Many wonderfully ambitious, lofty ideas arose along the Croisette last week. In a single day, Kanye asked us to make our ugly world more beautiful one design at a time. Marissa Mayer suggested that “art is advertising and advertising is art,” so advertising on Tumblr really can be a good thing. And Courtney Love, seeking redemption, declared that in our new, fast, DIY world “one great idea can beat the biggest Super Bowl ad.” Every voice shouted the festival’s theme — to believe in the power of creativity — even if some inspiring ideas were dulled by hyperbole and a touch of self-promotion.
It’s a lot to absorb over a few days, and even more to truly believe in when we return to another year of needles that are getting ever harder to move. So how do we keep the momentum going? Is there a powerful, new trend to take away as our North Star to guide us when the inspiration, bright lights and big names aren’t everywhere around?
There is, and strangely enough, it isn’t all that new. It’s hard work. For Kanye, it’s a ‘Steve Jobs’ kind of effort, in which we push beyond just a great idea or image to say something meaningful about more than just the product. For me, it’s simply equating hard work with the highest standards that force us to demand something more from ourselves and what we create and communicate.
Over the past decade, the greatest rewards at Cannes have passed from epic TV spots to deeply integrated campaigns built around messages with a moral—from concise statements to richer stories filled with provocative ideas that hope to lead the collective “us” in a new direction. In every category, the campaigns anointed from shortlist to Grand Prix are centered on universal insights. Elegantly obvious once expressed, they cut deep and stay with us.
The best of these ideas may start simply, but achieve greatness through their ability to grow, layer upon layer, over time. Once created, they aren’t put to rest or ever truly finished. They’re honed, pushed and enriched, not just by the agencies and brands from which they emanate, but also by those that consume them — until they emerge as connected stories that we all want to engage with and share.
This year, in the PR category alone, the big winners combined a handheld game with an animated film and music; brought the legacy of Ewing oil into the real world to offer discount gas at real pumps; and challenged America to look at “different” families, then created art out of the anger that arose. Days later, Forsman & Bodenfors’ “Epic Split” for Volvo Trucks and Adam&EveDDB’s “Sorry I Spent It On Myself” Christmas campaign for Harvey Nichols each took home the coveted film Grand Prix for their entries’ in-your-face boldness. Not surprisingly, both campaigns won more than one top honor, with Volvo also nabbing the Cyber Grand Prix and Harvey Nichols winning in Integrated, Press and Promo, and Activation.
So, while not simple, the takeaway is clear. Be bolder and push harder — past the buzzwords of storytelling and content; through the first idea, the second, and even the tenth; beyond what the client might effortlessly approve. After all, it’s easy to be jaded, but far more to the point of the promise of creativity to think we can do something important with the best of our messages. We need to truly believe that design might help the world get more beautiful, that marketing certainly should aspire to be art, and that our ideas, not the budget, dictate whether they have the power to grow huge.