Cannes You Dig It? An Analysis of 2022 Cannes Lions Winners
by Jacob Trussell13 min read
- This year’s Cannes Lions Festival of Creativity celebrated ads that prioritized empathy and authenticity in a dangerous time
- Despite big name brands walking away with the top honors, small to mid-sized businesses can learn a thing or two from the winning ad creative.
- But not every business needs Cannes-winning creative when there is a more actionable way for brands to identify, locate, and convert their target audiences.
Take off your advertising hat for a second.
For everyone outside of our industry, Cannes, that picturesque villa in the south of France, is synonymous with cinema as the host of one of the most celebrated film festivals in the world. If you’re a filmmaker, receiving the Palm d’Or (the festival’s grand prix) is like a rubber stamp of approval for your work, telling art-house moviegoers, “This is something worth your time.”
But for those of us in that amorphous jungle we call adland, we’re more invested in what comes to Cannes after Hollywood goes back West.
The Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity is the premiere event celebrating the greatest achievements the ad industry saw over the past year. It’s also the moment for global advertisers to flex their creative muscles to try and prove themselves as boundary testers and trendsetters for the future of our industry.
There may not be a singular grand prize like at its film counterpart, but taking home top honors delivers a similar rubber stamp of approval. Winning a Lion tells target audiences around the world, “This isn’t just worth your time–it’s worth your money as well.”
But if you feel far flung from the overwhelming influence of Cannes and its mega-budgeted advertising blitzes, you may be asking yourself, “How does anything that comes out of this festival apply to the campaigns I’m strategizing today?”
After all, for every Lion-winning ad campaign that breaks out of the croisette and into pop culture, like “Dream Crazy” or “Dumb Ways To Die”, theres thousands more that get lost to the tide of time. Winning a Lion doesn’t guarantee limitless conversions and growth opportunities for the brand; but analyzing why certain campaigns are more acclaimed can give you an opening to hijack some of that Cannes-winning magic for yourself.
And we want to help you with that.
We’ve chosen a selection of grand prize winners from this year’s festival, across a myriad of categories, to help you understand why these campaigns received the top honors, and how you can translate their annual success into your everyday campaigns.
Humane Society | ‘Save Ralph’
- Length: 3:53
- Style: Stop motion animation
- Industry: Non-Profit
- Tone: Dark Humor
- Award: Grand Prix for Good
MNTN’s Chief Creative Officer Ryan Reynolds described modern ads as becoming more like mini-movies, which is exactly how you can describe this winning ad campaign from the Humane Society. The short film was directed by acclaimed filmmaker Taika Waititi (What We Do In The Shadows), who also voices our hapless hoppy hero Ralph. The Humane Society’s aim was to continue to expose the world to the inhumane abuse of animals through cosmetic testing, and they do so through creative stop-motion storytelling that looks like a cut scene from the studio that produced Coraline, Laika.
What makes the ad so awards worthy is that, rather than trying to shock us with a graphic representation of the abuse they’re shining a light on, they pull our heartstrings through the usage of an incredibly endearing animated character. By hearing Ralph’s inner thoughts and feelings, Humane Society is allowing us to relate to its star character–even though it isn’t human. By giving it the characteristics we can recognize in ourselves, it establishes a deep emotional connection with the viewer, which only allows their vitally important messaging to resonate louder.
Humane Society’s campaign embodies the old saying, “A spoonful of sugar makes the medicine go down.” They were able to house an important message inside of an ad campaign that prioritized engaging storytelling and visually arresting creative. If your brand is confronting a socially relevant question, identify opportunities to make your message more palatable to the very edges of your target audience.
Swedish Food Federation | ‘Eat a Swede’
- Length: 18:32
- Style: Live Action
- Industry: Food and Beverage
- Tone: Satirical
- Award: Entertainment Lions
Sustainability was a major point of focus for campaigns at this year’s festival, but none are arguably more eye-catching than Swedish Food Federations ‘Eat a Swede’ campaign.
Again, like “Save Ralph”, ‘Eat a Swede’ takes a darkly humorous–but far more satirical–approach to sustainability problems, like global hunger and population growth. Rather than play out like a traditional narrative, the ad creative resembles a fake documentary, helping blur the lines between reality and fiction even further.
It’s this element that truly makes the ad campaign a winning one. The docu-style approach creates a suspension of disbelief, where someone could either read between the satirical lines or take the ad at face value and say “Oh, we’re growing human meat now, huh?” This then can spark a dialogue between the ad creative and the audience, making them consider what’s more valuable: developing a new ethically-dubious food source or just, you know, continuing to eat a balanced Swedish diet and prioritizing sustainability in every aspect of their lives.
The mockumentary style has been a clever tactic used by filmmakers for decades because it’s a low-cost approach to a highly rewarding experience. This campaign has the added gloss of stellar video quality, but the same effect can still work even through the lens of an iPhone. If you have limited budgets, experience, or time, feel empowered to identify creatively unique ways to work smarter, not harder, with how you visually tell your story.
Google | ‘Real Tone’
- Length: 1:00
- Style: Live Action
- Industry: Tech
- Tone: Informative
- Award: Mobile Lions
This year’s winners forced audiences to consider some of the world’s hardest untold truths. One of those truths is at the center of this Google campaign, and it couldn’t be more important to the advertising industry.
Historically, cameras and lighting were never optimized for people of color. As described in the New York Times, “Photography is not just a system of calibrating light, but a technology of subjective decisions. Light skin became the chemical baseline for film technology, fulfilling the needs of its target dominant market.” As we became more cognizant of our inherent biases, course corrections were attempted, but often it was too little, too late, “The result was film emulsion technology that still carried over the social bias of earlier photographic conventions.”
With this ad campaign, Google unveils new technology that will allow them to address this persistent issue that has rarely been given the attention it deserves. This tool is important to the ad industry because as consumers continue to look for brands that value their own beliefs in equity and inclusion, ensuring that you are doing your part to tell their stories in the right light has never been more crucial.
What this ad really hinges on is the before and after effect. It begins by showing you how people of color have been historically lit in photography, before unveiling how they will look through Google’s “Real Tone.” What this does is show viewers immediately what they will gain from using this new tool. You know exactly what problems your brand solves for, so look for opportunities in your ad creative to show what life is like for your consumers before, and after, they’re introduced to your product.
Vice Media | ‘The Unfiltered History Tour’
- Length: 2:07
- Style: Live Action/UX
- Industry: Tech
- Tone: Informative
- Award: Brand Experience and Activation Lions, Radio & Audio Lions, Social & Influencer Lions
This collaboration between Vice Media and the British Museum is one of the most out-of-the-box creative campaigns of the festival. The spot is a cinematic representation of a “guerrilla tour” that was created to offer a deeper, more nuanced look behind the institution’s many exhibits. By using the rear-camera of their phones, they are able to utilize Instagram augmented reality (AR) experiences that fill their screen with immersive visuals while also unlocking narration from people all over the world.
The increased usage of Augmented Reality in ads shows that brands are starting to flirt with their metaverse future, positioning themselves as being on the cutting-edge of what’s popular tomorrow. By piecing together cinematic footage, as well as shots of the user interface consumers can expect when taking the tour, they offer a 360 look at their experience that is almost as engaging as the tour itself.
Forget about the AR aspect of this ad for a moment, and focus on the fact that the creative takes a first-person perspective. This allows the viewer to feel immersed in the creative, as if they are the ones pointing their phones at ancient artifacts to uncover hidden secrets. The first-person perspective shows just how immersive this new technology can be in the old-world environment of a centuries old museum.
Sherwin-Williams | ‘Speaking in Color’
- Length: 2:13
- Style: Live Action/UX
- Industry: Home/Tech
- Tone: Informative
- Award: Creative B2B Lions
Similar to Google’s “Real Tone” campaign, Sherwin-Williams has developed exciting new technology that helps us see the world for how it truly is. ‘Speaking in Color’ debuts an AI tool that allows consumers to describe the colors they want for their home. They could describe an environment, like a sandy beach, or a mood, like earthy peacefulness, and the tool will generate the perfect color for them.
Beyond the sheer ingenuity of their product, it’s the copy for this ad that truly deserves praise. It tells an engaging story about our colorful world, and how “color means something different to each of us.” It then seamlessly transitions into a de-facto product demo, giving an overview of exactly how their new tool works. By contextualizing the conversation through voice over, and then supporting it with the product in action, the viewer can instantly see how this new tool will generate value for their home.
A one-two punch of killer ad copy and an even more killer product is what sets this spot ahead of the rest, but I want to double click into why the copy was so engaging. If you listen closely to the opening narration, the language can be interpreted to have multiple meanings. They aren’t expressly speaking about issues of diversity, equity, and inclusion in their ad, but through indirect means, we can interpret a profound statement. Consider working backwards when strategizing how to deliver a message in your video ads. Rather than being the central focus, how can it underline everything you’re saying in your ad copy?
Can You Tell What These Winners Have in Common?
Due to the sheer volume of money behind these monumental ad campaigns, the major commonality between these winners is that they are all large corporations sparking conversations with a global audience.
If it wasn’t already obvious, that’s not necessarily a privilege smaller B2B and DTC businesses can afford to do. Sure, they can create a dialogue with their audience, but more often than not the video ads they create must drive immediate performance, and not just be broad awareness plays.
That’s not to say you shouldn’t strive for Cannes excellence with your ad creative, but your brand is better served by devising a replicable, iterative process to create video ads if you really want to make waves with the folks that matter most.
No, not festival juries: your target audience.
That’s why, during the 2021 Cannes Lions Festival, QuickFrame by MNTN’s Founder Lucas Loeffler proposed celebrating a better kind of creative: the Everyday Hero.
What is an Everyday Hero?
As Lucas told Campaign Live in 2021,
“In the world of creative, superheroes are the campaigns that spark a pop culture moment…Cannes celebrates the superheroes of creativity — that one-in-a-million creative idea that strikes a chord with the masses.”
Lucas is alluding to those major Super Bowl commercials that become overnight sensations, from Budweiser’s infectious frogs and Coke’s famous Hilltop ad, to everyone’s favorite “Man Your Man Could Smell Like.” This is the kind of creative success that sends cartoon money signs into the eyes of executives as they see their work seep into the lexicon, get a shout out on a popular television show or completely redefine a brand–and in the process hopefully sell a lot of product.
Everyday Hero videos are the ad creative that works just as hard at capturing attention, delivering a messaging, and selling a product–but without being overtly revolutionary. Lucas describes this as, “the content that catches consumers’ eyes as they scroll through Pinterest, read a news article online or flip through apps on their devices. Brands need to focus on creating more attractive content as audiences diversify and attention fragments.”
Everyone wants to be unique, but as Lucas says, you don’t need to break the mold with every new campaign. After all, molds are created for a reason, are they not? Following a successful tried and true approach can be just as valuable as reaching the outer limits of your creativity. As Lucas continued,
“Rather than focus on the extraordinary, we should celebrate the everyday heroes of creativity — those data-driven campaigns that meticulously drive results and support business growth. It’s what business success demands today and will only increasingly demand tomorrow.”
Everyday Hero Videos are Data-Driven
Lets double click into Lucas’ point about the power of data in Everyday Hero videos. Jumpstarting a new marketing campaign is always a challenge, from identifying the right media mix to the ever shrinking lifecycle of ad creative and the revolving door of measurement restrictions making advertisers jobs all the more difficult today.
But don’t let that scare you. The good news is that, despite restrictions, marketers can creatively use the data at their disposal to support these “workhorses of marketing campaigns,” as Lucas so eloquently put it.
“Truly culture-defining creative — the type celebrated at Cannes — often requires out-of-the-box thinking that can only be so informed by data and insights.”
Luckily, Everyday Hero campaigns are easier to engineer for success than Cannes-winning creative. This is thanks in part to an increasing presence of machine learning and AI powered tools that surface “creative analytics” which marketers can use to better understand what types of messages, visuals, and talent are resonating with audiences. Because you are constantly monitoring performance, you can make in-flight adjustments to your campaigns so they can remain fresh from week to week.
This in turn will help brands better strategize their ad creative so it can drive KPIs and turn passive prospects into passionate consumers.
There are incredibly valuable lessons that can be gleaned from analyzing the award-winning ad creative at this year’s Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity. But perhaps the best lesson to takeaway is that, while Cannes celebrates excellence in advertising, it’s not a complete representation of everything advertisements can be.
That’s where Everyday Hero videos come in.
Maybe this will help contextualize it for you. If Cannes Lions-winning creative is like filet mignon at a Michelin starred restaurant, then think of Everyday Hero videos as that go-to bodega sandwich you get daily because, damnit, it hits the spot in a way fine dining never will.
Cannes winning creative, like haute cuisine, has a time and a place, but it will never be able to replace that go-to lunch spot you eat everyday–or, you know, that direct response social ad that has already proven successful at generating conversion after conversion after conversion. Or to put it in Lucas’ own words,
“Our industry obsesses over extremes. Awards shows are no exception. Cannes Lions celebrates the extraordinary, but the content that brands run day in and day out to support their businesses are the true unsung heroes of the creative world. Brands need these everyday heroes more than ever, so let’s recognize and celebrate them when we can.”
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