Why creativity is needed more than ever (Simon Cook, Cannes Lions)

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Simon Cook, Managing Director of Cannes Lions, on the pivot towards long-term, sustainable action from both consumers and forward-thinking brands.

Cannes Lions was transformed into Lions Live this year. What was the result?

Lions Live was born out of our desire to support our global community in challenging and unprecedented times. We wanted to avoid the formulaic ‘digital events’ set-up and engage the industry in an original way. There was a real appetite for a platform where the world’s creative community could share, problem-solve and take time just to reset. A lot of the content was driven by global issues – such as Covid-19 and Black Lives Matter – as well as the challenges specific to the creative marketing community. As a result, the learnings and takeaways were relevant, thought-provoking and timely.

‘Action’, for example, was a strong theme – the idea of brands moving from short-term acts to longterm, sustainable action. This is something that consumers demand, and there’s an expectation that brands need to step-up and take responsibility.

Elsewhere, talent, equality, diversity and inclusion were widely discussed. One of the overriding messages here was that the industry needs to do an internal job first – to look at itself as an organisation in order to understand how it operates and what it needs to change at its core in order to move forward.

How well have advertisers and agencies overcome constraints to produce new content, boost creativity and keep in contact with their consumers?

So often, we see that creativity actually flourishes in times of constraint. It pushes us to aim higher, to reset and reinvent. Back in March, we launched our platform, ‘Creativity Moves Us Forward’, as well as our podcast, ‘Progress Through Creativity’, and through these we’ve heard stories of genuinely innovative thinking emerging in pockets around the world. We saw mass pivots; the reinvention of business models and other creative problem solving that allowed businesses to thrive, stay afloat and create positive change. Sharing these stories from our community provided small shoots of hope as well as learning. A good example here is a small Finnish distillery which started producing hand sanitiser instead of gin after we featured a similar story about the actions of the beer giant, AB In-Bev.

What key creative trends have you seen?

Because of the constraints and limitations we’ve witnessed over the last few months, I don’t think the traditional landscape of creative trends has been present in the same way as it normally is.

Usually, when we arrive in Cannes we see very obvious trends across the breadth of the work but when our juries come together for the Lions in 2021, what we’ll see is work that has been focused on tackling wider global issues. We’re all very excited to see what two years’ worth of creative work at the Festival will look like. It will offer a very rich and wide-ranging breadth that will chart this moment in time. During Lions Live I caught up with our Film jury president, adam&eveDDB’s Richard Brim, and we discussed how recent events and constraints could actually level the playing field.

Messages promoting unity, solidarity, safety and respect were seen everywhere across the world and across sectors. What do you think is the role of brands regarding social and environmental issues?

At a time when governments are floundering and being criticised for failing to show decisive leadership, people are looking for forces for good, consistency and stability. They look to those brands which are using creativity as a tool to take a position and stand for something solid that stands out and cuts through among double-speak and uncertainty.

Earlier this year, we produced a report called ‘Let’s Get Back to Brand’ and, in this, Bruno Bertelli, global chief creative officer of Publicis, said: “People believe in brands. Where politicians and governments fail, brands provide products that people love and rely on. But with this comes a responsibility to be transparent and act responsibly, and act consistently.” Bruno made this statement before the global pandemic hit but I don’t think it’s ever had more relevance.

We’ve seen new forms of creativity, new ways of working, consumer behavioural change. What impact do you think this will have on the advertising world?

Short-term, I think we’ve already seen the impact. The industry has been faced with rapid acceleration and as a result it, too, has had to accelerate and adopt new ways of working. The need for agility along with the ability to pivot and problem-solve have been key in navigating the past few months. Long-term, we know that there’s a call for the industry to display authenticity, more action, inclusivity, diversity and equality, and there’s a real feeling from the industry that collectively it wants to move the needle and that it’s time for genuine, systemic change.

At Lions Live, The CMO Growth Council announced a series of priority actions for the industry: fostering more equitable and sustainable societies; driving more human brand experience; harnessing the true human promise of data and technology; and unlocking the human potential of talent. During the session, P&G’s Marc Pritchard summed it up well by saying: “When we are both a force for good and a force for growth, what we create is a virtuous cycle – good leads to more economic power; economic power leads to more growth which allows us to invest back into more good.” The impact of the past few months is widespread and ongoing but from Lions Live we got a real sense of optimism and hope as well. Let’s not forget that creativity has the power to drive progress and change, and creatives are innately good change-makers and storytellers. That’s a powerful combination.

LET’S NOT FORGET THAT
CREATIVITY HAS THE
POWER TO DRIVE
PROGRESS AND CHANGE,
AND CREATIVES ARE
INNATELY GOOD
CHANGE-MAKERS

What is the new role of Cannes Lions?

Cannes Lions has always marked an important point in the creative calendar: The chance to celebrate creativity in all its guises; the opportunity to learn and expand your thinking; and a moment to network with a diverse pool of talent. We know that the industry needs this support and opportunity more than once a year and so we’re accelerating our plans to be there for every step of the creative journey, year-round, and to help drive progress through creativity.

Simon Cook

Simon Cook

Managing Director, Cannes Lions

Simon Cook has been Managing Director of Cannes Lions since 2019. Simon has worked in the branded communications industry and Cannes Lions for over a decade. He worked agency-side before joining the business. Simon’s work has been critical to the success of Cannes Lions. He was the architect behind ‘The Tracks’ - the organising framework that helps the creative community navigate the awards and learning experiences across the Cannes Lions platform.
During his tenure with Lions he has also overseen the creation and introduction of more than half of the Lions awards. Simon is deeply passionate about the work and is a tireless advocate for creative marketing excellence that drives business performance - something he has recently been championing across the Cannes Lions suite of experience-based learning and advisory programmes.
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