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Retail and technology battle it out as the big winners at this year's Cannes Lions

Rachel Arthur
29 June 2016

If you’re not yet sure of the role technology plays in the future of our industry – or any industry – just look at the Grand Prix winners at this year’s Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity.

Virtual reality, artificial intelligence, wearables and data visualisation all got a nod. There was a VR film from The New York Times sweeping up both top awards in the entertainment and mobile categories; the use of data to create The Next Rembrandt for ING Bank taking the cyber and creative data titles; and AlphaGo artificial intelligence beating the world’s best human player of Go, winning for innovation.

Even fashion got a look in with Google Project Jacquard picked up the Grand Prix in the product design category for the launch of its interactive textile technology. Levi’s was introduced as founding partner, which has since led to the introduction of a smart jean jacket for urban cyclists.

The big winners otherwise were far more traditional in concept, though heavily weighted to those in the retail and apparel industries for once. REI, Under Armour, John Lewis, Harvey Nichols and Toms all walked away with top prizes.

Outdoor retailer REI won the coveted Titanium Grand Prix (as well as the promo & activation title) for its #OptOutside campaign, which took the US by surprise on its biggest shopping day, Black Friday, when it shut all its stores and invited consumers to head outside instead. By taking a stand against the chaos of shopping straight after Thanksgiving, REI was also able to share its value that a life outside is a life well lived.

Sir John Hegarty, founder of BBH, and jury president for the Titanium category at Cannes Lions, said: “We were looking to credit something that has gone beyond; that’s perhaps daring, courageous and different. This involves all of those things. Lots of things are advertising, what we loved about this idea was how profound it was as a thought, and how daring it was to carry it through.”

Over 170 organisations showed support for the idea, with many of them also closing their doors in solidarity. The campaign, created by Venables Bell & Partners, earned 33 straight days of media coverage with 6.7 billion impressions, while the #OptOutside hashtag also generated 1.2 billion social impressions.

Under Armour meanwhile won in the film craft category for its Rule Yourself campaign by Droga5. A celebration of the fact US Olympic swimmer Michael Phelps has come out of retirement to compete for gold again, it shows the hard work put into training in a relentless pursuit of sporting greatness. The film outlines the brand message: “It’s what you do in the dark that puts you in the light.”

In the film category overall, Harvey Nichols also followed up on the success of its Sorry I Spent it on Myself campaign from 2014 (which won four Grand Prix awards), and won this time around for its Shoplifters spot. Created by adam&eveDDB to launch the luxury retailer’s new loyalty app, it uses real CCTV footage of thieves getting caught in the act, albeit with animated cartoon heads protecting their identity.

As jury president Joe Alexander, CCO of The Martin Agency, said: “What’s funny is this film is actually really ugly, but it does what great filmmaking and storytelling does, it brought to life an idea.”

Given the fact retail is a struggling sector at present, it’s always a positive thing when a piece of work is awarded for the impact it actually has on the business; the sales or ROI it leads to. On that basis, John Lewis won in the Creative Effectiveness category for a second year this year, this time for its Monty the Penguin campaign from 2014 (which won the Grand Prix in film craft in 2015).

Another by adam&eveDDB, this two minute Christmas film was viewed 29m times across YouTube, Facebook and Twitter, over 6m of which were before the advert even aired on TV. Better yet, the Monty merchandise sales generated alone paid for the campaign, while sales across the department store rose a record 5.8% on Christmas 2013. Econometrics showed that advertising was the single biggest factor driving this growth, accounting for nearly 25% of all sales. In all, the 2014 Christmas campaign generated £132m worth of extra sales and £33m of extra profit.

A special award also went to Toms founder Blake Mycoskie. The Cannes LionHeart recognises an individual who has innovatively harnessed commercial brand power to make a significant and positive difference to people or the planet. Said Terry Savage, chairman of Lions Festivals: “Blake’s unstoppable passion and commitment has driven him to create a brand model that has made a positive impact on millions of people’s lives across the world. His vision to develop a new kind of conscious consumerism has transformed into a global movement.”


Overall, it was a great year for the industry at Cannes Lions, with other winners including Nike, adidas, Canada Goose and Björn Borg all winning gold awards, as well as Forever21, H&M, Issey Miyake, Pacific Brands, David Jones and Puma scooping silvers.

But there’s something to be said here too about the division between tradition and technology being seen in the Grand Prix names. What we need now is for those two to combine; for the retail and apparel vertical to gracefully integrate technology to develop even more award-winning work. But importantly to do so with a heavy dose of creativity, and not just gratuity.

As Hegarty said: “We’ve got to remember that technology enables opportunity, but it’s creativity that enables value. We say to clients [they] must not under invest in that, that’s what’s really important; that’s what will lead to success.”

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