds. But does anyone remember what the ad was for?
We love this. The ad tells you – effortlessly – who they are and what they do, and how they are different. It draws you in: what’s not to like about a singing POTUS?
We want to be this guy. Who doesn’t? This is big-budget, warm-hearted, generous Americana; and we love it.
Ethically, for us this whole campaign is a little questionable, but every iteration of the campaign has been so beautifully made it’s impossible not to love. And we’re suckers for a good William Ernest Henley quote.
This little tale of a Dad fixing his deaf teenage daughter a lamp doorbell (so that she can see when her boyfriend is at the door) works really well. It’s about celebrating the perfection in what might otherwise be considered ‘imperfection’. Wabi-Sabi for the West?
We were sent this ages ago, and we forwarded it on to tons of people. That in itself tells its own story. But is it really an ad, or just great comedy? The Leadercast ‘sponsorship’ feels like a clumsy addendum. Great ‘content’ is all well and good, but it’s got to work for your brand.
What a lovely poke in the eye to Jonny Ives et al, reminding us that great design is great design. Even if it’s ‘just’ a chocolate bar…..
Buying new cars should be one of life’s exquisite pleasures. But so often (in our experience) it isn’t. You have to schlep to showrooms where someone who has just left their job as an estate agent treats you like an idiot. But not any longer! Fiat have come up with something that sits perfectly in the intersection of the Venn diagram between ‘Sales’ and ‘Marketing’. More power to ‘em.
There’s plenty more ‘good’ ads, but these were the ones that just edged it for us.
So what unites them?
Well, firstly, lots of them focus on product; not the less tangible concept of ‘brand’. Brand is what builds up – in the mind of the consumer – after multiple exposures to a product that works for them.
Second, the great ads deal with universal human truths. But they recognise that, in the words of the great Bob Hoffman, emotion is not an input but a response. You can’t force that in your audiences.
Third, TV still really, really works. There was nowhere near as much standout work from other channels. DHL being the possible exception.
Fourth, authenticity. Don’t try and be something you’re not. The world, to paraphrase Mr. Ogilvy, is not an idiot. It is you. People know when you’re bullshitting them.
Those ads that flow effortlessly from the raison d’être of the business just ‘work’.
Simple as that.