Cannes Lions Live 2021

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This year the Lions became a completely virtual experience. Hours of insightful content has been created by inspiring speakers and all available to a much wider audience.  How did it go?

Our number one priority was to bring back the Lion awards and return the creative benchmark. They celebrate progress-driving, change-making, exceptional creativity and to be without them for two years, quite frankly felt too long. So at Cannes Lions Live we went big on the work, digging into it on a scale that we hadn’t done before. We built a unique judging platform which we successfully trialled at other Lions awards and believe came as close to the physical experience as possible; we streamed daily Awards Shows from Cannes, revealing the winners for the first time; we filmed a series of 28 Debriefs which analysed the winners with all of our Jury Presidents, broadcast from their home cities across the world; and we had a data studio that tracked the winning work live providing regular insight and analysis.
We really wanted to encapsulate the very global spirit of Cannes Lions and bring the industry together for a moment to pause and reflect but also look forward. We had an incredible response to this. Even though there was no physical event, the buzz on social and the reporting in the media was almost like we were together in Cannes.

We’ve seen a shift in the way brands engage with audiences, bringing purpose, values, and commitments to the core of the relationship. Is this something all brands must do now?

We’ve seen purpose coming out as a key theme for a while now but I think since the pandemic we’ve seen a shift in how brands are delivering on it. It’s no longer acceptable for a brand to attach themselves to just any social cause; consumers are demanding authenticity, it needs to be baked into the brand and aligned to strategy. What we’ve seen is that when brands get this right, it can generate profit as well as positive change in the world. This was particularly evident in the new Creative Business Transformation Lions where we saw brands recognising purpose as the basis for the future of their business, and saw examples of profit and purpose being achieved in tandem for long-term benefit.

The way people shop and interact with brands has changed during the pandemic too. Can you see this evolution continuing or will consumer habits return to in-person, tangible interactions as soon as they can?

We saw a 12% increase in entries into the Creative eCommerce Lions which was launched in 2018. This didn’t come as a surprise considering the growth in the number of consumers being at home but I believe that these new behaviours are here to stay in some way. Our juries talked a lot about ‘everywhere commerce’, ‘distributed commerce’ and ‘equitable commerce’; the latter is a term used for brands that behave according to their values, and use their power, scale, and resources to support more vulnerable businesses.

Gaming represents an enormous opportunity for brands to connect with consumers and especially younger gamers. Why should brands bet on it? 

Across the work we saw that digital continued to boom and that Gaming continued to dominate and expand as a new channel. We saw that many of the winners across the Media, Direct, Digital Craft and Social & Influencer Lions had innovation in gaming at the core of the idea. In particular the Direct Lions provide a really good example of how Gaming is becoming a more prominent influence for brands with many finding nuanced ways of interacting with and engaging communities – we only need to look at three times Grand Prix winning ‘Stevenage Challenge’ to see best in class evidence of this.

Co-creation was a big theme this year. What makes a great collaboration?

Something that came out of this year’s work was this idea of ecosystems of value – campaigns that created a connected ecosystem of value through multiple partnerships. It’s no longer about just the agency-client idea creation; in fact, many pieces of work saw the creation of a fully connected ecosystem of partners, working together to bring about transformation for businesses and brands.

We’ve also seen that the nature of creative partnerships are changing. We have data that shows in 2011 only 4% of shortlisted work had more than one company working together on it, whereas today that number is nearly 15% of shortlisted work, showing that more and more creative companies are working collaboratively to create the germ of the creative – obviously a lot more companies work on any kind of creative execution – but traditionally it was the creative company alone who came up with the idea.

There’s a definite shift towards creatively successful work being the result of collaborations.


Can you share one thing you have learned during the pandemic?

What I learned was two things. First, don’t ever assume what you have now is what you have tomorrow. And second, however long you think this pandemic is going on for, double it.


Which trends are here to stay?

Localism is about the consumer preference for businesses located closely geographically. These businesses are engaging the specific needs and behaviours of local communities and markets, and tapping into location-specific culture.
In the current climate, global brands are having to adopt a more localised approach, rethink their strategies, find community connections, embrace community pride and embed local-thinking.
Even as the world begins to slowly open up, I don’t think this notion is going anywhere – instead I think it’s a new direction.

What are your plans for next year, in a world, hopefully with fewer restrictions?

Obviously we plan to return the Festival and Awards to Cannes and come together physically as an industry – it will be a great moment! We will also have a significant digital element as well. When we ran LIONS Live in 2020, we opened it up to everybody for free and we saw more than 80,000 people from around the world join the community – it was fantastic to be able to bring a taste of Cannes Lions to so many people who had never had the chance to experience it before. We also launched LIONS Membership this year which is a year-round platform offering resources, support, training and meet-ups to enhance creativity.
So our plans going forward are really quite exciting because we now have all of these elements – physical, digital and year-round – which will allow us to bring the LIONS brand not only to an expanded audience but throughout the year as well.

Philip Thomas

Philip Thomas

Chairman, Cannes Lions

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