AI, VR, diversity, partnerships: The themes of 2016

As the limits of what's possible expand at unprecedented speeds (thanks, technology!), the bar for creativity is set higher and higher.

The annual Cannes festival is a celebration of creativity’s power to connect and engage in every aspect of our culture. At one time an agency- and holding company-only affair, the Cannes Lions is now increasingly patronized and won by brands themselves. Celebrities flock to talk about their personal brands side-by-side with marketing veterans representing the biggest brands in the world, while the event’s panels serve as both a platform for new ideas, as well as a barometer for the state of an evolving industry. Through the rosé-soaked revelry of the Festival, it’s possible to catch a glimpse at what the future is going to look like for industry creatives.

This year, two overarching conversations seemed to emerge. While not new, they’re conversations that are clearly evolving: Technology’s disruptive, destructive, and invigorating effect on advertising of all forms, and the growing need for all who hope to engage audiences to heed the call for a more diverse, purpose-driven, and sustainable way of doing business.

The creative discussions and new debuts at Cannes have yielded a few key lessons for brands, influencers, and advertisers:

Brands need to partner with tech to build better experiences

Technology has the power to create better, more connected experiences for its audiences. Brands across categories are partnering with tech in creative ways to build new engaging experiences.

Shazam debuted its premiere partnership with McDonald’s, Coca-Cola, and James Corden’s insanely popular “Carpool Karaoke” segment. The #SipShareWin campaign uses Shazam’s visual recognition technology to let McDonald’s customers snap a picture of a microphone on their co-branded cups to unlock song lyrics, record karaoke videos, and upload them to Instagram for a chance to win tickets to The Late Show.

Facebook is taking huge strides to draw insights from their stores of data to help marketers on and off their site. Mondelez, AB Inbev, and other brands are trialing the new Audience Insights API, which is designed to help advertisers create better campaigns through the combined analysis of psychographics, topic data, and reports from Facebook IQ.

Facebook has also debuted a new way to create and test mobile and desktop ads within the site itself, through a suite called Facebook Creative Hub. Naturally, it’s in Facebook’s interest to have advertisers spending to share as many messages as possible across their ecosystem, but the efforts they’re going through to make this painless are unprecedented.

In a more highbrow example, the Art Institute of Chicago has partnered with Airbnb to bring one of its paintings to life. You can now sleep in a painstaking recreation of Van Gogh’s room, as painted by the artist himself. While it’s a good publicity piece for both parties, it’s especially clever in the way it prompts Airbnb customers and hosts to think about their spaces as more than a cheap rental, but as a meticulous, artistic experience they can have or provide.

Diversity and inclusion are no longer an option

Despite progress over the last several decades, there are cultural biases and prejudices that are still ingrained in our culture—and the cultures of many large brands and ad agencies. Creatives and customers are fighting to bring these biases to the forefront so that they can be eradicated. Leaders are fighting for gender parity in the ad and tech worlds—still very much male-dominated sectors, especially higher up in the ranks. And brand leaders in advertising are actively fighting to reverse biases embedded in media.

Wendy Clark, President and CEO of DDB North America, gave a rousing call to action for diversity in the workplace. “I want us to broaden our aperture,” she said of her goal for DDB. “There’s a very broad marketplace we can recruit from and all this great talent we are not bringing in-house. We must create a culture where people feel they can bring their whole selves to work every day and do the best work of their lives.”

Another cry from the heart for equality in advertising at Cannes came from Madonna Badger, Chief Creative Officer and founder of Badger & Winters, whose latest spot for the agency’s #WomenNotObjects campaign exposes and addresses sexual objectification in advertising.

A joint study by Badger’s agency and The Girls’ Lounge found some shocking statistics that should get agencies and brands alike to give a second thought when looking to create racy campaigns: 91% of consumers are unlikely to have further interaction with brands that feature provocative imagery.

Dove, growing its cache after their award-winning Real Beauty campaign, released the Dove Global Beauty and Confidence Report. Findings from the report include:

  • 71% of women and 67% of girls are calling for the media to do a better job portraying women of diverse physical appearance, age, race, shape, and size.
  • Nearly all women (85%) and girls (79%) say they opt out of important life activities when they don’t feel good about the way they look.
  • Nearly 8 in 10 (78%) of both women and girls feel some pressure to never make mistakes or show weakness.

Some advertisers may be pushing for more diversity and gender equality because of external pressure, but the stakes aren’t just bad PR. The messages advertisers send out into the world have a real effect on people, and it’s their responsibility to shape opinions and mindsets in a conscious, positive way.

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AI and VR will elevate reality and experiences

We’re all still fumbling with VR and AI—sure, we want to “be on top” of these breakthrough technologies, but we’re still unsure how to use them to our advantage. What we need to realize is that it’s not just tech for tech’s sake, but that technology has the power to elevate our reality and push the limits of our own humanity, opening new opportunities for our imagination. Technology turns thought into reality, and establishes creativity as the basis for connection.

In his keynote presentation, Kevin Kelly, futurist and co-founder of Wired, emphasized that VR is trading on the sense of an experience, and so experiential approaches, language and principles are going to become even more crucial for brands to master if they want to enthral customers.

Kelly emphasized that telepresence—the experience of having another person in the room with you—is going to be one of VR’s hallmark experiences. VR will not be about everyone becoming isolated, locked away in their rooms with goggles on lost in fantasy worlds. Instead, it will become the most social of social medias, he feels. Nothing is as intriguing as another person—and it opens an array of possibilities.

Google is going all-in on VR. Considering their Cardboard VR app has passed 50 million downloads, making it the most successful consumer VR application to date, there’s no way they won’t be a major player in the space as it takes off.

However, they won’t be alone. Major players like Disney, Comcast, Bertelsmann and Time Warner are investing millions in VR.

Samsung will be one of Google’s main competitors, and Cannes saw them create an immersive showcase of VR experiences that spotlight the power and potential of this new technology in shaping the future of storytelling through their Gear VR.

AI has been a massive point of discussion as well, finally breaking into the mainstream. Brian Eno’s use of AI to create his latest album “The Ship” was much discussed at Cannes. Eno used AI to help create the songs on his album, as well as a procedurally-generated music video. Eno laid out the materials and the structure, but the AI was what created the sound. “What I was doing was having a conception of having a way of making music, and then building that and letting it happen.” Said Eno.

Eric Schmidt, CEO of Google’s holding company Alphabet, echoed this sentiment at his fireside chat, saying that nobody should be concerned about artificial intelligence taking over filmmaking or creative endeavors. The issue was raised when Schmidt noted that Alphabet will soon launch a robot that can automatically respond to IM messages. “To be clear, we’re not talking about consciousness, we’re not talking about souls, we’re not talking about independent creativity,” Schmidt said. “We’ve all seen those movies.”

While the specifics are unknowable, there’s no doubt that we’re looking for a more automated, intelligent, virtual, and inclusive world for advertisers and marketers. Those that look to capitalize on these trends are certain to find growth isn’t far behind.

Chief Content Officer