Retail Rules at Cannes

The Cannes Lions bills itself as the biggest creative communications festival in the world. Starting out as an advertising show 61 years ago, it now sprawls across numerous categories, awarding work in sectors as diverse as “Innovation” and “Promo & Activation.”

Two other festivals have used the same exotic locale over the years. The illustrious Cannes Film Festival has taken place annually in mid-late May since 1946. And from 1992 to 2001, immediately prior to the Cannes Lions, was a porn film industry show with its grand prize of the Hot D’Or! Attendees at the Lions joked that following two such events put our industry firmly in its place.

It was my first time at “Cannes,” as it is popularly known. I was equally thrilled by the intellectual stimulation, staggered at the wealth and the excess (a boat in the marina was aptly named “Indulgence”), and charmed by the atmosphere of the French Riviera. On balance though, I came away incredibly motivated by a conference program that included the likes of the global CMO’s of P&G and Unilever, as well as Bono and Jony Ive (head designer at Apple), and the vast array of award-winning ideas.

Cannes is also about connections. Twelve thousand passionate people turn up at the event, and from dawn to dusk you bump into contacts you haven’t seen in years, as well as meet interesting, new people who can add value to your business.

As you might expect, I actively looked at the festival through a retail and shopper marketing lens, and it was gratifying to see just how much work was either from retailers, or had a retail edge. The best was brilliant and I thought I would share five of my retail highlights:

  1. UK premium department store Harvey Nichols won the coveted “Grand Prix” for Film, Integrated, and also Promo & Activation for their Christmas 2013 campaign “Sorry I Spent it On Myself.” It was a very clever and different take on Christmas, which encouraged shoppers to spend big on themselves at Harvey Nix and skimp on the family and friends with “gifts” like rubber bands and paper clips.
  2. US quick service Mexican restaurant Chipotle scored big for its long ad/short film (depending on your point of view) called “The Scarecrow.” The piece preached the benefits of sustainable and organic produce versus “factory farming.” Wonderful work, if not a little creepy!
  3. Italian car brand Fiat won an “Innovation Lion” with “Live Store,” which is an interesting take on how to link digital and physical to “move metal.”
  4. French supermarket Intermarche triumphed in the Promo & Activation category for “Inglorious Fruits.” This was a neat idea that celebrated “ugly” produce.
  5. US sports retailer Dick’s Sporting Goods won Gold for Film Craft, with a great ad called “Focus & Explode.”

On top of all this, Steve Easterbrook, SVP and Global Chief Brand Officer of McDonald’s won the Creative Marketer of the Year (another retailer triumph). And there were some very good presentations, also with a retail twist. Like Hakuhodo in Japan, who as part of their pitch on stage talked about a “Books & Beer” concept that the agency had created themselves.

There was a retail flavor to some of the award-winning Y&R group work too. VML Kansas City claimed a prize for “Wendy’s Pretzel Bacon Cheeseburger Love Songs”. GPY&R Brisbane was recognized for moving more boxes of beer in Papua New Guinea by cleverly turning the carton into a “Mozzie Box”. And Red Fuse Communications Hong Kong / Y&R Yangon /Y&R Malaysia took home a mantelpiece of trophies (4 Lions) for their inspired shopper marketing work in “Education in a Box.”

Not so long ago, retail was relegated to also-ran status in the marketing communications business. No longer. In an age when the world’s largest company by turnover is a retailer (Walmart), so much of our economy is driven by retail, and every one of us can shop on-the-go 24-7, retail rules. This was reflected at Cannes, and for me it was a revelation and a source of inspiration.